Dear CMO:
I’ve got a piece going up at The Daily Fix shortly on The “Green” Bandwagon. I could just as easily called this “Green Envy.” Or how about “Green Confusion”? Any or all of the above works. The point is that the groundswell of half-understood science and pop culture has propelled “green” into mainstream use. We aspire — and often stretch — to be “green,” even when it doesn’t quite fit.
Authenticity is important when we stand on our respective soapboxes and tout the beauty and wonder of our brands. So half-hearted attempts at “greenification” lead us to a dangerous and slippery slope.
Clearly, we can borrow a little light from other properties to help our own brands when circumstances allow. When I brought Plantronics headsets into the Bond film, “Die Another Day,” I did so because the Bond franchise represented a place where Plantronics could have, and should have, been. But recognize the difference between the objective nature of “green” and the subjective nature of “Bond… James Bond.” One is a statement of fact, the other a question of taste and style.
In the shared vocabulary we’ve all built up over the past year or so on the social psychology of influence – based on the research and writings of Dr. Robert Cialdini — we see the contrast between “authority” and “consensus”: in areas of objectivity, we look to acknowledged experts to lead us, while in areas of subjectivity, we seek the wisdom of those similar to us. When I push my brand into the “green” spotlight, I’m not talking taste, I’m talking science. So it stands to reason that I need to have sufficient credibility in the science of environmental sustainability to make my message stick. And while all three examples below have positive environmental elements, all three have the trappings of being temporary harbors that mask larger issues.
Let’s look first at Fujitsu, who positioned their laptops announced at the CES 2008 show as “biodegradable.” Is Fujitsu a “green” company? A quick review of their website shows that they’ve got an appropriate environmental policy in place, given their position as a consumer electronics manufacturer. But let’s consider the qualifier: the CE industry isn’t environmentally friendly. PCB’s leak mercury, batteries leak acid, and a host of other issues make laptops problematic. You can say that you’re taking steps towards environmental responsibility, especially given the nature of your product, but it’s a tough sell to turn yourself “green” here.
Nike is a bit perlexing. Their newest Air Jordan shoe is similarly promoted as “green.” Here’s a product that costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 to make — and that sells for $230. So kudos for branding, first of all. I’m not a shoe guy. But my impression is that their market for $230 basketball shoes isn’t driven by environmental purchase decisions. It probably doesn’t show up in the top 100 reasons, either. So why hinge its brand positioning on sustainability? I smell the bandwagon cranking up. Does non-solvent glue blunt the negative press from sweat shop labor conditions? In the grand scheme of “moral” decision triggers, does eco-friendly make Nike a more attractive purchase?
And we all recall CBS’s grand canard, conducting their November Cowboys-Eagles half-time show in the dark. Did the public’s perception of NBC change from “broadcaster” to “green company” overnight? Of course not, largely due to the complete incongruity of the messenger, the message and the credibility gap between them. Cutting to Matt Lauer somewhere in the arctic trying to debate ice shelf sustainability didn’t provide much scientific credibility. I’d guess he didn’t take a dog sled to get up there.
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Key Takeaways:
> You can bask in someone else’s halo effect in matters of subjectivity. You need to walk the walk in matters of objectivity. It’s too easy to find out if you’re wearing a mask to hide something else.
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Compare these examples above with SABMiller’s HIV/AIDS prevention program. When your customers are dying of AIDS throughout your core markets in sub-Saharan Africa, prevention matters. There’s nothing hip, trendy, or temporary about SABMiller’s HIV/AIDS efforts, and their efforts extend to every part of their enterprise. Hit the link to read more.
It’s a great case study on doing it right, with real authenticity and credibility. Talking the talk is fine in matters that can’t be debated on points of fact.
But walking the walk is a full time job.