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Crazy World Of Green Brands

Posted on January 14, 2009 and read 2,659 times

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I read an interesting anecdote the other day. The author (Joel Makower, one of the bright lights in the world of corporate green) noted that if you did a google search on the phrase ‘easy being green’, you’d post approximately 1.5 million results. To put that in context, if you searched ‘ ‘til death do us part’, you’d get about 17,500 results. And if you searched ‘the cheque is in the mail’, you’d get about 15,000 results. Although in today’s credit crunch world, that last number has probably mushroomed. But I digress.

kermit 150x141 Crazy World Of Green Brands1.5 million results for ‘easy being green’? Kermit first said it in 1970. Who is it beating this little frog’s phrase to death in 2008?

It’s those crazy green brand folks. Each trying, in their own not-so-original way to capture the hearts and pocketbooks of the baffled modern consumer.

That brings me to the gist of this little piece. In the three years that I’ve been involved in branding green, I’ve seen some very interesting things. Things that I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years as a copywriter and creative director at big ad agencies around the world.

I’d like to share some of those observations with you here. They aren’t in any sort of order. They aren’t by any means conclusive or complete. And they don’t culminate in any profound wisdom or ‘a-ha’. I just thought it was high time to document some of the silliness in my new field of so-called expertise.

So here we go.

gore Crazy World Of Green Brands1. Green brands have the best mascot in the world.

Let’s face it. There is no other brand in the world that can boast a celebrity endorser who was a vice-president, has won both a nobel prize and an oscar, and presents speeches at uber-cool conferences like Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED, for the insiders).

I mean, the last mascot I worked with was a bald-headed guy who cleaned your floor for you. Kinda creepy, especially the way he’d appear in your house when everyone else was at school or work. And the guys in my creative department could never figure out how a guy with big muscles who did all that work for a bored housewives never, well, you know…

I also worked with Bud Girls. Bud Girls were cool. Very good mascots, if you want to call them that.

But I still believe that nobody casts an aura quite as cool as Al. And even if he isn’t endorsing individual green products, his halo is a rising tide that lifts all boats.

coffee 134x150 Crazy World Of Green Brands2. Every green brand was once organic coffee

When I started working in the world of green brands, I swear the only product being sold was organic, fair trade, ethically produced etc etc coffee. I believe there are 4 million brands of organic coffee in the world today – and you can find most of them at coffee shops in west end Vancouver.

What is it about environmentalists and organic coffee? I’m sure that’s a mystery the folks at Folgers would love to unravel.

choc Crazy World Of Green Brands2 (b). And chocolate. Let’s not forget chocolate.

Sorry, I meant coffee and chocolate. Every green brand in the world was once organic coffee or organic free trade, ethically something chocolate.

logo Crazy World Of Green Brands3. Green brands love green icons.

And the icon they love the most is a round shape – just like the earth. It’s even better when said earth has something growing out of it (see illustration above), and cleverly features a metaphor for something noble ane worthy, like recycling (see illustration above, again)

Hey, don’t take it from me. Look at every CSR report you can get your hands on. You’ll find green globes nestled lovingly in hands. You’ll find green globes in piles of fresh apples. You’ll find them growing sprouts, like some kind of enviro chia-pet. You’ll find them sprouting gears – the universal symbol of green engineering, I think. You’ll find the green globe awards. You’ll find green globe rating systems. If you don’t know how to take your green brand communication to the proverbial finish line, throw in a green globe. Preferably above the line ‘It’s easy being green’.

kick 150x141 Crazy World Of Green Brands4. Green brands love transparency

Transparency is sooo hot. For those of you who don’t quite understand it and therefore haven’t used the phrase in your cocktail talk, here’s the Coles Notes version.

Transparency is the willingness to paint a big target on your brand’s butt so that anyone who deems your green efforts less than sincere can take a running kick.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked on more than one old school brand whose claims were far less than sincere. Far, far less. These brands could’ve used a good boot up their credibility.

But for mainstream brands, the idea of completely opening your kimono and letting every Tom, Dick and NGO snoop around is a bit disconcerting.

It takes a brave brand to embrace transparency. Just google Victoria’s Secret and ForestEthics, and you’ll see just how brave. I’ve seen hardened marketers get sweat stains on their red suspenders when they hear that story. I’m not going to spoil the surprise. Get googling.

5. Green brands love metaphors for ‘carbon’

Every green brand likes to claim their efforts have saved a ton of carbon emissions.

Only problem is, what does a ton of carbon emissions look like? If you can’t show it, the consumer probably can’t imagine it. And if they can’t imagine it, how are they supposed to know if you’ve done something really good, or just so-so?

That’s why there’s a veritable space race happening between brands trying to come up with metaphors for ‘carbon saved’.

The most popular I’ve seen is ‘we’ve saved so much carbon, it’s like we’ve eliminated X0 cars on the road.’

I’m not certain, but I think there are enough folks out there claiming their carbon savings have taken enough cars off the road, that they’ve actually eliminated all the cars on the road, at least once over.

I think this is a very good thing. No cars means I’ll have an easier time on my bike.

But I’m sure the folks in Detroit might not be happy about this statistic. I’m certain it explains why the big three aren’t having a terribly happy time right now.

6. Green brands like catchy phrases

I’ve already talked about ‘easy being green’. But that isn’t the only phrase getting a lot of dances at the party.

Consider that old staple ‘XYZ is the new black.’ You remember, it used to be ‘grey is the new black’, or tweed or somesuch.

Well, the green brands decided that they’d be much cooler if they declared ‘green is the new black’. Which (like everything in the fashion world) got old in about 15 seconds and was promptly changed to ‘blue is the new black’.

What next? Yellow is the new black (in honour of solar power). Or transparency is the new black (the imagination boggles). Personally, I think it will go back to black is the new black. After all, perfect energy conservation is sitting in the dark. It’s just a theory. Feel free to disprove it.

6. Green brands like the wrong words

Green brands like use words like


While those may be wonderful words, they hardly make consumers rush to the shelf. In my experience, the folks with the wallets tend to smile much more when you use words like


So what to do? I believe that we’ll start to see savvy marketers start to combine words to convey both a sense of worthiness and attractiveness. You know, just like real estate developers do.

Example. Well, imagine fun and fair combined into FUNFAIR. Or sexy and ethical blended into SEXICAL. Which sounds a lot like popsicle. A nice, uplifting word that tastes great on a hot global warming day.

7. You don’t have to be green to be a green brand.

We just commissioned a study to if a brand’s green actions lined up with consumer perceptions of that brand. Lo and behold, we discovered that not-so-green brands still scored high on the green cred consumer ratings – if they were perceived as cool brands.

Consider Apple. Not terribly green in reality. But everyone wants to be a Mac, not a PC. And consumers gave Mac pretty darn big green kudos.

Same goes for brands like Telus. Again, not so green. But because they use white as a brand colour, have cute critters as mascots and tag themselves with ‘The future is friendly’, they have instant green credibility.

8. Green brands like to line up with our ‘values’

Green brands are all about values. They share our values. They line up with our values.

This sounds very good. Until you think about it.

Consider my values. Not exactly Mother Theresa. Hey, I used to sell slimming programs in the morning, and fast food in the afternoon (and let’s not talk about my work for Dunhill cigarettes in the bad old days).

So do I want a green brand to line up with my values? Heck no. I would feel much better if my brands encouraged me to raise my values standard a few notches. And not eat so much fatty food, too.

So there you have it. A meandering wander through the field of anecdotes I’ve gathered in the past three years. If not exactly educational, I hope they leave you with the impression that green, like everything else, is just human. So don’t be intimidated.

Marc Stoiber
Change, a green brand agency




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