Notorious American comedian Bill Hicks once famously invited members of his audience who admitted to working in marketing to kill themselves. Whether the controversial stand-up would have taken a more sympathetic view of marketing professionals who ply their trade pushing sustainable products is doubtful, but maybe he could have been convinced to stop short of advocating suicide.
Extremist comedians aside, it is probably fair to say that the majority of consumers are more well disposed to products or services that hold some societal or environmental worth. A poll by European polling outfit Eurobarometer in 2009 revealed that the majority of Europeans, 83 per cent, said the impact of a product on the environment played an important part in their purchasing decisions. Add in the potential for the marketing team concerned to actually believe in the green product they are selling, and sustainable campaigns should be a doddle.
Unfortunately, sustainability is a uniquely tricky concept to take to market.
As incredible as it sounds, some corporate marketing departments have actually been guilty of making unwarranted and even false green claims. As a result, the public’s positive disposition towards environmental messaging has been hijacked by the spectre of greenwash in recent years. Reacting to this growing tide of exaggeration, and in some cases explicit untruths, bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority have taken action against numerous companies and even government departments.
The same Eurobarometer survey last year also showed that Europeans were divided about the claims made about sustainable products with about 49 per cent saying they trusted claims but 48 per cent stating the precise opposite.
Ensuring marketing and communication campaigns get the sustainable message across without falling foul of increasingly exasperated regulators means that the whole notion of green messaging has become a veritable minefield for agencies and internal marketeers. It takes a lot of coordination and creativity to make sure that messages remains coherent and punchy, but still within the increasingly stringent guidelines laid down by the ASA, Defra and even the European Commission.
Given this blend of consumer scepticism and vigilant regulators, what are some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to combining the disparate parts of a green marketing campaign?
1. Watch out for the greenwash
The biggest threat to any green marketing strategy is that it will be written off as greenwash. But for creative marketeers, trying to come up original messaging around a new product without straying too far from the path of fact and conformity demanded by regulators is a tough call.
Sustainable marketing consultant Futerra has published a list of greenwash pitfalls that should be required reading for anyone embarking on sustainable campaign. These include using fluffy language with no clear meaning such as ” eco-friendly”, stating your product is the best in its class when the rest of the class are chronic under-performers, and using labels that look like third party endorsements, but actually turn out to be made up. Other examples of greenwash include images which suggest green attributes that do not exist and claims that, while potentially accurate, can not be backed up by verifiable evidence.
2. Pack it in
Whatever a product is wrapped in will be often be the first interaction the customer has with the object concerned. Making sure that packaging adheres to sustainable guidelines is therefore crucial to the success of any green marketing campaign.
Any claims made about the product on packaging must be clear and backed up by evidence, according to regulators such as the ASA. It is also important to make sure that there is no confusion in the mind of the purchaser about environmental claims referring to the packaging alone or the product contained therein.
An example cited by Defra in its Green Claims – Practical Guidance report is of a greeting card wrapped in cellophane with a sticker on it stating “Made from 65% recycled post-consumer waste”. This statement, the government department rightly points out, is ambiguous. Instead it would be better to change the wording on the sticker to state “This card is made from 65% recycled-consumer waste”. Or better yet, print the claim on the card itself or use the recycling symbol (the Mobius loop) on the card including the 65 per cent figure.
Other packaging errors include use of small print to hide not-so green information.