Archive for the ‘Communications’ Category

European group produces sustainable marketing guide

When it comes to sustainability, Europe is ahead of the US on many fronts. Marketing seems to be one of them. I am always on the lookout for fellow marketers who are giving serious thought to sustainability, and my research often points back to Europe.

One example is this guide on sustainable marketing produced and published recently by CSR Europe. The focus of this first guide is on how to minimize environmental impacts through the influence of marketing. A subsequent booklet will be produced that looks at marketing’s role relative to social issues such as human rights, equality and diversity.

The first guide offers a sustainable marketing toolkit that its authors say “has been created to show you how you can integrate the principles of sustainable marketing into your day job quickly and simply.” There are indeed some useful suggestions and tools, but I’m not so sure about the quick and simple part, as I’ll get into in a moment.

The toolkit contains an example of a decision tree a marketer might use when evaluating the marketing of a particular item. Here are some of the questions that would help you assess the potential environmental impacts of the item:

  1. Is this item useful or desirable?
  2. Would you want and/or value this item?
  3. Is it durable? Will it last for a long time?
  4. Is it made from recycled materials or sourced from sustainable sources?
  5. Have you included information on the item to tell the customer what it is made from or how to dispose of it after use?
  6. Do you know where your product was made and how it was transported?
  7. Has packaging been minimized?
  8. Is the packaging reusable or easily recyclable?
  9. Is the item itself reusable, refillable or recyclable?

I’m certain most marketers don’t want to ask questions like these because so few products today stand up to this level of scrutiny. But if all businesses were to face these questions head on and attempt to answer in the affirmative, imagine the revolutionary effects on the global economy. We might be looking at a world in which businesses would only make and promote products that are:

  1. useful, long-lasting and reusable or recyclable
  2. made from sustainable sources
  3. transported short distances and/or using renewable fuels
  4. clear in how they should be disposed of after use

Sounds nearly ideal. And a long ways off. Here’s where the toolkit’s promise of helping you integrate sustainability into your marketing “quickly and simply” may be a stretch. The authors don’t delve into what to do when faced with an employer or client that answers “no” to all or most of the questions above. And we know that most businesses would. This creates a not-so-simple dilemma for the marketer: Can I or do I want to use my influence to move my employer or client toward sustainable business practices? If not, do I just continue my role in supporting “business as usual”? Or do I part ways with my employer or client?

Every marketer has to answer these tough questions for him or herself. But as CSR Europe’s guide makes plain:

We only have one planet and the Earth’s resources are finite…The further we stretch these scarce resources, the more uncomfortable life will become for those in the developed world and the harder it will become for those in some developing countries to survive at all. In short, the situation is unsustainable.


Greenwashing companies aren’t the only villains

Nothing like Earth Day to focus attention on greenwashing.

The Center for Media and Democracy, no fan of the PR industry, is a good example. Its authors define greenwashing as “the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government, a politician or even a non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy, or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy.” A bit wordy, but sounds about right.

An East Coast PR executive cites a study by TerraChoice, an environmental marketing firm, that found 99 percent of the 1,753 claims of green consumer products they recently reviewed were “guilty of greenwashing.”

As prevalent and disturbing as greenwashing is, many in the media and environmental groups may be too focused on the actions of those who want us to believe they are doing some good for the Earth, when they’re really not. I’m equally disturbed by the vast numbers of businesses that make no effort or claim to be green. Some of those guilty of greenwashing are at least trying to improve their practices. Wal-Mart, for example.

I can’t cite statistics, but I would wager that most businesses have still done little or nothing to become more Earth friendly. Instead of spending inordinate time fact-checking green claims, we should be urging, cajoling or, if necessary, shaming offending businesses into cleaning up their acts. Not to defend greenwashing, but companies that make green claims open themselves up to public scrutiny. That’s more than can be said for the green-avoiding majority who are happy no one’s asking them the hard questions.


Trusting word of mouth, but for how long?

In advertising circles these days, “word of mouth” has its own acronym (WOM) and trade association (WOMMA), signaling its arrival as a marketing discipline. Companies love good WOM because they believe their customers are likely to believe friends and peers who recommend their products more than any commercial source. While that marketing axiom has been around for decades, what’s changed is the dedication and technology marketers are applying to monitor and generate WOM — or buzz.

So with a raised eyebrow I read an op-ed piece in the Sunday New York Times, “Loose Lips Win Elections.” The authors, executives at a research firm, claim that John Edwards and Mike Huckabee performed better than expected in the Iowa caucuses because they benefited from what they called “word of mouth advocates” — evangelistic supporters who spoke to friends and colleagues before and during the caucuses.

Whether by chance or design, such citizen advocates created the explosive growth in support for Mike Huckabee and sustained John Edwards, even as both were vastly outspent by their opponents.

I don’t believe sophisticated presidential campaigns leave anything like this to chance. It was by design that Edwards and Huckabee got their citizen advocates out in large numbers. Good for them. As the op-ed writers noted, both candidates had to do something to counteract the much larger TV advertising campaigns mounted by their chief rivals. And they understandably chose a WOM strategy. According to the authors:

Public trust in all kinds of communication is eroding, with a notable exception: word of mouth…Our mid-December survey of Iowa voters found 38 percent saying they trusted information provided by TV ads, while 69 percent trusted “comments from friends, relatives and colleagues.”

There’s reason to believe even word of mouth will soon suffer the same credibility loss as other forms of communications. Why? Because marketers are increasingly manipulating and instigating word of mouth, as Adweek magazine explained in last week’s issue:

People, of course, have always acted as brand ambassadors by sharing recommendations with friends and associates…Now, however, these interactions have become supercharged thanks to a new breed of brand ambassadorship programs that formalize the relationship between marketers and average consumers passionate about their products. These programs “hire” consumers, via incentives and rewards, to act as part PR agents, part sales reps and part evangelists. They mix the spontaneity of buzz building with technology to instigate, guide and measure what repeat customers are saying to each other about their brands.

As citizens begin to understand how these so-called ambassador programs work, it won’t be long before many of us start doubting the credibility of certain acquaintances or colleagues who speak with unbridled fervor for a brand — whether a product or a candidate. After all, they may be receiving compensation of some sort for speaking out. I say “may” because right now there’s no guarantee these enthusiastic consumers or voters will divulge their relationship to a commercial or political entity. As Adweek explains:

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association, a trade group of agencies and marketers who use word-of-mouth marketing, has instituted an informal, but largely unenforced, industry policy that brand reps must always disclose their relationship to the product or service when promoting it.

So whether on behalf of products or candidates, word of mouth appears destined to become yet another suspect source of communication. That means the Huckabees and Edwards of the next Iowa campaign won’t be able to count on vocal supporters to sway opinion like they did this time around. And worse yet, the rest of us are left to wonder whose words we can still trust and whose opinions have been put up for sale.


The language of global warming

A couple months ago, I signed up for Google Alerts on certain keywords. Two of them are “global warming” and “climate change.” I wanted to get a sense for what is being said and argued in the blogosphere and the general media about these topics. I don’t begin to read all the posts and opinions that come to me each day. In fact, I find myself increasingly wanting to tune out.

Why? First off, let me state that I’m deeply concerned about the broad environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change, and I absolutely believe human actions contribute greatly to, and are maybe the sole reason for, our warming atmosphere. I believe we must act now, collectively and individually, to avert the worst outcomes of climate change. But I also have a new concern: the rise of global warming fear mongering, what others view as hysteria and alarmism.

Unfortunately, on this point I find myself sympathetic to the complaints of those I will call “The Deniers” — those on the other side of the debate (FOX News, anyone) who deny the existence or predicted impacts of climate change and continuously rant against the alarmist claims they see spewing from their liberal enemies. And let me tell you, they have plenty of fodder for their daily diatribes over the global warming movement. Consider a few of the headlines I pulled from my Google Alerts in just the past three days:

– Global Warming Linked to Worst Mass Extinctions in Earth History
– Global Warming And A Deadly Amoeba That Feeds On Your Brain
– Global warming report gives grim outlook for state
– Pumping Particles Into the Atmosphere: A Global Warming Doomsday …
– Climate Change, Past Tipping Point
– Environment: Climate Change: Can We Stop It?
– The rising threat from global warming affects us all, warns Sir Emyr
– Another reason to sweat about global warming
– Global warming driving up humidity levels, says study
– Burning Earth: Linking Wildfires to Global Warming
– Global warming may aggravate Argentine energy woes
– A matter of life and global warming
– Global warming brings additional woes to orangutans
– WITNESS – Global warming changes face of high Alps
– October heat wave adds to global warming fears
– Where Climate Change is Felt More Strongly Than Anywhere
– Papua’s forests and global warming
– Climate Change “Mega Disaster”
– GLOBAL WARMING: Connecticut lobsters dying off
– Will Global Warming take away monsoon & food?

These headlines are from bloggers and journalists worldwide: US, Asia, Europe and South America. The Deniers would look at this sampling as evidence of hype, junk science and liberal conspiracy. I view it as the potential cause for human inaction. Yes, some of us read posts and articles like these and feel compelled to act, out of fear or a deep sense of obligation to Earth and its inhabitants. But I’m also convinced that these dire-sounding reports and opinions, repeated over and over again by well-meaning media and bloggers, will lead many to tune out and send others into a tailspin of depression and powerlessness. In which case, scientists, politicians, journalists and concerned citizens attempting to raise awareness and ignite action on global warming will be stymied.

If large numbers of people stop listening because the drumbeat of warnings is too loud or are rendered inert by the perceived vastness of the problem, the doomsday warnings will become self-fulfilling. Those who are out front on climate change issues worldwide need to rethink and carefully monitor the effect of their language choices. We need everyone on board in this great cause.

Thursday, October 11th, 2007
Posted in Climate Change, Communications, Sustainability | 1 Comment »