Wholesome Marketing Ideas, Bite Size

Wholesome marketing ideas, bite size

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Going green...ish?

Over the past year or so, Just Marketing has carried guest blog posts from distinguished thought leaders in the field. But looking over the list of contributors, I also noticed that we have had no posts from the next generation of marketers. With the marketing field changing as fast as it is, the next generation has an entirely different perspective on brand building and consumer marketing. The natural toolbox they turn to is the web, and in particular, social media. So I thought it would be worthwhile sampling the perspective of these marketers -- we can all learn from them. This is the second of three posts by guest bloggers just starting out in the field of marketing. Today's post is by Jenny Pierce.

Jenny Pierce is a fourth year undergraduate student at the Richard Ivey School of Business (Canada). She is interested in pursuing a career in Marketing and will be working at Unilever on the Tea business this summer. Next year, she is organizing a marketing conference for students at Ivey as a part of the Ivey Marketing Club. She will also be going on exchange during the Spring semester to Milan, Italy. In the next few years she hopes to build a career in the Consumer Packaged Goods industry. 
The other day I stumbled upon the opinion of a man who has convinced me that marketing and physics surprisingly have a lot in common.[i] This parallel has given me a new perspective on branding, particularly with respect to a current issue – Greenwashing.

Of the laws of physics, the one that applies most to the relationship between branding and Greenwashing is the Scientific Method. Put simply, the law pretty well states that while you can continuously gather more data to support a hypothesis, it will only strengthen the claim, not prove it.[ii] However, a single piece of data can disprove the hypothesis. Similar to the Scientific Method, marketers invest substantial amounts of both time and money into building a brand, yet one incident like the Tiger Woods scandal, the Toyota brake recall, or the Blackberry service outage can destroy a brand in a fraction of the time that it took to build.

If brands are such a valuable yet vulnerable asset then why does Greenwashing exist? Why is there a misalignment between perception and reality when it comes to a company’s involvement in environmental initiatives?

Since 2009 the number of products that claim to be environmentally friendly has increased by a staggering 73%.[iii] While this increase in the number of “green” products aligns with changing consumer demands, 95% of products that make this claim fall guilty to committing at least one of the seven “Sins of Greenwashing”.[iv] These sins include hidden trade-offs (for example, between a supplier that is environmentally sustainable and a process for producing the final goods that is not), misleading consumers by using vaguely defined terms, or the use of labels that suggest a third-party endorsement where none exists.

Some companies have been quick to jump on the “green” bandwagon by investing in marketing campaigns but not as much in sustainable practices to support their claims. As a result of consumers’ lack of knowledge, businesses have been able to get away with this greenwashing for the most part. Consumers are less likely to research low involvement purchases like toilet paper or coffee beans, yet the production of these products has a substantial environmental footprint given the large quantities that consumers purchase. In many cases, consumers take environmental marketing at face value. Reports have indicated that consumers look favorably upon products that are marketed as “green,” yet they often cannot differentiate between brands that are Greenwashing and those that are not.[v]

For example, Toyota created a marketing campaign for the Prius called “Harmony” emphasizing the lessened impact that the car has on the environment. A report revealed that consumers perceive Toyota to be one of the top “green” brands,[vi] yet the company’s fuel efficiency rates as a whole have decreased since 1985.[vii]

It is also important to consider that consumers have criteria beyond the environmental impact of a product when making a purchasing decision. A study released by the University of Minneapolis indicates that many consumers purchase “green” products for reasons related to status.[viii] This consumer insight has implications for marketing. Some consumers want to be seen as altruistic but may not be entirely concerned with the impact their purchasing habits are actually having. This suggests that marketers can drive consumers from one product to another perhaps with simple changes. This eco-branding may take the form of packaging colors or symbols, labels that suggest endorsement by a third party, or the use of vague language like “all natural” in advertisements.

What does this mean for the future of eco-marketing? While Greenwashing has the potential to drive company performance in the short-term, it is not sustainable in the long-term. This is, however, an opportunity for marketers to educate consumers about sustainable environmental practices and carve out a new space in the marketplace. Some companies have already begun to do so. For example, Unilever created the Cleaner Planet Plan and educated consumers in Turkey about the environmental impact of washing clothing.[ix] While consumers are currently making their purchasing decisions based primarily on reasons related to status, consumer behavior is ever changing and so will the criteria by which they purchase. 

Environmental marketing is on the brink of change. Companies have already begun investing in education programs. As consumers become more informed they will demand higher standards. This has been seen in the past with the movement to eliminate child labour and the efforts to boycott companies like Nike. Brand image is built upon consistency and the misalignment that exists in Greenwashing poses a threat to companies who are not devoted to making a change.

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