Philip Beickler touched on green marketing and it’s somewhat negligible impact on consumer behavior but I wanted to really “dig deep” and look at what the green movement affected us. Particularly how it affect our our car adverts.
When the “green” movement really picked up steam with the release of Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, there was inevitably a backlash. After all, movements that wide and that rapid (and that culture-changing) are always nay-sayed by those who are rendered uncomfortable by the change; in the case of the “green” movement though, just about everyone on the planet was culpable in contributing to the destruction of the world, save some native aboriginal tribes in the Australian Outback and the Kalahari desert. And Ben Malki.
This backlash took many forms: disputing the veracity of “global warming” (now: “climate change” because “warming” is a one-way street); arguing against those who would portend that we could hit “Peak Oil” – effectively the point at which more than half of the world’s oil has been extracted; pointing out the tons of CO2 Gore released into the atmosphere with his “green” mansion in Tennessee and traversing the world in jumbo jets to propagate his message; and perhaps most intriguingly, by positing that a tree-hugging, hybrid Toyota Prius was actually more detrimental to the environment than a rampaging, two-and-a-half-steps-shy-of-a-German-Panzer Hummer.
This set up for a fascinating ideological divide, between the tree-hugger apologists and the leave-me-alone skeptics which resulted in what most such debates do – ad hominem personal attacks and further entrenchment in their respective positions.
For every ad showing a sickeningly-over-the-top polar bear hugging the owner of a new all-electric Nissan Leaf…
…there was an ad blaring testosterone-drenched music while showcasing the rugged construction and cargo-carrying (read: gas-guzzling) capabilities of the Nissan Tundra:
Tugged emotional heartstrings vs. unadulterated machismo; each ad made the opposing side metaphorically hurl, and just as in the civilian debates, neither side (in this case, of the same company) was going to win this argument by being even more recalcitrant in their position.
Until, that is, Nissan upstaged itself with this brilliant new advertisement:
This ad changes the debate: the argument is now far less about the environment, and far more about how dumb and inefficient gas is as a power source. On a completely logical level, virtually every object you own in your house runs on electricity, from the most arcane incandescent lightbulb to the most Tron-inspired, technologically cutting-edge video game machine.
Why then, should ANYTHING you use on a regular basis still run on petrol – a stinky, expensive, dirty, and century-old power source that you have to go to a specialized service provider to get? Why shouldn’t you be able to power up your car when you power up your smartphone?
The underlying message here is that if you want new, cool, technologically innovative car that is as comfortable in your home as your 108” 1960p Plasma flat-screen 3D HDTV with new smell-scencts technology is, buy a Nissan Leaf.
(Also, just for fun, note at 0:45 seconds the quirky and subtle visual jab at the Leaf’s nearest competitor, the petroleum-fueled “electric-first” Chevy Volt hybrid being filled up at the gas station while the Leaf is electrically charging).
Will this brilliant and snarky ad galvanize the debate, or reignite it? Will it change the game, or go unnoticed? I sure as hell don’t know, but as all the marketers in the world do — consumers will vote with their dollar. And I’ll be making popcorn and watching from the front row.
The term “green” has become nauseatingly ubiquitous since the early 00’s. Used as a prefix for everything from cars to coal factories, any meaning that the word used to hold has been ground into a fine powder and thrown to the winds like so much carbon monoxide. (It really has become unfathomable. Wikipedia has a page for green accounting. I stared at the link for a full minute before clicking away because I was certain that reality could not live up to my imagination).
“The Green Movement”, has been an active political and social force globally since the 1970’s, with roots going back to the late 19th century. Many countries have active and influential Green political parties. While the Movement has long held a small presence in the United States, it surged back into the forefront of the American consciousness in 2005-2006, when Hurricane Katrina knocked on America’s door (using the neighbors Ford Taurus as a door knocker) followed by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.
What followed this brutal wake up call was a nigh unstoppable (and deliciously ironic) wave of green washing (which should be strongly differentiated from legitimate green marketing) by every company with a semi functioning marketing department. Green jobs, green energy, green cars, green packaging, it seemed that America would become a green economy overnight. The Movement could smell victory and thought it had reached nirvana with the election of Barack Obama (one of the Presidents more bombastic campaign promises was that he would dedicate billions of dollars to the construction of a green energy industry, almost literally from nothing.).
Why the Green Movement thought it would be able to alter human economic behavior in just a few years through the sheer power of its moral superiority and pictures of increasingly heart breaking natural disasters is anyone’s guess. However, reality soon struck them like an Oxford English Dictionary to the face.
Calling something “green” is very easy. However there are no objective standards that dictate whether something is in fact environmentally sound. This has made the aforementioned green washing riotously easy while hardening consumer skepticism. Additionally, green products tend to be very expensive and as is so often with human nature, good intentions often give way to pragmatism.
The 2011 ImagePower Global Green Brands Study gives us some insight into the mindset of customers in developed and developing countries. Conducted by WPP, 9,000 consumers were interviewed in 8 different countries. The results are, dolorously, generally what marketer researchers have come to expect from such surveys. Respondents are full of concerns about the environment but when it comes to how the chose products, priorities shift so quickly it becomes schizophrenic. French, Germans, Britons, Americans and Australians all rank “offers good value” as the most important criteria when considering which brands to purchase. The emerging economies rank “cares about its customers” (India), “is responsible” (China) and “reliable” and “high quality” (Brazil) as their top concern. For none of them does the term “is green” even crack the top 3. Developed countries bemoan the price premium green products demand while emerging ones name packaging and labeling as the major hurdles that prevent purchases.
None of this is all that surprising, and there is some data that would give the more environmentally minded individual reason to hope (in all countries respondents noted that there are less barriers to purchasing green products than in the past and intent to purchase is up). That is until you look at the lists naming each countries top 10 green brands. Here is the list given by US respondents:
1. Seventh Generation
2. Whole Foods
3. Tom’s of Maine
4. Burt’s Bees
5. Trader Joe’s
6. The Walt Disney Company
7. S.C. Johnson
10. Starbucks, Microsoft (tied)
If you are anything like me, you will have at least have gotten to No. 6 on that list before your jaw dropped in your lap and you muttered “What the fu…” under your breath. It would seem that good intentions non withstanding, the average American consumer is still largely misinformed as to what does or does not constitute a green brand. However, given how hard it is to actually communicate this information in such a way to actually promote consumer action, this is hardly a surprise.
So back to my own question. Does being a green brand matter? My best assumption from the data presented in these studies (the 2010 study can be found here) is that once more, consumer intentions and consumer behavior are two rather different kettle of fish. Which is a a evasive way of saying “no”. At least not at the moment. There are signs of hope, but we still have a ways yet to go. So while it may not matter all that much right now, it is a worthy goal and once critical mass has been achieved, it surely will be a lucrative one.
- Philip Beickler
Building on Caroline’s earth day post last friday, comes this little gem from the weekend. The Roots, the legendary hip hop outfit (nee Paul Schaeffer 2.0), Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Honda teamed up to film this earth day promo. The ad takes on the air of a subtle Honda Civic hybrid commercial, while also serving as a cause marketing piece for the band and the car maker. I personally think Honda did a very nice job of subtly suggesting its green qualities, as well as working in product highlights such as its interactive dash board, and its “econ button” which helps improve the car’s fuel economy. Honda did well to not try to hijack the earth day/green message of the ad, and play a strong secondary role in the overall presentation. It also doesn’t hurt that the Roots maintain a nice image association despite its move to NBC studios. Good job done by all.
—By Ben Malki