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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

You marketers should save the world already

Iceberg_2 David Reich had to up and go to Magazine Day and now I'm thinking about the fate of the world. This week is supposed to be my "back to work as usual" week. Now in addition to posting bad words on my blog I have the weight of the world on my shoulders. Damn him.

See, many of the new publications that were unveiled at the magazine show David attended are green-focused. Bravo to Sprig for a great strategy--"convincing 95% of people to be 5% green rather than 5% of people to be 95% green"--and a great name (Spring stands for "Stylish People Are Into Green"), but boo to National Geographic for taking the line-extension route into green (yawn).

Thinking green got me thinking: will the fate of the world--meaning, will it stay green or be very blue with all the ice-caps melting--come down to how well we marketers do in promoting environmentally responsible initiatives?

No, I don't think the world revolves around marketing (or marketers). But I am convinced marketing drives many, if not most, of the world's decisions.

I've been vocal before in saying how we marketers can greatly effect body image and safe sex, so it seems we can do a better job of marketing the very planet that houses our very markets. Because what we've been doing isn't working. At least not well enough.

Since Al Gore went Hollywood, he has done a fine (!) job of amplifying the save-the-world message. But the very words "Global Warming"...as comedy master Bill Maher astutely pointed-out... sound warm and kinda fuzzy. It sounds like a nice initiative that warms the globe's heart. After all, who wants a cold world? (I understand the ice age was a real buzzkill).

Yes, regulations play their part and yes, companies need to be encouraged (and, many times, forced) to be responsible. But in getting consumers to join the green movement we need less stick more carrot. The death and destruction cries don't do it; people have enough to be guilty about, trust me (I've written about green guilt here).

Watching An Inconvenient Truth, I hated seeing the images of hurricanes and hurt people. And those poor polar bears just made me heartsick. But, statistically speaking, those images aren't affecting people. At least not enough of them. And definitely not for long enough. The best move of Gore's movie? Enlisting Melissa Etheridge to belt her Oscar-winning "I need to wake up" ditty. Why? Because it was cool.

I believe it was in the book The Tipping Point where Gladwell pointed out the reason so many anti-smoking campaigns fell flat was because it was never that "smoking was cool" it was always that "smokers were cool." Marlboro's audience wasn't cowboys (cowboys roll their own cigs). It was city-dwellers and suburbanites who didn't so much long for a horse as they did that cowboy cool. When all the money placed into "smoking kills" ads didn't do the trick, people finally started to understand that featuring non-smoking "cool" role models in films and such works much better.

So it stands to reason that we need to make a greener lifestyle cool. Now we can't outright say it's cool (that wouldn't be too cool), we need to show it--and encourage people to want to experience it. And align themselves with it.

Sure, consumers want to do right by the earth. But primarily, they want to do right by themselves. Maybe these desires need not be mutually exclusive. We need incentives because the cries over of our climate being way out of control isn't incentivizing enough.  Cooler-looking "green stuff' is a good idea (the Prius), cooler messaging is another (the Etheridge song) and mags (like Sprig, possibly) that explore a myriad of cool items like fashion, beauty and tech is a great idea, too. I think these are the right direction. Sure hope so.

Plus, I rather fancy the idea of marketers saving the world...rather than being to blame for all its ills. Hmm, perhaps I should pitch that idea to some movie execs.

P.S.: Should we fail marketers, at least there's the possibility of living here.


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I'm sorry. I didn't mean to set you thinking about the fate of the world, just the fate of magazines.

Re. marketers working to save the world, it should be corporate America (and corporate World) doing the right thing for a combination of reasons -- good business, good marketing, good P.R., good citizenship. If our government can't get past politics to do something, business can and should.

Magazines and other media showing us that green can be cool is one way to begin making a difference.

David: Damn you ;-).

Yep, biz can and should but marketers need to keep being creative in their strategies (e.g. Sprig) and less alarmist (tho' indeed it's alarming). We need to engage and align instead of just getting petitions signed(though that's good too).

I never said anything about getting petitions signed. That's for the politicians, not for business.

Here's a Financial Times article to add to the conversation about corporate responsibility and green marketing:


to be honest, i've always thought that corporations would have start to be green only when they saw it in a business perspective.
today, for most of them the coolness factor can be a significant push.

It is always frightening posting on a blog which is written from a professional perspective very different from your own - but here goes.

I own/build/cosset a small eco business. I grow cut flowers organically, sell them locally and have branched out into recycled textiles and making things from the cutting garden produce such as plant dyed felt.

My ruling ethics are very green, sustainable etc. etc - My customers aren't that bothered about that (well some are, but not the majority). The buttons I press most frequently are "unique"; "good value"; "local"; "small business"; "stylish" - they aren't eco words but are from the same box.

I don't push my business ethics in marketing much - just in wedding marketing where it is cool to have eco flowers. Usually I find that it confuses people and sometimes reminds them about their worries about the planet - I think that we are headed into a phase where people are frightened because they think they can't change anything. I want happy people buying so I don't tend to confuse them with talk about pesticide residues.

I am now concerned that this comment may be way off topic . . . but I do love the blog!


Jane, I don't think you're off-topic at all. It's interesting to hear from someone in business who is being environmentally responsible because it's the right thing, regardless of marketing implications. I think your not pushing your "greenness" into customers' faces is smart, since you know your customers and what they respond to.

Good for you.

I think one of the biggest problems is that people honestly don't know HOW to live a "greener" life, besides maybe buying a hybrid car.

Should we install fluorescent light bulbs? Should we take shorter showers? Should we turn off our cars at stop lights? Should we try to fart less?

And once people actually do know how, they don't know how to get others around them to join in. Like you said, it's not "cool" yet.

So the first step might be to provide specific, practical ways for regular people to "go green." The second step might be for the people doing it to start sharing with those around them.

And of course, the key behind all of this is authenticity. We can't just have people going green for the sake of looking good (or making a profit). We need them to really believe in the cause before trying to cause others to believe.

Cam: Thanks for the link; I'll check it out.

Jane: Welcome and please never be frightened to chime-in at this blog...or at any blog. You'll find the marketing community to be a friendly, passionate bunch. And we always want more to join in the discussion as that's how we learn and get better at our jobs (and yes, get better at saving the world ;-)!

I appreciate that you stick to green practices, thanks for setting/following a good example. I think David said it best above with how you know your customers and what "buttons" or "messages" work best for them. It works better for you not to push that message because you're still able to follow green practices without frightening customers. Interesting how the eco-friendly message is a good selling point for weddings.

Also, what you hit on about how customers can grow worried about what is happening with the world is very valid. That's why I like the "uplifing"--or, as I say above "cool"--messages. Consumers need more incentives, positive messages and products that are green-focused. We need to engage, not frighten as you so aptly point out.

Ryan: Great stuff. People don't know how to start being "green"...you are correct. I know a good bit about green as I've worked it a bit but, by and large, it's so "apart" from us all. Very good insight.

First we need to make it simple (the other post I wrote about simplicity and less guilt is hyperlinked in the post above under "green guilt"). Net/net: we need to make it really simple to start practicing a green lifestyle. That cuts down on the "barriers to entry" because otherwise consumers don't have the time or mental bandwidth to feel they're taking on an entirely new religion.

And second, we need to make it "cool". We need incentives...less cries over the world melting as that's too big for people to process. We need to just have them process little steps (like you point out) and give them an incentive to practice them. All told, a more positive approach because the guilt and fright is just not working. Nowhere near. Much more "carrot" and far less "stick".

I really thank you for your great comment...it's got me thinking ;-).

P.S.: Here's that other post I wrote on making it simple: https://www.ck-blog.com/cks_blog/2006/07/good_news_for_k.html

Great job, now you got me thinking. I have to dig through some articles and make a post now on how marketers can design green programs.
I can't reveal much now, but I will give you credit for the creative poke. thanks dear

Mario: You're welcome...now go save the world!

I loved this:
"Plus, I rather fancy the idea of marketers saving the world...rather than being to blame for all its ills. Hmm, perhaps I should pitch that idea to some movie execs."

I think you *should* pitch it. It could make a good story!

And remember, the unsustainable values we think are so entrenched now could be considered just a brief phase in our evolution as human beings. We or our children could look back on these times and be completely mystified/horrified by disposable packaging and yuck-belching cars...

Penina: Thanks for stopping by the blog. I hope that story pitch comes true and becomes a documentary ;-). Yep, it might just be a brief phase if we marketers do our jobs...because we can effect--and positively effect--so much.


Inside your commercial marketing body there's the heart of a social marketer trying to get out. There's a relatively small group of us doing social marketing (i.e. using marketing to promote health and social change), and we need more people with your marketing smarts helping us try to save the world. :-)

Nedra: Now I’ve just fallen in love with you – ha! Telling me I have the heart of a social marketer is one of the nicest things a marketing colleague has ever told me ;-). Mean that.

Advancing the industry…and using our talents to make the world a better place…is tops with me. It’s nice to be able to communicate that through the blog. OK, must end on that note. I hear there is a world to save.

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