Hitting the G-Spot: How Green Marketeers Are Going It All Wrong

By CIARA BYRNE , The New York Times, April 21, 2011

Just in time for Earth Day, OgilvyEarth has released a study on the gap between the intentions of U.S. consumers and their actions when it comes to green activities and products. Proving that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, 82 percent of Americans have good green intentions but only 16 percent are dedicated to fulfilling these intentions and over half feel guilty about their lack of action.

The study puts this down, at least in part, to the way in which green products and activities are marketed. Marketeers still focus mainly on what the study calls the “Super Greens”; essentially preaching to the converted. 16 percent of American are considered to be Super Greens in that they are committed to a green lifestyle and are often motivated by altruism. Green Rejecters are cynical about the green movement and make up 18 percent of the population.

So the vast majority of 66 percent, or Middle Greens, fall somewhere in between. This is the group that green marketing needs to target, according to OgilvyEarth, in order to turn a green lifestyle from niche into normal. To put this in context globally, the study also surveyed Chinese consumers. 48 percent of Chinese are Super Greens. Only 2 percent see themselves as Green Rejecters. Of course “normal” also varies between areas within the U.S. San Francisco, in particular, was highlighted as a city where a green lifestyle is more mainstream.

Green marketing is alienating to many Americans. According to the responses in the study, half of Americans think the green and environmentally friendly products are marketed to “Crunchy Granola Hippies” or “Rich Elitist Snobs”. Most Americans would prefer to buy a green product from a mainstream brand rather than a company which specializes in being green. Another major obstacle is the consistently higher cost of green products.

82 percent of the participants in the study also said that going green is “more feminine than masculine.” The ranks of the Super Greens are dominated by women. This is changing amongst the young. 70 percent of teenagers cite “caring about the environment” as the top trending issue amongst their peers regardless of gender.

So how to make green products more attractive to the majority? Green marketing needs to change from being about polar bears to being about people. Make it personal. Marketing messages should focus less on guilt and more on enjoyment. Even the altruistic Super Greens got pleasure out of their positive green actions.

The study also advises targeting male customers with marketing that strikes a chord with them. Tesla, for example, has done a brilliant job of changing the image of electric vehicles from worthy to racy by emphasizing speed and design.

Everyone wants to belong. Making a green lifestyle seem like the norm, rather than a niche, seems to be the best motivator of them all.


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