Seth Godin is right on the money with his posting Times a Million. The most effective marketing is immediately and viscerally personal. That's not the tactic the auto industry is using to sell hybrid vehicles. . Most people who do the math and calculate their personal savings on fuel from switching to a hybrid are going to conclude that it doesn't make sense. For example: I drive a 10 year old Ford wagon that gets about 25 mpg. A switch to Prius would half my gasoline cost. I spend in the range of $40/week on fuel, or $2000/year. A savings of $1000 over a number of years would add-up, but it isn't enough of an incentive to switch, nor to pay the Prius premium price. The same calculation applies to diesel. Yes, diesel engines are much more fuel efficient, but the price premium on the vehicle largely negates that. I'll probably buy a hybrid for my next vehicle, but the savings don't justify switching now.
However, this is where I disagree somewhat with Seth. He argues that if you can make environmental marketing personal, people will pay. I don't believe it. Most consumers don't care enough about "being green" to pay a premium. Whether it's unbleached coffee filters, fair trade coffee, or biodegradable garbage bags, the argument that paying more to purchase envirofriendly products is the moral or "right thing to do" falls on deaf ears. It's the same mentality which renders most product boycotts ineffective as well. Consumers care about their pocket-books, and today being environmentally friendly is priced as a luxury rather than a necessity.
In the case of hybrid vehicles, pricing them at or about the same price as an equivalent gasoline powered vehicle would be a far more effective tactic than all of the marketing and advertising dollars being spent now. The premium charged for a hybrid vehicle in Canada is between $5000 and $6350 today. Provincial governments offer between $1,000 and $3,000 in tax rebates, and the Federal government introduced a $2,000 incentive in their March budget. With a little bit of pencil sharpening, auto manufacturers could shave some cost from their vehicles, and use the tax incentives to remove the premium pricing objection very effectively.
To a public that is already educated to think about gas savings, that would sell far more effectively than dead penguins.