Eco-Ads: The Aim Is to Say How They Save the World
NEW YORK TIMES • STUART ELLIOT
JUST as the Supreme Court is said to follow the election returns, Madison Avenue keeps close tabs on consumer opinion and behavior. As a result, green marketing, once left to a corner of the attic with mood rings, Ipana toothpaste and black-and-white commercials, is making a notable comeback.
"Powering technology isn't just costing companies a lot of money," declares a magazine advertisement for Sun Microsystems. "It's costing the environment dearly. Let's change this." An advertisement for a company called Pet Ecology describes its products like K-9 Fat Free Dog Treats and Scientific Professional Cat Litter as "inspired by pets, people and our planet."
The Pink Panther character turns author for the Owens-Corning line of insulation by writing the Pink Panther Energy Blog, described as "Keeping a paw on the pulse of energy conservation" (saveenergy.owens corningblog.com).
The German appliance maker Bosch asserts "It pays to be green" in a print campaign featuring a friendly looking frog, urging shoppers to "save now on all Bosch Energy Star qualified laundry products."
(The Bosch ads are not to be confused with a campaign for Ford's Escape hybrid S.U.V., which stars Kermit the Frog and carries the theme "I guess it is easy being green.")
"When there's a proliferation like this, you have to try to understand what the motivation is," said Tod Martin, president of Unboundary in Atlanta, a strategic consulting company. "Sometimes the proliferation is more for cosmetic effect and sometimes it comes from a deeper place."
For one client, Mohawk Paper, which promotes its environmental policies like using wind power in the manufacturing process, "we're doing a lot of work aimed at employees," Mr. Martin said, "helping the sales force tell a different story about how the company is run."
General Electric is seeking to tell a different story with an ambitious campaign centered on Ecomagination, a coined word that combines "ecology" and "imagination," the latter to echo "Imagination at work," the G.E. corporate ad theme.
"It's far more than an advertising or marketing campaign," said Judy L. Hu, the company's global executive director for advertising and branding in Fairfield, Conn. "It's Jeff Immelt's stake in the ground." Her reference was to Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chairman and chief executive.
Mr. Immelt introduced the "ecomagination" theme in a speech he gave last May. Ms. Hu listed the steps G.E. is taking to back up the promise, which include "increasing research and development, increasing the number of green products and services we sell and being more energy efficient."
One reason G.E. likes the ecomagination theme, created by the BBDO Worldwide agency, is that "it presents an optimistic point of view," Ms. Hu said, "as opposed to the negative aspects, the sacrifices people have to make, cutting back."
In studies that track consumer attitudes about General Electric, Ms. Hu said, "all of our measures were up" since the campaign began, for positive attributes like the company's being "innovative, at the forefront of technology, making products that improve the quality of life, having a vision for the future, caring about the world you live in."
Another company hoping that green marketing can significantly change perceptions is General Motors, which in February introduced a campaign carrying the theme "Live green. Go yellow." The ads are centered on FlexFuel technology, which enables cars and trucks to run on either gasoline or E85, a mixture of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol derived mostly from corn (hence the yellow).
"This is an advocacy campaign; it casts a wide net," said Dave Moore, chief creative officer at the Birmingham, Mich., office of McCann Erickson Worldwide, the agency that created the theme.
It is aimed particularly at younger consumers, he added, because they "are the ones who change things."
Elements intended to appeal to that audience include a special Web site (livegreengoyellow.com) featuring an online game called the Stalk Car Race and a "cornulator," to calculate "how you can reduce your gasoline usage by driving one of G.M.'s many corn-fed FlexFuel vehicles." The Web site is created by Digitas.
Toyota Motor Sales USA is also branding its green technology, using the phrase Hybrid Synergy Drive for three products: Camry, Highlander and Prius.
A campaign by the Saatchi & Saatchi agency carries themes like "First one to save the planet wins" and uses the color blue in TV and print ads as well as on the Toyota Web site (toyota.com) to signal the ecological intent. There are even pump toppers, signs atop pumps at service stations, with messages like "M.2 P.G."
"There are different reasons for people coming to the hybrid marketplace," said Kim McCullough, corporate manager for marketing communications at Toyota in Torrance, Calif. "Some want to do something good for the planet, some are about saving gas and saving money. We address both."
Part of the campaign to introduce the 2007 version of Camry, America's best-selling car, is being devoted to the hybrid version. It was featured in a high-profile ad attached to the front cover of the recent green issue of Vanity Fair magazine.
The hybrid Camry is "already doing well for us," Ms. McCullough said.
No wonder they call it green marketing.