Green messaging isn’t enough of a marketing proposition

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Brands should only ramp up their sustainability marketing if it is being used to support a consumer need, according to design agency experts.

The remarks come as global consumer goods company, Reckitt Benckiser (RB), announced its plans to focus its sustainability marketing around the added money saving benefits to being environmentally friendly, rather than leading with its green credentials.

According to Chris Sherwin, sustainability consultant at branding agency Dragon Rouge, the strategy compounds the difficulty in developing strong branding around a company’s sustainability performance.

“Sustainability itself is only really of interest to a small, niche part of the market. The masses want the same brands, with no compromise on price and quality, with sustainability built-in” says Sherwin. “One challenge for RB is that they are only focusing on cost savings to consumers. What do you do if there is no cost saving to transfer to consumers?

“Brands need to continue to build sustainability in to their products, or even brand benefits beyond just cost savings.”

In recent years, the industry has recognised that sustainability can be a brand builder. Indeed brands such as PepsiCo and Toyota have both established new initiatives using sustainability marketing in recent years.

But using sustainability to bolster a brand can only be successful if it is grounded from a consumer perspective and not as the lead message, according to Nir Wegrzyn, managing partner at BrandOpus.

The London based branding agency cites its recent work with Rowse Honey as a strong example of sustainability branding that hasn’t alienated consumers with a radically different message.

It redesigned all brand touchpoints from the core packaging to stationary, including wooden USB sticks for internal use, to put environmental needs and consumer wants on an even footing.

“Core to the Rowse brief was getting across the brand’s passion for honey, and by extension protecting the environment that honey is created in,” says Wegrzyn. “We overhauled the structure and design of the Rowse jar, incorporating recycled glass. The eco-approach worked because it was believable that the brand would act in this way.”

The fear of misleading consumers with “inaccurate” sustainability marketing, is arguably preventing brands from developing earnest branding for fear of a massive backlash, especially with the rise to prominence of social media, says Nick Dormon, founder and MD at Echo Brand Design.

“Through research we found that consumers were sick to death of brands greenwashing their products and wanted more honesty from future strategies,” says Dormon.

indeed, consumers are “cynical and wary” of green messages, particularly in car advertising, according to research by digital agency Specific Media. It reveals that by highlighting the environmental credentials of their models, manufacturers are not only speaking to a tiny fraction of their potential audience.

Sustainability marketing was the issue du jour four years ago, but with a stuttering economy combined with tighter legislation, the national dialogue has shifted and brands are realising that green alone isn’t enough of a marketing proposition; at most, it could signal consumers simply aren’t interested in the benefits of environmentally positioned products and brands.

“It’s premature to view RB’s announcement as an indication that green initiatives are dead,” says Silas Amos, creative director at JKR.”The very nature of our planet and our resources mean that sustainability marketing can’t on a pragmatic level be dead, but rather not the primary selling machine.”

Please click through to Pitch to see two sustainability projects by Echo and Dragonfly

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