Three things green marketing gets wrong

Three things green marketing gets wrong

I was at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference yesterday and served on a panel entitled “Is green marketing dead?” Given what I do for a living my answer was, “Of course not!”

I did put forth three things that I think the collective we (manufacturers and marketers) are doing wrong that, once corrected, should cause us to shrink the gap between consumer intention and action around purchasing green products.  I thought those three things were worth repeating here:

Mistake #1: Most advertising agencies/brand managers treat the marketing of a green/greener product as if they were just advertising another product. In fact, we’re often asking consumers to change their behaviors…and that’s a whole different deal than buying a product.  One of the tenets of behavior change is you must shift people from automatic behaviors to conscious choices…and we’re full of automatic behaviors.  We run the water while we brush our teeth, fill our cars full of gasoline, and grab the same brands off the shelf BECAUSE IT’S WHAT WE’VE ALWAYS DONE. Waking people up to these behaviors and getting them to choose differently is the key (and exactly what we focus on at Shelton Group).

Mistake #2:  Most advertising agencies mess up the targeting and messaging piece. If you’ve read this blog much, you know people don’t go green to save the planet…yet we still see that kind of messaging rampant in the marketplace.  The best example is the Nissan Leaf TV spot…the one where the polar bear travels many miles to hug the guy who bought the Leaf.  This is a spot that will appeal to about 6% of the population.  It’s also a spot that will completely alienate about 27% of the population — a group we call the Cautious Conservatives.  These guys are completely turned off by environmental messages…yet they were the early adopters of solar.  And they didn’t buy solar because they wanted to be green, they bought it because they care about control — they are the man, yet they love sticking it to the man (in this case the utility).  Since they were the early adopters of solar they could likely also be the early adopters of electric vehicles (which would allow them to stick it to the man in the Middle East). But not now.  Now the Leaf is forever branded as The Car for Polar Bear Huggers, and a Cautious Conservative won’t wear that tee shirt.

Perhaps the folks behind the Leaf campaign did some research that told them I’m wrong, that Cautious Conservatives are never going to buy that car and the 6% of the population who currently hug trees is their best bet.  Then why on earth did they do a national ad campaign?  Do a targeted approach and go after the right audience with the right message.

Mistake #3:  The Fortune 100 are hiring CSO’s and VP’s of Sustainability, but then not giving them any budget with which to actually create behavior change or target an audience or get the message right. We see this happen all the time.  The sustainability team gets put in place and they might have enough money to do a little bit of research/homework to identify some market opportunities or some messaging insights.  But then they have to go beg the brand managers for some of their budget so they can actually act on those opportunities and insights.  Imagine if you’re a brand manager how this idea sounds:  you’re in your peak earning years and your compensation package is partly based on maintaining or growing sales/market share for your brand.  You know the messaging you’ve been using for the last 5-10 years (or longer) has worked really well to get you where you are, so why monkey with success?  Why free up any money for some green marketing? Crazy talk!

I’m sure there may be more things to fix about green marketing, but these are the big rocks.  So, no, green marketing’s not dead.  It just needs the right market insights and a little budget.

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.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.