Marketing follows trends much like anything else in the world. Once something is established, and people seem engaged, marketers often find ways to tailor their offerings around whatever trend is most popular at the time. It’s not as if this is a bad idea–you need people’s attention so you find ways to align yourself with what people are paying attention to.
Green marketing has been a well established trend for a couple of years now. Companies can paint themselves as being socially responsible and cool at the same time if they successfully implement some green marketing strategies. With this trend the idea is that some consumers are so interested in it, that they would certainly choose a green company over one that is not green. This is true….sometimes.
Take SunChips® for example. Their parent company, Frito-Lay, spent an undisclosed amount of research and development money on putting together a 100% biodegradable bag for chips. They must have felt that the SunChips brand was the greenest member of their family, so they rolled out the new packaging exclusively around this brand. (Presumably had it been a hit, they would have moved all of their packaging over to the innovative green material.) Originally people seemed excited, and the bags had buzz, so to speak. Realistically the bags were very noisy and whether they admitted it publicly or not, some “green” consumers stopped buying. SunChips sales have dropped 10% since the new packaging was introduced and Frito Lay will be switching back to plastic bags that do not break down in landfills.
So how does this happen? You would be hard pressed to think of a company that made such an obvious commitment to going green. Not only that, but had they been successful, think about the impact that biodegradable bags would eventually have had on landfills. Think about the implications of other packaging moving in the same direction. Had it worked, Frito-Lay could have advertised their impact on the world down the road. In reality, it didn’t work. People aren’t as green as they say they are and unless they keep funneling funds into quieter biodegradable bags, Frito-Lay wasted money.
So what is the best green angle? Maybe the angle isn’t sustainability or environmental friendliness (within the greater sized market there is definitely a niche market that would commit to green products), but savings and the ability to make things easier for people. Maybe Frito-Lay took one for the team and showed how consumers really think. They are willing to go green (with their spending, not just their public opinions) if there is something in it for them. Solar power and electric cars are great. If they sell, it will likely have more to do with people saving on utility and transportation costs, than it will with the environment.
To effectively use green marketing, the products and services must present a benefit for the consumer. If the environmentally friendly angle can save them time or money, it will likely work on a large scale. So as marketers this is what we need to be expressing to the community. Marketing research might be able to take a tip from the UPS campaign and ask consumers, “What can green do for you?”
Keep in mind that it is probably not wise to discount green efforts altogether. Sustainability is likely the way of the future as populations continue to grow and the planet stays the same size. Showing consumers that your company is green, even if consumers really aren’t, can still make you look good. Some people will fall back on the “at least someone is doing it” mentality and the green efforts will portray your company in a good light. Just make sure that your claims of going green are honest and really help the environment…as opposed to say, hotels’ asking guests to use fewer towels and take shorter showers because the hotel chain is so green, when it is obvious that they just want their customers to help them reduce their costs.