BusinessGreen: How to develop a sustainable marketing campaign


Notorious American comedian Bill Hicks once famously invited members of his audience who admitted to working in marketing to kill themselves. Whether the controversial stand-up would have taken a more sympathetic view of marketing professionals who ply their trade pushing sustainable products is doubtful, but maybe he could have been convinced to stop short of advocating suicide.

Extremist comedians aside, it is probably fair to say that the majority of consumers are more well disposed to products or services that hold some societal or environmental worth. A poll by European polling outfit Eurobarometer in 2009 revealed that the majority of Europeans, 83 per cent, said the impact of a product on the environment played an important part in their purchasing decisions. Add in the potential for the marketing team concerned to actually believe in the green product they are selling, and sustainable campaigns should be a doddle.

Unfortunately, sustainability is a uniquely tricky concept to take to market.

As incredible as it sounds, some corporate marketing departments have actually been guilty of making unwarranted and even false green claims. As a result, the public’s positive disposition towards environmental messaging has been hijacked by the spectre of greenwash in recent years. Reacting to this growing tide of exaggeration, and in some cases explicit untruths, bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority have taken action against numerous companies and even government departments.

The same Eurobarometer survey last year also showed that Europeans were divided about the claims made about sustainable products with about 49 per cent saying they trusted claims but 48 per cent stating the precise opposite.

Ensuring marketing and communication campaigns get the sustainable message across without falling foul of increasingly exasperated regulators means that the whole notion of green messaging has become a veritable minefield for agencies and internal marketeers. It takes a lot of coordination and creativity to make sure that messages remains coherent and punchy, but still within the increasingly stringent guidelines laid down by the ASA, Defra and even the European Commission.

Given this blend of consumer scepticism and vigilant regulators, what are some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to combining the disparate parts of a green marketing campaign?

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