Green is the new e-. It used to be that anyone worth their buzzword bingo card could slap “e-” in front of practically anything and expect their valuation to double. “E-enabled,” “e-business,” et cetera, ad nauseum. Post-bubble, we experienced a short-lived affair with “X-treme.” We had “X-treme sports,” the “X-Games,” “X-treme poker,” and practically everything else. For full transparency, I made the last one up. However, if I may borrow the current lexicon of the mainstream press, my statement was “fake but accurate.” Next question.
Aligning yourself and your brand with something bigger and better than yourself is as old as trade. I’m sure the Romans read with great interest in the Acta Diurna that Maximus the Gladiator liked bread from Flavius’ bakery. We tend to be influenced positively by positive associations with properties, people or movements that intersect with our own core beliefs and values. Refering back to Dr. Robert Cialdini’s research in the social psychology of persuasion, we’d see that the principle of “liking” means we’re more likely to agree with those whose beliefs and attitudes are like ours. Potential customers like “green,” we attach ourselves to “green,” so in theory, customers will like us. Right? So you’d understand why brands might want to attach themselves to “green.” But we all need a moment’s reflection before we jump in with both feet, because there’s the nagging problem of authenticity.
Did you hear that Fujitsu promoted biodegradable laptops at CES? All things being equal, this is good. Fujitsu has what I would consider to be an appropriate level of environmental initiatives going on, from RoHS/WEEE compliance to green infrastructure initiatives. That being said, do we buy laptops because they’re biodegradable? I’m curious to know how important this is, given the many other factors that drive a several thousand dollar purchase decision. I biodegradability high on the list? Or is price, weight, and tactile feel of the keyboard the real decision drivers? In short, “why green?” Is Fujitsu a “green” company?
And now, we are to understand that Nike is promoting its newest Air Jordan shoe as “green.” Here’s a product that costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 to make — and that sells for $230 — but that is hinging its brand positioning on sustainability. To those who actually buy $230 basketbal shoes, I’m curious (please comment if you’re out there): does “sustainability” and non-solvent based glues matter to you? Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and focus on the sub-segment of their market that might care about the moral fiber of their shoes – does glue come before sweat shop labor conditions? Do the people in Nike’s subcontracted factories get health insurance, under 18 hour work days and any form of job security? Probably not, but at least they use water based glue. Cash, check or Platinum Amex?
This makes us reflect back on CBS’s decision to do their half-time show in the dark back in November. I’m not sure what drove this decision, other than “green” being a lightning rod of public awareness. No one, as a result of this half-time show, will associate NBC with environmental stewardship, any more than they will associate Matt Lauer with being a scientific authority. As a matter of fact, both make the reasonable reader snicker at the mere suggestion.
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> Brand positioning is forever (or at least until you change it). You don’t casually venture out into hip, trendy areas without careful thought to whether you belong there. If you’re not green from the ground up, don’t pretend. You come off looking like the guy with the comb-over at the frat house party.
> We can be “sort of green” — which is fine, all things considered — and we should be open and honest about what we’re doing. But authenticity demands we not overplay our hands here. I’ve got Irish blood somewhere in my ancestry, but I won’t affect a brogue at the bar on Saint Patrick’s Day.
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Some posts back, I mentioned the brand positioning that SABMiller embodies in their HIV/AIDS prevention program. Here’s an example of deeply held beliefs that stretch to the comany’s roots in South Africa. When your customers are dying of AIDS across your core markets across Africa, it matters. Beer is a social product, one associated with fun, entertainment, friends, and down-time. Caring about your customers goes deeper than research and focus groups when they are dying of a preventable disease. That’s authentic brand positioning. There’s nothing hip, trendy, or temporary about SABMiller’s HIV/AIDS efforts, Miller’s recent fumbles notwithstanding.
If we agree that one’s brand positioning by definition requires authenticity and credibility, we have to wonder why jumping on a bandwagon — any bandwagon — makes sense. If you want to be green, be green. Working hard on economically responsible environmental policies is good business sense. But blowing your horn too loudly on environmental responsibility is a slippery slope when the rest of your business — PCB’s, batteries, solvents and other pollutants, or very questionable labor practices to which you conveniently turn a blind eye — is a bit of a mess.
Walking the walk is a full time job. When we don’t, we can count on the rest of us citizen marketers to say so.