The Greenwashing Effect

12June

The Greenwashing Effect

Copyblogger’s “Four Ways to Target Online Buyers with the Right Words” has a great analysis/advice section for marketing to eco-friendly, socially conscious, tree-hugging types (among other types of consumers). Green is the new black, and it seems a lot of businesses are trying to revamp their marketing efforts to promote a more “green” brand.

But some of these companies are just using this newest wave in the green revolution as a cheap advertising and PR marketing opportunity. Greenwashing – deliberately misleading customers about the environmental practices or ingredients in a product – has become so prevalent that the Federal Trade Commission is getting involved (some good examples of greenwashing can be found at NPR’s Greenwashing blog). Years ago, the FTC laid out clear rules for using words like “biodegradable,” “ozone safe,” and “ozone friendly” on product labels.

A lot has changed since then, and the FTC’s new green guidelines for advertising are eagerly anticipated and long overdue. Look out for the new FTC guidelines in the coming year if you plan to market in the green industry.

A confession: I’m a wannabe treehugger. It’s so easy to get caught up in the do-good rush of a label that is Cruelty Free! Sustainable! Free range! Naturally derived! Renewable! But in actuality, these words have no real definitions, and their use is not currently regulated by the FTC (however, if you see the “USDA Organic” seal on a product, you know it’s been certified as the real deal).

So as the American consumer becomes more jaded in this greenwashed society – especially when corporations like Shell, BP, and GE are regularly accused of greenwashing their marketing campaigns – here are some tips about giving treehuggers what they want to hear (and generally just good marketing advice):

1. Be Specific

Forget generic claims like “All-natural” – it’s an obvious greenwashing term that means nothing. But, if you can be very, very detailed about your product, your company may gain some points in the green revolution. Consider the difference between labeling your product as “All-natural” versus “Our products are grown at our farms in Greensburg, Kansas. We don’t use pesticides or toxic chemicals of any kind, and we harvest everything ourselves so that we can deliver our best product straight to you.” The latter is obviously more detailed, and seemingly more reliable than the nebulous, broad-reaching, unsubstantiated claim.

2. Be Relevant

Don’t include irrelevant “eco-friendly” features about your products – unless your product is new or the feature is new. For example, claiming that your paper towels are “100% Biodegradable” is irrelevant – all paper towels are biodegradable. And a certain major beverage company, in an advertisement for their new “eco” water bottle, claims that the bottle is “100% Recyclable” – which is great, but the bottle has always been recyclable, and all plastic bottles are recyclable anyway.

Don’t drive people away with silly or misleading information; instead, include information like this only if your product is new or improved.

3. Be Transparent

In other words, don’t try to hide anything. If you want to gain reputability in the green community, always refer consumers to your website on your product label – true eco-conscious consumers will check! Make sure everything, such as all ingredients used, your refinement and manufacturing processes, company affiliates and associations, philosophy, and pictures, are clearly spelled out on your website. It’s not always easy to make a name for yourself in the green community, but after establishing your credibility and earning consumer’s respect, you’ll have a long and prosperous relationship with your devoted followers.

Posted by Michelle  Posted on 12 Jun 
  • Copywriting, greenwashing
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