Villing & Company

The Marketer Who Cried "Green"! Does Light Pale Mint Green Really Count As Saving The World?

Question: does a plastic bottle sporting an environmentally friendly label decompose in a landfill faster than a plastic bottle without such a label? Answer: nope. Does the first bottle sprout into a magnificent tree with "green" products hanging from its branches? Uh, I think not.

Let’s face it, we like to delude ourselves into thinking we make most of our decisions by weighing facts and evidence and then applying critical thinking before arriving at conclusions. In reality though, many of the decisions we make are based on emotion. In many cases, it makes us feel good when we believe we’re making good ethical decisions. This applies to purchases we make, even if they cost a little more. This realization was part of the big ah-ha revolution in thinking in the Golden Age of advertising. Listing reasons for buying a product often pales in comparison to making someone feel warm and fuzzy. Warm and fuzzy wins every time.

Enter "greenwashing", that is, putting the term "green" on just about anything whether or not it’s actually worth a darn for the planet. Green isn’t a term for environmental activists anymore. It’s a marketing term and a powerful buzzword at that. It makes people feel like they’re doing good. And who doesn’t want to do their part in increasing efficiency of energy usage and being more responsible with resources? If we believe buying a certain brand of potato chip or cleaning product (that does a terrible job and will remain nameless) will help in that endeavor, even in a small way, then why not? Let’s do our part, right?

Well the trouble is that a large number of marketers have been slapping "green" on packages when the true "greenness" is anything but emerald. Often the descriptors on product packaging are extremely vague, if not meaningless. An article from couple years back in Reuters showed that as much as 98% of the “green” advertising is misleading. But the ads are there because they still work. People believe what they're told.

On one hand, it certainly seems good that people desire to be more conscious about the environmental impacts of their decisions. But the trouble is they’re often being duped into believing they’re actually helping the cause, when they’re not.

As a marketer, I feel there’s nothing wrong with inspiring consumer emotions, but only if you’re being honest with them. If you’re making them feel a certain way and creating an emotional connection to a product or service, it’s important that it’s actually grounded on something real. Let’s not wait for Uncle Sam to come in and regulate this and make examples out of several dishonest advertisers. Instead, let’s just be honest with the consumers now and mean what we say.

Filed Under: advertising

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