An awkward marriage of convenience struggles to consumate

Chris Grannell consulting director at strategy agency Ellis Foster McVeigh recently visited the lions’ den. He posted an excellent thought piece on Mumbrella, which under the guidance of its (English) founder, has become probably Australia’s leading site for the advertising and media industries.

Chris put pen to paper to remind us that market-based Green thinking can assist achieve penetration and profitability – in other words that capitalism and Greenies/ Green values can be perfectly compatible if somewhat mis-matched bedfellows. I’ve blogged a little on this before.

Chris characterises two groups, Conviction Greenies who see marketers as working entirely at cross purposes with them, and (potential) Market-based Greenies who see a dollar in leveraging green values and the support they receive from consumers. He talks about the opportunity for partnership between the two in order to grasp new market opportunities. As Chris says “We can all think of examples from mature categories – from electricity retail to automotive to cosmetics – where firms have created premium products from ‘green’ or renewable associations.”.

Whether the market-based group are in fact Greenies or opportunistic capitalists and whether it matters is worth teasing out. Clearly Chris is a pragmatist, pointing out the self-evident truth that the support of corporations for sustainability needs to be harnessed through their wallets, profit being the only effective incentive to become more responsible.  The double bottom line is what it’s referred to, and certainly there are some great examples of it around.

Clearly the partnership has to work both ways and as Chris says, together both parties can to do a better job. Things get a little steamy as Chris writes “Marketing and sustainability are edging closer. Marketing is beginning to eye some of sustainability’s serious assets – not to mention some of the friends she seems to be acquiring. And sustainability is beginning to find marketing’s understanding of consumers more than a little attractive.”

Chris says the Green movement needs to use better marketing ie use the system we’re all stuck with, like it or not, to change the system. I agree with Chris that the green movement needs to address its own marketing to more effectively get its message across.  In fact I  blogged some time ago about attending a corporate social responsibility forum where the convening organisation was unable to articulate their proposition to the extent that they couldn’t tell me where sustainability sat vis a vis corporate social responsibility.

Nonetheless, without wishing to appear naive, I do find Chris’ little piece of matchmaking a tad disturbing; a marriage-of-convenience between the formerly-idealistic Greenie who abandoned her virtuous notion of saving the planet ‘for the sake of our children’ and instead settled for the cynical corporate puppeteer who’s gaining entree thanks to his blushing green trophy wife into into a profitable new milieu full of unrealised consumption…albeit of sustainable products! Of course I’m misrepresenting Chris here, but my point is that perhaps its precisely this discomfort (and indeed naivety) that prevents the greenies from hopping into the sack with marketers. Similarly the corporates take a lot of persuading that they wouldn’t get their rocks off far easier and more cheaply with less virtuous strategies….cheap goods, high volumes and quick profits are more familiar and undemanding seductresses. (Seth Godin provides just such persuasion here: “Just because it is going to take longer than it should doesn’t mean we should walk away. There are big opportunities here, for all of us. It’s going to take some time, but it’s worth it”.)

I think there’s most surely a place for idealism in all this, yes even within corporate strategy, if only because its the best vehicle to deliver authenticity which surely must be at the heart of any green marketing campaign. In fact, I think idealism is a necessity in green marketing. And that’s what will make the wedding night a potential disaster.

Here’s an example of this slightly uncomfortable partnership. Apart from the fact that stylishly it draws way too much on the worst excesses of action movies, I was left feeling this was simply a branding exercise for an energy corporation rather than a genuine piece of education. Perhaps it was the wasteful budget but it lacked that authenticity, the genuine earnestness that marketers find so hard to capture, if indeed they try at all. (thanks again Green Guerilla for the link).

On a lighter note, here’s another example of what happens when the marketers are let off the leash….

Then again, look what happens when Greenies try to do their messaging without marketers. The contrast is pretty stark!

Ever the pragmatist, Chris elsewhere has posted three (he says they are the only three) market-based strategies to sustainability: respond to the market, change the market, or camouflage the product. And of course as a consultant he can help companies choose which is right for them. Another example of the double bottom line at work! Well done Chris.


5 Responses to “An awkward marriage of convenience struggles to consumate”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Schroeder, Mark Schroeder. Mark Schroeder said: @EllisFosterMcV When Greenies get into bed with marketers, will the sparks really fly? […]

  2. Hey thanks for the shout out again! This is something I struggle with constantly. I think that “greenies” need the help of marketers to get their message across, but how do you do that without making it to corporate and un-authentic?
    I also enjoyed your contrasts of marketers going their own way, and greenies going without marketers. Thanks for that!

    The Green Guerilla

  3. Some more thoughts on Conviction Greens and Commercial Greens…

    Hi Mark, actually the Conviction Green and Commercial Green in the way I originally intended them differ only in their motivation, so it’s not necessarily true that “Conviction Greenies … see marketers as working entirely at cross purposes with them”. In fact, I’d argue that both groups can gain from deploying market-based thinking. Critically both groups seek uptake of their ideas – market penetration in other words – and marketing can assist with this.

    In the past the green movement has got so hung up (sanctimonious even) about motivation that it’s forgotten outcome. You allude to this in your post – and hit the nail on the head: “a marriage-of-convenience between the formerly-idealistic Greenie who abandoned her virtuous notion of saving the planet ‘for the sake of our children”. But as a good friend of mine who works in the sustainability space has contentiously observed, “the motivations don’t matter, as long as we get improved products and better behaviours”.

    While I hope it’s clear that Conviction Greens need marketing (despite the reticence we’ve both discussed on both sides), most firms will never operate on this basis. Like it or not, they are beholden to their shareholders: “The support of corporations for sustainability needs to be harnessed through their wallets”, as you say. For this reason, it is essential to demonstrate a commercial rationale for green – something which will appeal to the majority of firms who operate in this way.

    On this subject, I believe there are four main areas through which commercial value can be created by green: These are (1) reputation (2) cost-reduction (3) diversification into new products and (4) ex-ante advantage – in other words, getting ahead of the market and reaping the benefits later.

    This gets us to a point where there is commercial rationale – where it doesn’t come about through conviction – for action. Now let’s get on and do it.

  4. […] consulting director at strategy agency Ellis Foster McVeigh posted a very interesting comment to an earlier post of mine about the conflicts and potentially synergies of Conviction Greens (believers) vs Commercial […]

  5. […] blogged here about the delicate balance between green and commercial interests,  in case you can’t tell, I found the Australian study really […]

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