Why honesty is the best green policy

Green marketing is hard. It’s probably the hardest part of communicating about your organisation to get right because it is the kind of marketing and advertising message that consumers are most cynical about.

Two brands got it right this week with their approach. Greenpeace’s attack on Volkswagen in the form of a spoof of the car company’s Darth Vader ad that was buzzing all over the internet and social media this week. The environmental group hopes that people seeing VW: The Dark Side will help it put pressure on the car manufacturer to stop “lobbying against key environmental laws”.

Paul Buckett, head of press at VW, was straightforward and reasonable in his response. He said Greenpeace’s views would get his company’s full attention, adding that the spoof campaign came as a “bit of a shock because we’ve never been attacked on an environmental front before”.

Also refreshingly honest was Sam Laidlaw, CEO of British Gas owner Centrica, which last week published a survey suggesting only 25% of people consider it vital that the government sticks to its plans for creating a low carbon power industry if it means paying higher bills. His statement was a challenge to the public. ’If you want green fuel, then we can give it to you. But you’ll need to pay more. Still want it?’

“As a marketer you may focus on reducing carbon emissions when your customers justwant to hear about how your brand could save them money”

And that is a crucial point. Almost everyone I know claims concern for the environment, but while plenty of us have incorporated the ’easy’ actions into our routines, such as recycling household waste and using energy-saving lightbulbs, most of us see saving the environment as some other person’s job. And as Laidlaw seems to suggest, if helping the environment comes at a price, then commitment will fade.

This view is supported by a new piece of research that News International has just produced called Bridging the eco-gap, which was discussed by a panel of marketers at a joint News International and Marketing Week event on Tuesday. The research found that the majority of consumers will only change their behaviour if companies do it for them. The research describes the gap between consumers’ needs and understandings and those of the average marketer. For example, 55% of the 800 newspaper readers questioned said that a focus on packaging was key to making a brand green in their eyes. But only 31% of marketers said the same thing.

A similar gap exists in the language that works best in successful environmental campaigns. As a marketer you may focus on reducing carbon emissions when your customers just want to hear about how your brand could save them money.

When dealing with such a difficult area brands could do worse than adopt the open attitude VW demonstrated with its initial response to Greenpeace. Telling your customers and other stakeholders you are listening to them is good. Actually listening to them is even better.

Mark Choueke, editor

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