By Helen Lawson, senior PR account manager, Pauley Creative
The UK market place is now flooded with products and services shouting about their ‘green’ credentials. There are now over 73% more ‘green’ marketed products in the UK market place today, than at the end of 2009.
With ‘green’ becoming an ever bigger message, why is greenwash something to worry about? Essentially, the ASA are starting to crack down on false and misleading claims, and ultimately trying to prevent corporates from financially benefiting through fabricated marketing campaigns.
For many years it’s been a bit of a free-for-all in the ‘green’ arena, but now we’re all going to have to be careful what we say, what images we use, and what impression our branding or marketing campaigns leave on our audience.
The more buzz that is created around greenwash, the more heightened your audience will become to marketing campaigns that are pushing the boundaries, and it only takes one complaint to instigate an investigation. There are a number of websites, and Facebook groups even, including a prominent page on the Guardian Online, where people can share links to websites, advertising etc that are ringing alarm bells. You can even sign up on the ASA website to receive timely notifications of new judgments and appeals.
A more astute audience is going to require us all to create watertight marketing campaigns and branding.
The future is green…
So the trouble is, how can you shout about your sustainability credentials without getting in trouble?
ASA Chairman, Lord Smith said “Companies should be aware of the rise in awareness of environmental and ethical issues alongside confusion and scepticism. The ASA does not want to discourage companies from communicating their initiatives but to help them to do so in a credible and responsible way.”
So who exactly has this affected so far? Some quite big brands have had their knuckles rapped already, and the fine details of their run-in with the ASA are all available in the public domain. Household names such as Saab, McDonalds, Shell Oil, EDF Energy, have all been pulled up in recent times.
You might ask – what are the real implications of this? The chances of you getting pulled up rely on somebody complaining… and the worst that could happen is you have to pull the advert or campaign from future slots.
Considering the nature of our online community, the risks to your brand reputation just aren’t worth considering. A greenwash buzz around your new product launch will more than undermine the sustainability credentials you were trying to highlight initially.
Let’s stop trying to pull the wool over each other’s eyes and get real about ‘green’ benefits – and then shout it from the rooftops!
Seven rules for communicating sustainability
1. Optimism rules
Guilt tripping potential customers or clients just doesn’t work, focus on realistic, positive messaging and avoid the ‘doom and gloom’.
2. Create a sustainability ‘champion’ for your campaigns
Somebody your audience aspire to, who can lead by example and really ‘live’ your messages and communicate them in a charismatic way. Remember, everybody needs a hero…
3. Think about the bigger picture
Develop your messaging based around long term, achievable goals that your audience will relate to. Focus on the things that will matter to them both next week, and in ten years’ time.
4. Find your place within the narrative
Are you a big fish, or a small fish? Where does your unique perspective sit within the wider discussion? Evaluating the conversations will help you to identify gaps in the knowledge base. Find your focus and stick to it – there’s no such thing as a ‘sustainability expert’, it’s much too big of a label to mean anything.
5. The power is in the story
Believable, close-to-home stories that your audience can relate to, will support your positioning and add real credibility to your sustainability ‘champion’. Focus on getting really great stories together that actually demonstrates your key messages and brand values, as this will really make the difference to your perception within your specific marketplace.
6. Remember that nobody likes change
Although change is coming, nobody really likes it. Try to focus on helping your audience make the little steps towards a change they won’t even notice. Attempting to convince the business community to give up their cars just isn’t going to get you anywhere.
7. It’s ok to be ‘normal’…
It’s not essential to try and represent yourselves as tree-hugging hippies who only wear organic clothing. If it’s true – then great! By being personable and human in your approach, you’ll find common ground making it easier for your audience to relate to you.
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