Consumers value practical help and advice

Some companies due to business slow down has adopted a strategy of “Appealing to consumers’ pockets”. For example,
British Gas has pursued this approach, and set up the ‘BG New Energy’ initiative a year ago to look at new power sources and associated marketing. It has launched two ‘green tariffs’, two investments in green technology – including a fuel-cell powered boiler and two insulation offers and is distributing 52m free low-energy light bulbs to UK customers.
It also offers customers an Energy Savers Report comprising a free audit of their home’s CO2 emissions with advice on how to reduce them. It runs a ‘Generation Green’ campaign in schools and, in association with the Institute of Public Policy Research, has set up a ‘Green Streets’ initiative to investigate how much energy buildings across the country could save by improving the insulation of the buildings situated there. It also installed £17m of energy-saving products in UK homes last year. Most of these initiatives are marketed through press, TV or outdoor campaigns, and focus on saving money and energy. It is amazing that energy brands are advising consumers how to use less of their products. Getting the green message across will always be difficult for energy companies.
The green message ‘is integrated into everything we do’. Sky refers to its carbon-neutral status in its ads, uses its Bigger Picture website to communicate its environmental credentials, and has broadcast an environmentally focused ‘Cool Cat’ TV ad.
Research found that 70% of its consumers value practical help and advice on how to reduce their own environmental impact far more highly than general ‘green’ messages. They are sending out installers with free low-energy light bulbs to help offset the power used by set top boxes and communicating this initiative in its ads. The facility has been downloaded to set-top boxes in 4m homes, and, typically, cuts the energy used by half. This is contributing to a total saving of 50,000 tonnes of CO2 and £12m in energy bills every year. Sky Magazine also offers viewers environmental tips, messages and ‘perks’.
Nonetheless, while it is important to communicate the connection between cost savings and energy savings, BSkyB uses tactics that are ‘deliberately anti-greenwash’ in its marketing. For example, their light bulb box was orange. Similarly, its print campaign for ‘AV to standby’, which depicted a sleeping man and carried the strap line ‘Eco-warrior’, was designed to get the message across that being green does not have to be difficult.
However, it is the car market that, arguably, best demonstrates the compatibility of green and economic values, although not all automotive firms have exploited this synergy in their communications. Several of the brands that enthusiastically joined the green rush in a bid to clean up their image as arch-polluters have now come unstuck. In the past six months, the ASA has up-held complaints against Fiat, Saab and Renault for making unjustified environmental claims.
In the US, car advertising, including that for the Prius, tends to focus on cars’ economy and fuel efficiency rather than their green credentials. Advertisers such as BMW will continue to communicate all the factors that go into the decision to purchase a car, including fuel economy, environmental impact, safety and design.

Nevertheless, despite public statements by brands about their long-term commitment to the green agenda, there can be no marketing company in the world that would not want to respond to changing consumer priorities and pressures. Companies are, or should be, watching changes in consumers’ attitudes to green issues very closely, and preparing to adapt their strategies accordingly.

James Boulton, marketing director for HSBC UK, agrees. In 2007, the bank launched its ‘Climate Partnership’ – a fiveyear, $100m tie-up with major environmental charities to tackle the effects of climate change. “For us, being green is about corporate responsibility, but our green credentials are very much part of our brand and we are looking at the best ways to activate those in our marketing,” he says.

Currently, the bank pays £5 into the accounts of customers who opt for online banking, an initiative supported by its current “What do trees mean to you?” TV commercial. It is also reviewing its ‘green sales’, a percentage of the proceeds from which goes to green charities.

The thought that big companies are applying to green marketing is replicated in the advertising, marketing and public relations briefs The current, more serious and permanent tranche is being led by business. This time we need solutions, which is something that governments and NGOs are bad at, and business is good at.

Business must also communicate what it is doing more effectively to customers, governments and NGOs alike because, consumerism faces a crunch year.

With scientists making gloomy predictions about the scale of climate change, environmentalists’ knives are drawn, ready to move in for the corporate kill. Unless it can show itself to be part of the solution rather than the problem, marketing – the industry that sold us these big polluting cars and flashy lifestyles could become the scapegoat.