Rebranding “Fracking”

31 May

Fracking, the process of extracting deep-seated natural gas reserves with a high pressure combination of water, chemicals and sand, is highly unpopular. While the process raises legitimate environmental concerns, it’s especially interesting that Fracking is broadly unpopular with people who do not even know what the word means.

It seems that the word “fracking” is so strong in its sounds and connotations that people assume it must be a terrible thing. It’s a great example of the power of words and sounds to deliver meaning and feeling even without their definition being known.

According to Marketplace on NPR, an LSU survey of 731 Louisiana residents tested the impact of the word “fracking” on perceptions of the practice. Researchers specifically used the word “fracking” in half the surveys. For the other half, they described the drilling process as “a way to extract natural gas that involves using a high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals to remove natural gas from rocks deep in the earth’s surface” without using the word “fracking”.

So what happened? According to Marketplace, “When study participants did not hear “fracking” in the question, they were far more likely to feel the process is safe and that the state should encourage drilling.”

So what is the energy industry to do? Given a choice, they would no doubt rebrand the process with a much more friendly and euphemistic name. Maybe “deep energy extraction” or “gentle hydraulic extraction.” Unfortunately for the industry, it’s probably too late to rebrand. Fracking is a quick and easy term that is broadly recognized. Also, it doesn’t hurt media companies that use the term that it grabs attention and seems like a bad thing.

For marketers, it’s another strong lesson that names and words matter. And that even basic sounds can deliver strong connotations and meaning.

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