Joe Kauffman, spokesman for the Terror-Free Oil Initiative, has decided to take a popular water cooler issue head-on by announcing the grand opening of the world’s first Terror-Free gas station. Opening in the first part of February in Omaha, Nebraska, Heartland consumers will have the opportunity to let their actions speak as loud as their words.
This news story reminds me of the efforts of various grocers, retailers, and coffeeshop owners to harness their ideals to business. Attempts to pass the price of fair-trade coffee beans, organic produce, and non-sweatshop produced clothing on to the consumer have enjoyed some measure of success, although the love of money can still turn the most idealistic person into a cheap hypocrite.
The success of Kaufmann’s endeavor will depend on two things, both of which have little to do with armchair philosophizing or political affiliation. Rather, it will come down to marketing strategy and accessibility.
In order for this movement to gain momentum and adherents, it will have to be sold to the American people. Kaufmann and the folks behind the Terror-Free Oil Initiative need to convince Americans that it is patriotic, important, and economically feasible to buy gasoline from countries that do not support terror. However, Americans are notoriously quick to complain about fuel prices and dependence on foreign oil, but remain sluggish in changing lifestyles or spending habits to support alternative solutions to the problems arising out of the need for energy. Ethanol and other fuels have recently made it into the commercial consciousness of Americans, while slogans like “Go Green” have picked up some household currency. Nevertheless, American consumers seem reticient to jump feet-first into the solutions being offered, proving the point that there is more to sales than marketing alone.
Accessibility will make or break the success of Terror-Free gas stations. While many Americans may be willing, in principle, to support such a cause, convience is still king for most and the excitement of supporting the cause will quickly fade in the face of an extra trip across town. Terror-Free gas stations will need to spring up not only across towns but across the nation as well in order to gain the widespread acceptance and support needed to motivate large numbers of consumers to consider the extra hassle of shopping terror-free worth their time. Popular boycotts tend to be short-lived because people are unwilling to stay the course and see change take place. Easy access to terror-free pumps will go a long way towards making a national boycott of Middle Eastern oil sustainable.
Many remain skeptical that Terror-Free gas stations will amount to anything more than an example of idealism failing in a free market. However, a few years from now, our country may wake up to realize that what was at first nothing but a political opinion has become a pragmatic necessity to keep America in power.