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Making Sustainability Sexy

Posted on September 15, 2005 and read 10,774 times

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Sustainability. Sexy. Two words you don’t often see together.

Sustainability is a serious word. It’s about saving the world from ecological disaster. Getting humanity on track for survival. Heady, serious stuff best left to academics, Unions Of Concerned Scientists, and earnest tree huggers.

Sexy…now that’s a fun word. A word that implies pleasure. Tied to advertising, it’s a hook that’s been used to raise sales curves on everything from cars to cognac.

There’s a very, very big opportunity if we manage to somehow join these two words at the hip.

Why?

Two reasons. First, sustainability is the product differentiator of the very near future. Big companies are sniffing around it, trying to figure out how to best grab the critter. Meanwhile smaller, nimbler companies (and a few leaders like Toyota and Starbucks) are embracing it wholeheartedly. And profiting.

Second, it hasn’t been done properly. I don’t want to say why – that’s an article unto itself. But most sustainable products have somehow been positioned as things we must buy, not that we want to buy, or are enticed to buy.

It’s a bit like your Mom saying you must wear your toque when it’s cold. Even if you do what she says, you don’t want to.

So sustainability presents an opportunity to profit. Even better, it’s an opportunity that hasn’t been very well tapped.

Sounds like a recipe for success.

So how do we make sustainability…sexy?

That question was posed by an online journal called Sustainable Industries to a group of marketing agencies active in the field.

The Bellwether Group (Seattle, WA) believe that sustainability, in and of itself, is already cool…all we have to do is make its coolness accessible to the public. They suggest making the marketing a grass roots effort, completely volunteer driven…if the people get involved and excited, the people will buy.

Egg (Seattle, WA) believe we can’t make sustainability sexy. Or, to be more accurate, we can’t make it sexy if it’s all about the greater good. Egg believe sustainability has to be positioned to answer the selfish consumer’s needs (the Me! Me! Me! factor) They believe we have to define it primarily on how it can benefit the individual consumer. And then their family. And only then the community, or ‘greater good’.

Clean Agency (Pasadena, CA) believe people have to know what you’re talking about before they can decide if it’s cool or not. Therein lies sustainability’s problem…lack of awareness, and foggy definitions. Clean’s solution is education. Define sustainability, and create awareness that it’s more than just recycling or being nature conscious. Show them how to create a new, better world by embracing sustainable practices.

Mike Longhurst, McCann Europe’s leading thinker on sustainability, agrees with the three West Coast opinions. In fact, he thinks the only way to sell sustainability is to incorporate points from all three:

  1. Define sustainability clearly, in no more than six simple points. And reinforce sustainability everywhere with unified eco-labelling (the next generation three arrow recycling icon, you might say)
  2. Put brands behind the issue, not the issue behind the brand. ‘I’m saving the world. You can buy this and share in the success.’
  3. Make sustainability sexy, and not worthy…without making it trivial. To do this, two propositions (Good for me! Good for the planet!) have to be creatively melded into one.

Therein lies the puzzle. Melding a dual proposition into a single proposition, and making it memorable.

Crack that, and you’re poised to do very, very well as the world’s marketers shift their focus to saving the world, one product at a time.

Few have done this with any degree of success. Then again, ‘hasn’t been done well’ isn’t the same as ‘can’t be done well’, is it.


Marc Stoiber is a creative director who splits his time between Grey
Advertising
and the sustainability-oriented creative consultancy Change
Advertising
.






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