Environmentalism has injected itself into the public discourse lately on a couple different fronts- not just in Marketing. The U.S. athletes who showed up in Beijing wearing face masks to filter out smog caused quite a controversy over whether their precautions were alarmist or justified. In addition, the latest set of ads coming fom the two Presidential candidates focus on environmental policy and energy plans, debating the best response to rising oil prices.
However, in the retail world it seems that advertisers are pulling away from “green” messaging. According to Jeff Bercovici at Portfolio, when global warming first began to get significant public attention a few years ago, a number of environmentalists were concerned that the growth of green marketing would paint environmentalism as a fad and would eventually devalue the greater movement for change.
Green marketing did indeed grow. Demand for products claiming to help save the planet skyrocketed. A quick search on Google Trends shows that terms like “eco friendly” and “green products” became noticeably more popular starting around the end of the year 2006. Items like Method biodegradable home cleaning solutions flooded the marketplace. And the search query report of one of our PPC clients who sells high-quality customizable notebooks shows searchers browsing for “eco friendly binders.”
However, the wave of popularity around green marketing then expanded to include “green-washers,” or companies who greatly exaggerated the environmental benefits of their products in order to boost sales. Wal-Mart got in on the action by purporting to be a sustainable manufacturer that used “organic” materials. It failed to mention that those organic materials came from China, and the finished products were then shipped halfway across the globe, using a noteworthy amount of fuel in the process.
Have the green-washed marketing efforts of merchants (on and offline) affected the efficacy of the overall environmental movement after all? It’s hard to tell. However, one thing is for sure: consumers have gotten savvier at spotting “greenwashers” and flimsy claims of corporate sustainability.
Perhaps this is why, according to Portfolio, sales revenues this year for magazines which published dedicated “green” issues fell from that of the same issue from the previous year.
So what does this mean for ecommerce merchants advertising online?
- If your product has a clear environmental benefit, make it a selling point! But don’t use overly general terms. For example, describing your product as merely “green” will not be as convincing as detailing the fact that it is made from 90% recycled post-consumer material.
- Consider a green certification from a reputable industry organization such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Energy Star, or Green Seal.
- Organize all “green” keywords in their own ad group or campaign. Ads touting your certification may really improve the click-through rate among your target audience.