The newest bandwagon is headed to a community near you

The newest bandwagon is headed to a community near you

It’s the beginning of a new year, which means there are lots of articles predicting trends for 2010.  Marketers love to do this as well (we’re guilty of it, too), particularly around consumers and what marketing themes might get their attention.

A biggee being reported in nearly every trendwatching service is the idea of giving back.  That in light of the economy perhaps we’ve done some soul searching and shifted from a greedy, “he who dies with the most stuff wins” mentality to one of deeper meaning…a life where we care about our neighbors and communities and want to give back to them.

We do see some evidence of this in focus groups over the last six months.  And we do think it’s certainly something to appeal to around environmental and energy issues.  But we’re concerned that some large corporations are jumping on this bandwagon as a fly-by-night marketing ploy rather than as a real commitment.

Here’s why:  consumers are smarter than we give them credit for.  They can smell a sales pitch.  Further, they’re wary of having their emotions and good intentions toyed with.  Nearly 40% of the population say they will lobby their friends and family to stop buying a product that says its green and turns out not to be, and that willingness to punish a brand extends to efforts like this.

One program that’s getting a lot of press – and one that has divided our office – is Pepsi’s new Refresh initiative.  They’re dropping their Super Bowl ad spending in favor of a community-based initiative.  Here’s an excerpt from last month:

The nation’s second-biggest soft drink maker is plowing marketing dollars into its “Pepsi Refresh Project” starting next month as its main vehicle for Pepsi. The project will pay at least $20 million for projects people create to “refresh” communities.

A Web site will go live Jan. 13 where people can list their projects, which could range from helping to feed people to teaching children to read. People can vote starting Feb. 1 to determine which projects receive money. Here’s the link: ttp:// if you want to learn more.

Some of the folks in our office, and lots of bloggers we follow as well, think this is terrific.  Pepsi’s done a lot of community work in the past, they just haven’t put it front and center, so it makes sense to do it now.  Others of us are concerned that Pepsi may come off as just trying to take advantage opf a trend — particularly since they’ve tied this Refresh initiative to a rejection of Super Bowl ad spending.  What happens when they’re back on the Super Bowl in a couple of years and not spending $20 million on community initiatives?  Does this signal to consumers that Pepsi just kind of goes with the wind, that they don’t have any real commitment to anything other than sales?

The answer remains to be seen.

Here’s our advice:  if your company and/or brand has an ongoing commitment to helping the communities you serve and making the world a better place, by all means talk about it.  But be prepared to make a long range commitment and to keep talking about it and doing it even when it’s not on trend.  That will buy you long-term loyalty and trust from consumers.  Otherwise, you’ll look like you’re just trying to sell a product.  And no consumer wants to jump on that bandwagon.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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