Envisioning Green: Getty Images and the Pictures and Colors That Sell

Green_biz_jpegPosted at GreenBiz.com
By Joel Makower

Denise Waggoner has a vision about green marketing — lots of visions,
actually. Waggoner, who is vice president of creative research at Getty
Images, has been studying the kinds of colors and images that appeal to
green-minded consumers. Water, trees, forests, animals — dancing
elephants — what, exactly, gets consumers attention? Along the way,
Waggoner found out that that not all shades of green are created equal.

GreenBiz.com executive editor Joel Makower caught up with Waggoner
recently at a green marketing conference to find out what she has
learned about how consumers visualize "green."

Joel Makower: So Denise, tell me a little bit about how Getty Images got started looking at the visual aspects of green marketing.

Denise Waggoner: Well, I head up a group of people we call
creative research. And we are based in London, Paris, Munich, New York,
Seattle, Los Angles, Tokyo, Beijing, Sidney, and San Paolo. And we
started creative research because we wanted to understand visually how
people were communicating with people in territories around the globe.
We became interested in the environment because the environment was
almost chosen for us.

You know, I talked a little bit earlier today about how the media
and celebrity and our culture is really beginning to focus on this. You
know, we’ve been talking about the war on terror and we’ve got the
elections coming up. There are all these things bubbling along, but
celebrity and media are really trying to change the attitude of
consumers over all to really focus on what’s happening in the world. So
for us as visual communicators, it’s important for us to understand how
the environment is being communicated today to insure fully that we’re
creating the right pictures to make available for our customers.

JM: So the pictures tell a story obviously.

DW: Absolutely.

JM: And this is very much about storytelling. You look at,
first of all, different types of images. Water, trees, forests,
animals, anthropomorphic kinds of things. Did you find that any one of
those was particularly meaningful to consumers?

DW: Well, I think what became clear to us ultimately was
that the messaging that we’re delivering to consumers right now is
actually confusing. There wasn’t any one thing that emerged. There were
— there was lots of green. There were animals. There was forest. There
was water melting.

But what we really discovered, and this is where the confusion
comes in, is that there’s a confusion between raising awareness around
the environment and selling a product. So that what you had was a
campaign, for example, from the World Wildlife Federation showing the
world melted and sharks swimming around in a sea of buildings. And then
what you immediately have is also the world melted from an Italian
company that’s selling strong windows and there are sharks swimming
around homes at the time. So visually we discovered that there wasn’t a
single language emerging, but there is a lot of competition to get in
front of consumers.

You know, there was that study done, gosh I don’t know how many
years ago, that said that consumers receive over 3,000 marketing
messages a day. So there was a lot of competition for those eyes. That
the products, news, media and now we’ve got the environment trying to
tell that story to humans, us. You know, we call ’em consumers, but
it’s really the human condition to raise awareness and to make change.

JM: But when you use something like trees or forests how is
that confusing people? What are the different ways you could use
forests or trees in a confusing way?

DW: Well, I don’t know that using forests is confusing. I
think when you look at them together, when you see a forest or an ocean
or a shark being used in a public service campaign to raise awareness
around the detriment to the environment along side a campaign to sell
windows or a space heater or something, that’s when it gets confusing.
One of the things that we’ve really been looking at is when these — I
suppose in a way we’re talking about clichés. When these clichés are of
anthropomorphic animals, the forest, water. When those are used over
and over again there becomes indifference because the consumer can’t

And so when we talk about the environment and breaking through the
clutter that consumers experience all the time, the over use of the
forest or the overuse of the polar bear in either car insurance or as
the symbol of a melting polar ice cap, that consumers begin not to
respond at all because it’s just kind of, "Well, yeah. I saw that
yesterday. And I saw it yesterday and I don’t know if it was for a car
insurance ad or if it was from the World Wildlife Federation."

JM: Well, you know one of the clichés of course is that a picture tells 1,000 words.

DW: Yeah.

JM: What’s the role in the words that accompany? Cause I
would imagine people say, "Well, it’s not — we’re — it may be a mixed
visual image, but the word clarify that because we’re telling the story
with the headline and the body copy of this ad or whatever."

DW: Well, it’s interesting. What we’ve discovered is that
the more distant the product is from the environment, the more copy it
requires to tell the consumer that the product’s actually close to the

JM: Give me an example.

DW: I think a good example, and I bow down to the great
people at Canon, but you know they’re using penguins to actually say,
"Using Canon will help sustain the environment." And they’ve got
penguins in their campaign walking around Canon equipment.

JM: These are cameras, photocopiers?

DW: Yeah. I believe it’s for a photocopier. I don’t even
believe it’s for the actual camera. And there was loads of copy in that
campaign to explain why — how buying a Canon piece actually makes the
environment sustainable. So it’s a great big stretch to using a copier
to saving penguins. So in that respect we’ve seen language used that

The most arresting work is really coming out of the not-for-profit
sector. Who are using very few words and using phenomenally powerful
imagery to tell that story. So we’re not seeing language play there at
all. We’re seeing literal — as you said, a picture telling 1,000 words
or whatever.

JM: So obviously the number of words it tells depends in
part of on the quality of image. Is it maybe that some companies are
just sort of taking an animal and sticking it next to a product not
really thinking about how to create a clever image the way that I think
it’s NRDC or someone has a kid standing in the middle of a flood and
saying, "Is this the world — thanks for leaving this world behind for
me, parents."

DW: That’s right. And certainly we are seeing children
emerge as we have been. I mean really since the dot-com crash when
advertising really began to take — the way you visually communicated
with each other really took a turn. And then with 9/11, we saw children
who were primarily part of the same plane as their parents actually
emerge to the forefront of the picture. And what we’re seeing now is
that children as the symbol of the future. As you just said, "Thanks,
dad, for melting everything." And that the idea now is that the child
is at the forefront and not part of the family, but the future of the

JM: So kids — I mean kids become useful or it really depends like any tool about how you use it?

DW: Well, exactly. And my — to say that children haven’t
been part of advertising and the symbol of our future in the existence
of communication would be a misnomer. But I think how children are used
now is different because it is not anymore about parenting. It’s about
the child themselves. And you can see that in the change in the way we
communicate in terms of how to raise our children, the global village,
all those things. That steamroll effect of how we like to tell people
how to live now. And the infotainment — particularly the infotainment

So kids will be used, will turn into a cliché as well. And I think
the challenge for all of us is to find a visual language that brings it
close to home so that me, when I sit in my backyard in Seattle or my
mother who lives in a little town in Fayette Missouri, feels as
responsible for the environment as the person does in India or China or
France for that matter. And that’s — and that is why this issue is so
phenomenal because it affects everyone around the globe. And it’s way
different than studying baby boomers, for example.

JM: Now, you did some research on the color green itself,
and how people respond, because it’s long been another cliché in the
green world is there’s many shades of green. But there literally are
many shades of green and some of those connect with people, resonate
with people better than others.

DW: We actually partnered with the fabulous folks over at
Yankelovich Research to go out to 3,000 consumers and ask them two
different questions. One was what was the color green they most
identified with the environment. And the second was what symbol did
they most — symbol and/or icon did they most recognize as being either
green or environmentally sound. So the four colors we took to them we
called them — we didn’t tell them the color name because we knew that
would influence them.

Internally we called the colors forest, kelly, olive, and lime. And
hands down forest green, which is that dark rich deep color you think
of in terms of a pine tree perhaps. That’s the color that consumers
most identified with. Now, there was a subset of mature women who
actually identified with the kelly green, which I thought was kind of
interesting. But overall it was definitely forest green.

JM: Do you have any idea why?

DW: Well, I think the idea — visually when you think about
— we think about the industrial revolution and the history of industry
in the U.S. Think about mining and strip mining and paper and trees and
recycling have been around for a while. And the best way to show that,
for lack of a better way of saying it, the raping of the land. There’s
no better way to show what we’re doing to the environment than to take
a swatch of trees and rip out half of ’em and go, "See what you’re
doing gang?" And so I think that sense of greenness and complete green
that a forest offers makes everyone feel quite secure.

JM: Why do you think that some women in particular resonated a little bit more towards kelly?

DW: You know, I’d have to dig into that a little bit more
about kelly. All I could think of was kelly green and golf and maybe
there were products involved somewhere. Or that kelly green is in fact
a happier color.

JM: Or maybe they used to be Kelly Girls back in their years.

DW: Yeah right. Exactly. (Laughs)

JM: What about celebrities? I mean we’re seeing this — I
mean there’s the obvious Ed Begley and Leo DiCaprio and a bunch of
others who have been doing this. But increasingly other celebrities are
coming into the fold. Are they really credible? Do people actually say,
"Well, I really should be more environmentally responsible because
Gwyneth is doing this," or something?

DW: Well, I think it’s a — there’s a very funny line there.
You know, there’s a reason we call it aspirational environmentalism.
You know, the influence on celebrity — of celebrity on our culture is
enormous. From wanting to dress like them, diet like them, have that
money, have that lifestyle. So there’s always an aspiration sitting out

I think the difference between somebody like George Clooney or Brad
Pitt or even Leonardo DiCaprio, three who have been at the forefront of
really from a media perspective, driving this movement. And Oprah — I
would include the Oprah factor in that as well. Is that their behavior
actually matches what it is they’re preaching. And I think that’s a big
switch in terms of celebrity.

You know, I think Molly Sims is now the spokesperson for Keep
America Beautiful. And she’s got a picture that just says recycling is
hot. But I don’t actually know what Molly Sims’ practices are. I think
what — the differences that George is driving a Prius. Leo is coming
to the Oscars that way. So in that respect we’re seeing them not show
up in their — or using that — the financial power that they have,
they actually seem to be doing something about the environment with it.

JM: Do you see any downside or potential dangers of using celebs?

DW: There’s always a downside to using celebs. There is
always. You know, you think about the number of fallen celebrities. You
know. And God knows everybody and their brother talks about Britney
Spears all the time. But look at what happens when somebody goes wrong.
You know, if endorsements go away. Negative — we love to see — in a
way we love to see the hero fallen as well.

JM: Well, I wasn’t even thinking about what happens if someone ends up in Betty Ford Clinic or something or the nasty divorce.

DW: Which isn’t necessarily — well, the Betty Ford Clinic’s not a bad thing actually.

JM: I was thinking actually just of people assuming that —
whether people just get cynical about this at some point or whether
people get overexposed. Or — I mean Leonard DiCaprio’s been doing this
stuff — or Ed Begley for 20 years.

DW: Or right. Of course, Ed is not as sexy as Leo is, and so … (Laughs)

JM: So is there a risk there?

DW: Yeah. Well, there is absolutely a risk. I think that, as
with everything, overexposure. You know, I think there are all sorts of
new words out there now. Green washing, this tired of this constant
barrage of communication around what’s going wrong in the world. And so
I think because it’s such a big issue, consumers are — we humans are
having a really hard time connecting that on a very personal level.

So I think in a certain point you begin to build up a wall and go,
"Oh, look it’s another disaster. Oh, look it’s another picture of a
disaster." Think about the drought in the U.S. or the drought in
Australia. These stories that we’ve been talking about continue to push
us forward, but we fell completely out of control about it. And so I
think at a certain point you do turn it off. And that’s why the
language, the visual language that we must rediscover to keep that
awareness and the building of the awareness alive.

JM: I would imagine also that there’s some value, I was
wondering what you think about this, on sort of the everyday person. I
think one of the great ad campaigns from a — not a political, but from
a — just a visual perspective was something that the — of all folks
the National Rifle Association did. Where they would get a professional
woman in her 30s in a blue business suit and a briefcase and the
headline was, "I am the NRA." And the idea was that these are not a
bunch of gap-toothed hillbillies in plaid shirts. And so the question
is, is there some value in saying, "Well, forget the celebrities. We
want to show that everyday people are green or have — or are
aspirationally green."

DW: Sure. Well, I think one of the things that we will see
moving forward is — I would almost call where we are now, for lack of
a better way of calling anything, but we are in a propaganda phase. You
know, propaganda is there for a reason and it has a lot of negative
connotations to it. But we are in the building awareness phase. And I
think in the — in a very serious way that we weren’t 20 years ago or
30 years ago. It’s not like it hasn’t been a part of our conversation,
but there have been lots of other things going on.

So right now we’re in that insane drive to build awareness around
it. And I think once that happens that we will go up and over. And one
of the things that — over that peak. And one of the things that I
think we will see is the emergence of you and me and our neighbors as
the stewards of the environment and the new hero. That celebrity — and
this is what I would hope for all of us. Is that celebrity begins to
take a backseat as we as humans begin to take — or non-celebrities I
should say, begin to take the front seat of what that is.

JM: Well, how about companies? Can companies be seen as celebrities or heroes when it comes to the environment?

DW: Oh yeah. I mean think — the power of brand is as
powerful as the power of celebrity. You know, think about brands like
Dove and the Campaign for Real Beauty or what Nike continually does or
McDonald’s. When I think of three really major mega brands that
continue to tap into consumer behavior and desire. I think brands can
have the ability to do that. However, there is such a distrust of
business in general. It is a very fine line.

I think the energy — well, the oil industry has now re-branded
itself the energy industry. So we’ve got major industries going, "Okay.
No, no, no. We’re not bad. We’re not hurting the environment. We’re
gonna call ourselves something nicer and we’re gonna put out nice
visuals now." "So I’m Shell and I’m no longer going to show an oil rig
in Texas or wherever it might be. I’m now going to show you a beautiful
picture of the forest because we as a company chose to leave that

JM: Yeah. And the chemical companies are now life sciences companies.

DW: That’s right. It’s life sciences. There’s Ecomagination, which I think has been a big successful campaign from IBM.

JM: Well, I think it’s interesting also how some companies
have actually kept their product out of the picture. Whether it’s those
car companies where the show nothing but trees.

DW: Oh, yeah. The Toyota campaign is phenomenal.

JM: How do they pull it off and why would you want to do that?

DW: Well, I think the message there is — and certainly I
think car companies are, like the energy industry, a great example of
one of the bigger challenges. A car is not something we are going to
give up so you’ve got government regulations. You’ve got all sorts of
things going on with the automobile industry. And so the choice they
have is to innovate, which is what the car industry’s always been about
anyway. But now they have to innovate in a much more responsible way.

So it has to be something more — you know, a car is a very sexy,
sexual thing particular for Americans. It’s about speed and passion and
all those. So now they’ve got to translate that into something that is
much closer to home that makes it about the individual. So the Toyota
campaigns — visually Toyota and VW and Lexus in particular, who are
using nature as part of that communication. Are about bringing it and
making it much more personal. Much more personal to me as a human so
the tree — the car not being there means that Toyota’s thinking about
my interests. Using a hand or using humans to represent that tree of
life as it were means that we’re all really responsible for it.

JM: So how does a company start to think about its visual
impacts when it goes out to create something? What would be some of the
takeaways that you would just encourage companies just to think about
as they go on their green marketing way?

DW: Well, I think one of the key things is to actually take
the temperature of what’s out there today. Is to really see how we’re
all visually communicating with each other either through their own
industries or as a whole. And then determine the message that they want
to deliver around that. You know, products, and I think again in the
Toyota campaign. Products are no longer really the hero in the shot.
The shot must so quickly — I think the study says you’ve got three
seconds to grab a consumer’s attention in whatever it is they’re
looking at. So what will — what visually will break through that
clutter and what will not only sell your product, but also what will
your product stand for that’s environmentally sound.

JM: And sometimes it’s not the obvious I guess?

DW: Yeah, exactly. I mean ten years ago would you ever
thought a tree would sell a car or a forest would sell Shell oil or any
of those things? You know, our language is moving forward trying to
discover. You know, the issue for us really is how to keep the
distinctions so that it’s not mucking up — just because Shell oil uses
a forest doesn’t mean they still don’t have the same practices. And so
that’s where each of them — and I make no comment on — that’s not a
comment on Shell oil, it’s just how we all communicate with one

JM: Right. Well, there’s a lot more to talk about here, but how can people learn more about the work that you’ve done?

DW: Well, we are actually — this visual report that we’re
doing called Aspen will be made available online at Getty Images. And
then also the — a short version of that report will be available on GoodandGreen.biz as well. So come to Getty Images
in about a month and you can get a link to over 1,500 campaigns from
around the globe as well as an extensive research — not only what we
did with Yankelovich, but also on the behaviors and where we believe
visual language is moving forward.

JM: Great. Thanks so much for talking with us.

DW: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

Joel Makower is the Executive Editor of GreenBiz.com, and blogs at Two Steps Forward.

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