Jacquelyn Ottman: How to Stay in the Black While Going Green

Advertising_age_jpegGreen Marketing maven, Jacquelyn Ottman, gives some suggestions for avoiding, "green marketing myopia."    Her sage advice reminds marketers to back up their claims in reality and to above all, always  keep the consumer in mind when promoting green products.

Posted April 2, 2008, Advertising Age
Jacquelyn Ottman

Philips launched EarthLight, an energy-efficient compact fluorescent
light bulb, in 1994. The bulb had a clumsy shape that was incompatible
with most conventional lamps, a confusing package and a price tag of
$15 compared to 75 cents for incandescent bulbs. Sales languished.
Although it was well intended, the environmental positioning of the
EarthLight appealed to only the greenest of consumers.

To be successful, green marketing must satisfy two objectives: improved
environmental quality and customer satisfaction. Misjudging either or
overemphasizing the former at the expense of the latter — as Philips
did with the EarthLight — can be called "green marketing myopia." In
1960, Theodore Levitt introduced the concept of "marketing myopia" in a
famous Harvard Business Review article that business students still
study today. In it, he characterized the common pitfall of companies’
tunnel focus on "managing products" rather than "meeting customers’

Mr. Levitt warned that a corporate preoccupation on products
rather than consumer needs was doomed to failure because consumers
select products and new innovations that offer benefits they want. To
wit, many green products have failed because of marketers’ myopic focus
on their products’ "greenness" over the broader expectations and
desires of consumers or other market players, like regulators and
activists. Mainstream consumers want to know, "If I use ‘green’
products, what’s in it for me?"

Fridge earns honors, loses sales
Here’s another example. In
1994, Whirlpool launched the "Energy Wise" refrigerator, the first
cooler free of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) chemicals and
more efficient than the U.S. Department of Energy’s highest standard by
30%. For its innovation, Whirlpool won the "Golden Carrot," a $30
million award package of consumer rebates from the Super-Efficient
Refrigerator Program, a coalition of local utilities and the Department
of Energy. Not surprisingly, in hindsight, sales suffered because the
CFC-free benefit and energy savings did not offset the $100 to $150
price premium in markets outside the rebate program, and the
refrigerators didn’t offer any additional features or new styles that
consumers desired.

Green marketing myopia also strikes when products fail to
provide credible environmental benefits. Introduced in 1989, copy on
packages for Mobil’s Hefty photodegradable trash bags explained that
the bags would photodegrade when "activated by exposure to the
elements" like sun and rain. But because most garbage is buried in
landfills, allowing limited exposure to the elements, the claim enraged
environmentalists. Seven state attorneys general sued Mobil on charges
of deceptive advertising and consumer fraud, and the company withdrew
the product from the market.

So how do marketers avoid the pitfalls of green marketing
myopia? Successful green marketers follow three important principles
that can be called "The Three Cs": consumer-value positioning;
calibration of consumer knowledge; and credibility of product claims:

1. Consumer-Value Positioning
To position products as a value
to consumers, design environmental products to perform as well as, or
better than, alternatives. Promote and deliver the consumer-desired
value of environmental products, and target relevant consumer market
segments. Broaden mainstream appeal by bundling (or adding)
consumer-desired value into environmental products (such as fixed
pricing for subscribers of renewable energy).

2. Calibrate Consumer Knowledge
Educate consumers with
marketing messages that connect environmental product attributes with
desired consumer value. Examples include: "Pesticide-free produce is
healthier," "Energy efficiency saves money" or "Solar power is
convenient." Frame environmental product attributes as "solutions" for
consumer needs, for example, "rechargeable batteries offer longer
performance." Sherwin Williams’ "Harmony" paints are a good example
because they are low-odor and free of silica and volatile organic
compounds, appealing to consumers wanting to improve indoor air quality
as fumes from paints, carpets and furniture are now linked to
headaches; eye, nose and throat irritation; dizziness; and fatigue.

Create engaging and educational internet sites about
environmental products’ desired value. For example, Tide Coldwater’s
interactive website allows visitors to calculate their likely annual
money savings based on their laundry habits, utility source (gas or
electricity) and ZIP code.

3. Credibility of Product Claims
Make sure that environmental
product and consumer claims are specific, meaningful and qualified.
Compare to similar alternatives or likely usage scenarios. For example,
Toyota recognized the ambiguity of the term "green" and dismissed a
slogan for Prius, "Drive Green, Breathe Blue," in favor of "Less gas
in. Less gasses out."

Underscore credibility with product endorsements or
eco-certifications, like Energy Star, from trustworthy third parties,
and educate consumers about the meaning behind those endorsements and

Encourage positive word of mouth via consumers’ social
networks and online sources with compelling, interesting or
entertaining information about environmental products. Increasingly,
consumers have grown skeptical of commercial messages, and they’re
turning to friends and peers for advice. The internet has opened
significant opportunities for tapping consumers’ social and
communication networks to diffuse credible "word-of-mouse" (buzz
facilitated by the internet) about green products.

Philips used these strategies with the EarthLight when
reintroducing the bulb in 2000. Using the name "Marathon" to emphasize
the bulb’s five-year life, the bulb had a new design offering the look
and versatility of incandescent bulbs. Communications promised an
estimated $26 in cost savings over the life of the bulbs, and an Energy
Star seal stamped on the package front trumpeted credibility. This new
value proposition triggered sales growth of 12% in a flat market.

~ ~ ~
This article is excerpted from "Avoiding Green Marketing Myopia:
Ways to Improve Consumer Appeal for Environmentally Preferable
Products," by Jacquelyn Ottman, Edwin R. Stafford, Ph.D., associate
professor of marketing at Utah State University, and Cathy A. Hartman,
Ph.D., professor of marketing at Utah State University, originally
published in Environment magazine, June 2006. Click here to read the original article in its entirety.

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