As company marketing and advertising departments are waking up to the huge commercial opportunities within the emerging ‘green’ market, it is no surprise that consumers have started to articulate that they feel ‘greenwashed.’
Today, communications is about big ideas, creativity and implicitly being generous with the truth. But this sort of marketing is getting stale and as consumers, we’re suffering from communication fatigue. Moreover, this is damaging brands, losing them both trust and loyalty. Could this be why 57% of us are more likely to believe recommendations from family or friends than advertisers in choosing products and services? This ‘fast forwarding’ of advertising by consumers represents a real challenge to the communications industry.
The industry has lost sight of what communications should be about; delivering a message in a real, honest, transparent way. It is not difficult to deliver green claims in a way that is truthful, relevant and clear.
But clearly, for some brands, it is easier to attempt to change consumers’ opinions though creative advertising campaigns than to tackle the real issues at the heart of what they do.
Shell: Don’t throw anything away, there is no away.
An oil refinery emitting flowers? That’s pretty creative advertising. But with an element of truth; Shell claimed that it used waste carbon dioxide to grow flowers and waste sulphur to make concrete. The problem is one of scale; while Shell may indeed use some of their waste carbon dioxide to grow flowers, this represents only a small proportion of their waste carbon dioxide. What’s more, Shell has failed to stop gas flaring in the Niger Delta, despite making a commitment to end the practice.
Renault: Economical, Ecological
The advert, for Renault Twingo, set the car against a green background and depicted leaves emerging from its exhaust. The car is neither economical nor efficient; it is categorized as band C in the vehicle excise duty rankings for efficiency and did not feature in the Department for Tranport’s list of top 10 low carbon dioxide cars. The ASA have instructed Renault not run the ad again.
Though somewhat imaginative in the replacement of greenhouse gases with flowers and leaves, this is well-established greenwash territory and hardly creative advertising. Besides, there are far more exciting ways to engage consumers with sustainability.
Patagonia: The Footprint Chronicles
Admitting the less attractive aspects of their supply chain helps Patagonia reinforce their overall objectives. Patagonia’s most remarkable initiative, in terms of its commitment to sustainability is The Footprint Chronicles. An on-line exploration of the backstories of ten representative Patagonia products, The Footprint Chronicles is filled with compelling graphics, thoughtful explanations, even a blog, which appears to be open and transparent in its discussion. And not a leaf or a flower in sight.
In an age when consumers are using the Internet to actively seek the truth about brands; what brands do is so much more important than what they say. But we seem to have forgotten that actions speak louder than words.
Diana Verde Nieto is Founder and CEO of Clownfish www.clownfish.co.uk a communications and brand agency dedicated to making sustainability tangible for business.