| Sep 13, 2012
By Graeme Newell
Green marketing isn't just a social good anymore, it has become a juggernaut of personal identity that has more and more companies desperately searching for ways to demonstrate deep green caring. The curious phenomenon of wrapping a company in the environmental movement has been tagged "greenwashing." It has become downright surreal how some of the most environmentally inappropriate companies in the world have managed to contort their marketing to make it green.
This ad for Tostitos chips makes the rather strange case that corn and oil are both from nature, so these artery-clogging, fried wonders are saving the planet. This Region's Bank commercial introduces green banking, complete with zero-carbon checking and a reusable grocery tote bag. This commercial for "clean coal" features nature-loving Americans professing their faith in the new eco-friendliness of one of the world's greatest pollution sources. German environmental groups cried foul in this biting parody ad.
A Car On A Mission
The green marketing movement has taken an even more curious turn in the car industry. Take a look at all the hybrid cars on the road and you will notice a disproportionate number of them are Toyota Prii. Yes, that spelling is correct. Prius owners voted and decided that the plural of Prius is Prii. Toyota has sold more Prii than all other hybrid cars combined. Why is the Prius handily beating established brands like Honda, Ford and Nissan?
A study of Prius owners suggest it is about the phenomenon of conspicuous conservation. If you compare a Honda Civic hybrid with the traditional gas-powered Honda Civic, you will notice that they appear virtually identical. The Ford Escape hybrid looks like a traditional Ford Escape. The only designation of this car's green potential is a small logo on the back. The body designs are almost identical. But the Toyota Prius is different. The Prius does not look like any other model on the road.
Surveys done of Prius owners reveal that they appreciate the energy efficiency of the car, but the number one reason they buy this car is because it "says something about my priorities and lifestyle." The Honda Civic hybrid does not showcase the owner's passion for green like the unique styling of a Prius, and Prius owners are willing to pay more for this too. A study shows that hybrid owners in Colorado are willing to pay $1000 to $4000 more for this car just because of its unique styling.
And Toyota markets the hell out of this consumer belief. This Prius ad pegs the meter on environmental imagery. This Prius ad features weird music, dancing suns, frolicking fields of grass, and young children dressed as flowers. These ads are a little weird and that's exactly what hybrid owners crave – to be different.
What Car Manufacturers Are Missing
Now contrast that ad with this Chevy Volt ad. What you'll notice is that the imagery is identical to every other boring car ad in the world - standard vehicle beauty shots on long highways. This BMW ad has the same hackneyed approach. This Lexus hybrid ad shows hundreds of drab grey cars driving in circles while the announcer drones on about the company's experience in the hybrid market. This ad markets cars, while Toyota is marketing a revolution that just happens to have a car as its symbol.
What Toyota has understood from the beginning is the mindset of their customers. They realized that these green renegades weren't just looking for economical transportation. They were looking to join a revolution and Toyota was smart enough to give it to them. From the unique vehicle styling to the weird advertising, the Prius is not just a car but a bold statement of a life mission.
Go to the Ford web site and you'll notice that the hybrids are listed as nothing more than just another option of their standard car lines. What Ford doesn't understand is that every time they define hybrids as just another propulsion option, they commoditize their brand image as well.
But there is good news on the car marketing front. There are a couple of companies that have created ad campaigns that break free of the traditional car beauty-shot imagery. This Nissan ad dreams of a world with zero emissions. This delightful Audi ad goes after an entirely new breed of ecological enthusiast. It positions the traditional environmentalists as a bunch of wimpy, tree-hugging sissies and firmly puts the conversation right in Audi's sweet spot – performance driving.
Things to Remember
Your product brand must do more than just meet a specific functional need. It must also fit into the story of your customer's life. Toyota built the Prius brand from the customer mindset up, not the car down. They realized that they could sell a lot more cars if they tapped into an emerging societal trend instead of just marketing the technology of a new product line. Too many companies get so smitten with their own product that they never bother to find the customer's true motivations behind a purchase.
So a detergent brand is not just about laundry, but is a part of a customer's personal identity that is wrapped up in her "mothering" persona. Great brands build deep identities that customers can peel back like the layers of an onion. Just when one story gets a bit boring, there is another brand story that deepens the relationship.
Most product categories have multiple brands that will all do a fine job of serving functional needs. There are dozens of hybrid cars but only one Prius. The grocery store has an entire aisle filled with fizzy soft drinks. Yet customers pay more and come back to great brands like Coke because their brand fulfills a deeply human need to connect and share with the people most important in their lives. This universal feeling of connectedness has given Coke a worldwide appeal.
Here is one final thought you might want to contemplate: you may know that your customer likes your product, but do you really understand the deep emotional motivations behind that affection?
Watch a three-minute marketing lesson video from customer loyalty expert Graeme Newell showcasing environmentally reprehensible companies that have managed to market themselves as green, as well as many other training videos, white papers and other content covering "emotional marketing" at his website 602communications.com.