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Green Marketing: Big Deal or a Little Bit of Bologna?

“Always shop in air-conditioned comfort,” reads a line of type at the bottom of the newspaper ad for W.T. Grant Co. stores that ran in the El Paso Times (Texas) in 1959. I’ve seen that line in lots of old advertisements. My first thought was, ‘What’s the big deal? How can that be a benefit? Most people just expect it.” Well in those days, many department stores still just opened windows and turned on fans when it was hot. So, AC made Grant stores special.

I think about that air conditioning line when I see marketing that brags about “eco-friendly” products, energy conservation or waste reduction. What’s the big deal? Why wouldn’t you conserve energy, reduce waste and use renewable or sustainable resources whenever you can? Are these mentions of efforts to go green (environmentally responsible) a big deal or just a little bit of bologna?

Personal beliefs of owners aside, you can bet most companies would go the most eco-friendly way if it provided a clear marketing advantage. W. T. Grant installed air conditioning because they knew they could market the fact they knew it gave them an advantage over the competition.

Likewise, many companies installed solar power and created policies that encourage conservation and reduce waste with the hope they could use those changes as an advantage over the competition.

But is going green really an effective marketing strategy? It depends on who you ask. For example, Forbes reports that a 2017 study on corporate social responsibility says:

  • 87% of consumers will have a more positive image of a company that supports social or environmental issues.
  • 88% will be more loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues.
  • 87% would buy a product with a social and environmental benefit if given the opportunity.
  • 92% will be more likely to trust a company that supports social or environmental issues.

Those results seem to be a great argument for getting your green programs going and creating awareness of what you’re doing.

But wait… there’s more. Check the wording. I’m always skeptical of survey answers where consumers predict their future actions. The answers to the survey above say, “87% of consumers WILL HAVE a more positive image” and “88% WILL BE more loyal,” etc.

However, when you look at actual consumer behavior, a different tale emerges.

Ryan Lupberger is the founder of the nontoxic laundry company Cleancult. Writing in Conscious Company, he says even though most millennials want to buy green products, they’re not necessarily willing to go to the farmer’s market, order from a small boutique online, or go out of their way to find one.

A study conducted by Ad Age surveyed millennials about green brands. When asked whether they could identify a brand that actively supports the environmental movement, over 50 percent couldn’t name a single one.

Lupberger says most millennials believe green products don’t work as well as traditional products. Further, millennials think green products are too expensive.

A recent study conducted by RetailMeNow found that four out of five consumers think environmentally friendly items are more expensive than non-green products. Additionally, three out of five (61 percent) of these respondents would only consider purchasing an environmentally friendly product if it cost the same or less than a non-green product.

Despite the lack of hard evidence that green products and services sell more or help increase business, article after article in business publications present the future through glasses with green-colored lenses. They advise to become more socially and environmentally responsible if you are targeting millennials (people born between 1981-1996.)

But it appears we’re once again getting some bologna when we’re expecting steak. Most research shows older generations are more concerned about the environment than millennials and are also willing to pay more for green products. Perhaps that’s because older generations have more time and disposable income.

And why is a perceived marketing advantage what’s driving the move to becoming more socially and environmentally responsible? Maybe — like “shopping in air-conditioned comfort” — we should just expect it.

About The Author

  • Author | George Farris
George Farris is CEO and Senior Brand Coach at Farris Marketing. Connect with George on LinkedIn using the icons above.

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