Posts Tagged ‘advertising’
I’m concerned, however, that greenwashing may be distracting marketing executives and educators from an even more distressing matter: The vast number of companies, large and small, that even today don’t give lip service to green or sustainable products or practices. They don’t pretend to be sustainable, don’t promise to become sustainable, don’t understand what it means to be sustainable and, frankly, don’t appear to care.
The marketing and advertising of these companies remain what they’ve always been: attempts to promote and sell products and services, without a hint of green gloss. They stress the usual customer benefits: greater value, quality, innovation, convenience, luxury, responsiveness, ROI and the like. But they make no claims to be more earth-friendly, socially responsible or otherwise green or sustainable. These businesses continue to do what they’ve always done, with no obvious regard or accountability for the environmental or social impact of their actions now or across future generations, except perhaps as required by law, rule or regulation.
I don’t know what percentage of businesses are making concerted efforts to become far more sustainable. I’d wager it’s a small minority. One reason the media features companies that embrace sustainability is they are the exceptions. If every company was going green, there would be no story. And one reason businesses tout the “greenness” of their products or practices (sometimes resorting to greenwashing) is they see a competitive or “first mover” advantage. Again, if all companies produced sustainable goods or services, that advantage disappears.
The point is too few businesses are serious about sustainability today. And that should have brand managers, PR counselors, ad execs, social media mavens and all other marketers up in arms.
I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of greenwashing — no company should be allowed an advantage through false or deceptive marketing. But who should worry us more:
- The few unethical companies (and their marketers) trying to pull the green wool over our eyes? Or…
- The many businesses making truthful, “non-green” claims that contribute to excessive or inequitable consumption and their inevitable byproducts: natural resource depletion, ecological damage, climate change, poverty?
Marketers committed to sustainability have a perfect opportunity in this worsening recession to drive home a critical point among their not-so-green peers: It’s time to examine the very role of marketers in fueling unsustainable economies and ways of living. Or stated more positively, how marketers can get on the right side of sustainability.
Ridding the world of greenwashing would be welcomed progress. Harnessing the creative and persuasive talents of every marketer on behalf of a sustainable world would be nothing short of awesome.
So we’re officially in a recession. That explains those paranoid marketers looking nervously over their shoulders. They know what’s coming.
Most businesses treat marketing as a discretionary expense, making it an easy target for budget cutters. It’s as if marketing is a luxury afforded only when times are flush. Less customer demand, less we can afford marketing, or so conventional thinking goes.
But really, can we ever afford not to market?
It’s natural to want to preserve cash during a downturn. I was an employer for nearly 14 years, so I’m sympathetic. But the tendency is to make deep cuts in marketing when sales head south. Companies often start by reducing or eliminating outside expenses, such as advertising, events, sponsorships, research. And when that’s not enough, they lay off marketing employees, sometimes the entire department.
The net effect of gutting marketing is to stifle generation of customer awareness, demand and retention just when these things are needed most. It’s a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision.
Management guru Peter Drucker contended, “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer…Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two-and only these two-basic functions: marketing and innovation.”
Drucker believed “true marketing” starts with customers, including their demographics, realities, needs, values. “It does not ask, What do we want to sell,” Drucker writes. “It asks, What does the customer want to buy? It does not say, This is what our product or service does. It says, These are the satisfactions the customer looks for, values, and needs.”
Notice, he doesn’t equate marketing with branding, advertising and promotion, as it has come to be broadly perceived and practiced today. Above all else, the marketing function is about engaging, understanding and pleasing our customers. It involves deep listening to customer needs and then helping the business respond with innovative products and solutions that satisfy those needs better than the competition. A recession might curtail how much you spend on marketing, but the function remains essential under all economic conditions.
If you’re contemplating cuts to your marketing program, ask yourself this: Do I truly understand my customers, their needs, their values? And is my company converting that understanding into innovative products and services that my customers value over other choices in the marketplace?
If the answer is no on both accounts, then it’s time to restructure and refocus your marketing efforts so they perform their function. Sure, you may need to trim spending here and there in marketing. Taking an ax to it, however, is your worst move. You’ll only sever connections with customers when you can least afford to lose touch.
If you answer yes to the questions, pat yourself on the back. Your marketing is doing its job. So why mess with what’s working? Find ways to preserve the people and the processes you use to market. They are more valuable than ever as the recession tightens its grip and each customer becomes more precious.
Devotion to sustainability as a company doesn’t exempt you from the fundamental need to market in bad times as well as good. In fact, there’s never been a better time to distinguish your company from the competition and prove your relevance to customers. You’re part of the solution to what ails us. Time to let the world know!
I just learned Detroit’s Big Three automakers account for six percent of the revenues of the world’s four largest advertising holding companies. Meaning, if the automakers go down, it will be a painful blow to the firms most responsible for promoting their products. Hmm, let me see if I can work up some sympathy here. Sorry, no can do.
These are the very same agencies that consumed countless barrels of creative fuel bringing us the dream of owning Hummers, Escalades, Expeditions, Yukons, Navigators, Suburbans, Tahoes and other gas-guzzling, climate-killing hogs. I wonder who came up with that delightfully clever idea two years ago by GM to hand out 42 million toy Hummers in McDonald’s Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals. Once the kids get their meals, the parents will reach for the toy, and voila, next thing you know they’re with their kids in the Hummer showroom.
The major holding companies — Interpublic, Omnicom, Publicis, WPP — all count a Detroit automaker at or near the top of their list of largest clients. They’ve happily allied with an American industry that Fortune magazine wrote last year has been “getting a free pass on fuel economy for more than two decades. Instead of devoting its considerable technical resources to improving gas mileage, it has been cranking up the horsepower of its engines and selling modified trucks as SUVs.”
And now the Big Three automakers are cranking up the pressure on Congress to bail them out, while the Big Four ad conglomerates hold their collective breath. Detroit automakers are the poster children for environmentally and, now, economically and socially destructive behavior. While the atmosphere warmed, vehicles got bigger. While fuel prices rose, sales of big autos tanked. And while sales disappeared, so did the hopes of local communities whose economies are devastated by auto plant closures.
I’ve seen little evidence any of this has dented the conscience of the world’s leading ad executives. No doubt they’ve been too busy counting profits from their share of the billions Detroit has spent on advertising, including $4.6 billion in measured spending in 2007 alone.
The day of reckoning is now here for big advertising, just as it has been for their auto clients and their clients’ employees and communities. Good folks in advertising, PR and marketing are losing their jobs. My wish is they now find work supporting companies and industries that actually care about our planet’s future.