The future is green, and we had better all take notice

Andrew%20H_120Media folk who fail to take environmental sustainability into account will be left behind by those who meet consumers’ green agenda.

A few years ago, in one of the most memorable marketing slogans to mark the start of the new millennium, we learnt that “the future’s bright, the future’s Orange”. That may or may not still be so for mobile phones, but – for media – the colours are changing. I’d say: “The future’s transparent; the future’s green”.

It’s clear that there are many challenges facing brand managers and media planners over the next few years. Most will cite two common issues.

The first is, invariably, the question of how to build revenues while balancing spend between long-term brand equity and short-term support at point of sale. The second is typically about how to best deploy spend in a fragmented media landscape.

But now there’s a third concern. Green issues – once seen as cranky and peripheral (anyone remember Ecover or the Women’s Environmental Network?) are now mainstream – just look at the P&G “turn to 30” campaign. Carbon offsetting, green taxes, environmental responsibility – are becoming common currency nowadays.

Sustainability was always the single most important item in the brand manager’s in-tray; but this used to be about sustainable competitive advantage, sustainable consumer preference. That’s all still true, but now there’s a double meaning, too: sustainability in an environmental sense is the next big challenge for marketers and media owners. Where your ads are placed and how your ads are made will become greener decisions for marketers. It’s easy to see why.

Consumer trends demand brands deliver authenticity, generosity and transparency.
In a world where brand owners are keen to show off their green credentials, consumers will expect brand owners to live up to their green ideals. That’s fine – until you think about how much marketing collateral ends up in landfills or how huge is the carbon footprint left by much media endeavour.

So, how green is your marketing spend? Sounds like a weird question today – but if it is legitimate for shareholders and activists to challenge corporate policy on wild bird protection or recycling, you can be sure the marketing plan will be the next focus of attention. If the activists can demand to know how you label your products or what you advertise, you can be sure they’ll soon want to know how green your marketing plan is. After all, there’s not much point in saving 20% of energy emissions in your factory output if you burn that carbon back again advertising and marketing your products.

In today’s world of media plenty, it’s more possible than ever before for good marketers to build a coherent communications plan cost-effectively across multiple platforms and across different media. So, there’s now media choice to balance delivery of your marketing objectives like never before.

That means small things begin to differentiate media and marketing plans. So, my hunch is that very soon green considerations will become much more prevalent.

This has three implications. For those of us who are media owners – how green is your medium? Do you consume lots of energy producing or delivering your content; are you resource hungry? Those media that chop down trees for newsprint and paper or burn kilowatts transmitting pictures suddenly look old-fashioned against more efficient distribution systems. Also, from an editorial perspective, what is your medium doing to encourage its viewers, listeners or readers to behave more responsibly?

Next, for advertisers, can you produce and deliver your ad with a lower carbon footprint – as they say – or do you still have to fly a 20-strong production crew half way around the world to produce 30 seconds of footage?
And, finally, for set or device manufacturers – do you have an on/off button, like a radio or mobile phone, or a power-hungry stand-by switch like a TV? Can you run off a battery or do you need mains power like a PC? Looked at like this, the industry’s historical media bias is likely to change. From an environmental perspective, many digital media feel intuitively attractive, as do some old favourites – like radio. But some new media suddenly seem very energy inefficient – think of all those millions of unseen, poor quality photos or videos shot and uploaded onto Facebook and MySpace – while other old media will always be power hungry – all printing presses and huge energy boxes.

So, marketing is all about anticipating and responding to consumer change. If sustainability is the great concern of tomorrow’s generation – then we’d better make sure our marketing plans reflect that agenda in the media choices that we make.

And those brand owners who don’t do so will be green with envy as their environmentally more astute competitors reap the benefits of a sustainable shift in consumer attitudes.

Andrew Harrison is chief executive of the RadioCentre. You can contact Andrew at andrew.harrison@centaur.co.uk

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