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Season 5: It's Not Easy Being Green: Green Marketing

Airs January 8th/13th, 2011

In the world of marketing, advertisers can create their image and messages with virtual freedom. But that's not the case when it comes to "green" products - because the scrutiny is too intense. This week, Terry O'Reilly looks at the ever-changing world of Green Marketing. He'll look back at how the green movement started, how it's evolved, how marketers navigate the shoals of green marketing today - and what it all means to everyday consumers. One thing for sure... it's not easy being green.

Listen to this episode as streaming audio (runs 26:30)
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This season, we're happy to say we'll be posting all the visual content from all the episodes here, so your Age of Persuasion experience is enhanced.

Below are all the TV commercials and print elements we referred to in the show, as well as one bonus video. Enjoy.

In the world of marketing, advertisers can create their image and messages with virtual freedom. But that's not the case when it comes to "green" products - because the scrutiny is too intense. Therefore, the ever-changing world of Green Marketing is very challenging for advertisers.

Many believe that the green movement can be traced, in large part, to this woman:
RachelCarson-photo.jpgRachel Carson was a marine biologist who wrote a book that stated, in no uncertain terms, that DDT was harming the world.
That book was Silent Spring.
Silent Spring book.jpgHer book is credited by many as ground zero for the green movement. Even David Suzuki told me that it was this book that launched him on his life-long crusade for sustainability.

The Green timeline has many beats. A loose timeline would include the creation of "Earth Day" in 1970.
Earth Day 1970.jpg

A few years later, the widespread concern about phosphates in detergents began. It prompted the public to start demanding "phosphate-free" detergents, so manufacturers started rolling out products like this:

Another beat in the timeline saw the appearance of a hole in the ozone layer, which lead to another term entering our lexicon - greenhouse gases:

One of the most important aspects of Green Marketing, for advertisers, is to remain humble in their communications. Taking a moral high ground is dangerous, and leaves an advertiser open to intense scrutiny. Many believe British Petroleum made that mistake in their "Beyond Petroleum" tagline and advertising - suggesting they were better than other fuel companies. Here is one of their commercials from that campaign:

One of the best, and most unusual commercials I've seen for the Green Movement is the commercial/video called "Mr. W." We didn't have time to include it in the episode, but here it is. A unique and creative way to talk about a green issue (won't spoil the surprise):

As adman and author John Grant says in his excellent book, The Green Manifesto, the key element of Green Marketing is to make green products seem normal, instead of trying to make normal products seem green. That is a profound insight - because it means the real task becomes to market truly green products in everyday terms. That one of the things advertising is very good at - normalizing issues. Like the cause against drinking and driving, and seatbelt use:

One of the companies that seems to be doing it right is Marks & Spencer in the UK. They have made a big commitment to achieving 100 sustainable goals in five years. It's a lofty mission, but it's a noble one, and the public is responding and getting behind the company's drive to succeed. I love the tagline:

Marks & Sparks Plan A.jpg
More and more people are choosing to spend their money with companies that have clear values and sustainability plans. But the real power is with the consumer. If you demand green products, manufacturers will be forced to deliver. As Bruce Philp says in his new book, The Consumer Republic: "Buy the change you wish to see in the world."