It’s a perfect storm for green communications. There are two industries traditionally considered first for the chop during an economic downturn: environment and advertising.
The early signs are sobering for anyone working on marketing a new green economy. Advertising spend in the US and UK is way under the forecast growth rate of 4.4%. The IDC anticipates that the threat of a potential recession will decrease advertising expenditure across all media by as much as seven percent in 2008. Communications Directors are becoming picky and reputation spend is being reassigned to sales.
But advertising isn’t the only industry to suffer. The death of green consumption is also widely prophesised. As Andrew Cooper, director of the research company Populus puts it, “there is a direct correlation between how people perceive the economy and the importance they place on the environment. When times are tough people resent paying more to salve their conscience.”
If both environment and advertising are losing their sheen then green marketing seems destined for the “fashion fads” hall of fame.
Pack up and go home?
If you have a long memory this might all sound familiar. In the late 1980’s as the boom times slipped away the Economist magazine ran an article saying sayonara to the greenies until the next bull market. The assumption that environmental action by consumers and business is a fair weather behaviour runs deep. Why tightening of purse strings is always deemed to be a death knell to environmental concerns rather than just another industry facing economy wide challenges is anyone’s guess. Every industry from construction to catering needs to chase the more discerning customer looking for added value with every purchase; the environment should be no different.
Is there anything different this time round? Of course the wildcard in the pack right now is climate change. In the late 1980’s global warming was a distant threat with biodiversity, resource preservation and natural environment conservation dominating. Although green concern never collapsed to the pre-80’s levels it’s true that consumers put their wallets before preserving the Tiger. This time things are slightly different with a wonderful serendipity emerging: combating climate change and weathering a recession need the same strategies, behaviours and indeed sales tactics as each other.
Buy low, sell high
If you’re a smart green marketer you’ll have already realized this and adapted your messages accordingly. Too many in the environment industry are desperately holding onto the communications strategies developed in a bouncy market, or dropping them. Showing consumers you never cared in the first place is a dangerous gamble, but carrying on regardless is a costly inflexibility. Three simple strategies can maintain your green credentials while cutting costs:
1. Hold your course
The greenwashers will be the first to go, followed by the “try a small step into the market” initiatives. This will clear the way for clear, consistent and robust messages from companies that really mean it and have the evidence to prove so. Don’t lose your nerve if you’ve made significant changes and invested in being green because the market is about to clear a lot of territory that’s been too noisy.
2. Change your messages
Concerns have changed from fulfilment to sustenance. Consumers are cutting back on luxury and spontaneous purchases. Longevity, economy and price matter. If you went green the right way then your products should be more efficient, longer lasting and perhaps even cheaper. Highlight these advantages and support your customers need to make savings. Procter & Gamble, which makes laundry detergent, has been running an ad campaign in Britain in which it urges consumers to wash clothing at 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), rather than higher temperatures, as a way to use less energy. Cheaper and greener does it.
3. Shift to new media
Online, digital and social media are especially good mediums for green messages and rather cheaper than multi-platform “above the line” ad campaigns. Environmental attributes are interesting and innovative enough to work in the new media space (where price promises might flounder). Online buzz on green is alive and well so move your spend there.
Some companies will drop their green marketing and run for familiar ground. Others will pare down to skeleton strategies and a bit of PR. The clever ones will joyously fill the vacuum left with messages that are right for our times and reap the rewards of consistency. Which one are you?
Solitaire Townsend is Chief Executive of Futerra Sustainability Communications Ltd.