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Green marketing: a mainstream demographic?

03 May 2007

'People worried about climate change' has become a market segment. Yesterday's Independent carried two full-page adverts for organisations who want to reach that customer.

The first was from Together.com, and lists how eight UK companies can help us to cut our carbon emissions. M&S, which I do believe is taking carbon reduction seriously, says that it is encouraging customers to wash their clothes at 30°C when possible. British Gas claims to offer free home energy audits and O2 will give you £100 credit for keeping your old phone when you renew your contract. Sky is apparently introducing a sleep mode for its cable boxes.

Some of the other companies taking part didn't have much more than a sales pitch. Royal & Sun Alliance is offering a new eco-insurance product (whatever that might mean). B&Q is selling cheaper insulation and Tesco says it has halved the price of energy efficient light bulbs.

I was ready to have a go at Tesco, in particular, for a lack of imagination. As one of the UK's most influential businesses, you would think that they could come up with other ways to save the planet. I'm pleased to say (after a little digging) that they have also committed to halving emissions by 2020 and using energy efficient bulbs. There just wasn't room for that in the advert, I guess.

Barclays says it will donate half its profits from a new credit card to carbon reduction programmes. The cynical part of me wonders whether this means their own carbon reduction programmes, which they should be doing anyway. But they're also asking people to buy foreign currency from them and pay to offset the carbon of their flight at the same time. That's a clever way to make it easy for guilty greenies to settle their debt to the planet and bring in a bit of extra business.

Ten or twenty years ago affinity marketing became a big thing - basically aligning products with causes and charities. That's where Comic Relief gets a few pence from the sale of a box of soap powder, and the manufacturer gets to splash all over the place about how great it is because it does a lot of great work for charidee, and does like to talk about it. The charity makes more money than it otherwise would, the manufacturer sells more products, the customer gets a rosy glow from choosing the cuddly company to buy from. Everyone's a winner.

Climate change is a bit different. If people take it seriously, it could be a direct threat to the growth of many businesses. If people start buying from local suppliers, Tescos is screwed. If people start taking the waste problem seriously, they'll stop buying M&S's highly packaged lunches. Bully for Sky making its units go into standby mode, but aren't we supposed to be switching off properly? Can we not haul ourselves off the sofa that far to help save all life as we know it? In fact, we can probably do without telly altogether if it's going to be that much hassle. Why are we marketing carbon offset programmes? Is it because we've already accepted that we're not willing to cut our flights, and we think we can endlessly buy our way out of the problem?

While I'm sure many in these businesses are sincere about wanting to save the planet, the economic model we use won't let them do what they really should: Take out a full page advert that says 'STOP BUYING SO MUCH OF OUR STUFF!'

The moon photographed from space
A tiny reminder of what's at stake.
Image courtesy NASA Johnson Space Center. Used by permission.

The other advert in the Independent was for Spurt Airlines:

We hear a lot of guff about flying and global warming. The media mob say aviation is the fastest rising source of greenhouse emissions. 'Save Africa' whingers claim that 160,000 people a year are already dying from climate change. And 99% of climate science cronies babble on that emissions from aviation growth will scupper all other greenhouse gas reductions the UK might make. So what? Global warming isn't a good enough reason to miss out on some ridiculously cheap flights.

The advert goes on in a similar sarcastic vein about how everyone should vote Labour because that's a vote for the aviation industry. 'Why go green when you can have Brown?' it says.

It doesn't say who's placed the ad, and the spoof company's website is no more open. The press release mentions Enoughsenough, Planestupid and Greenpeace and this campaign reminds me of Greenpeace's previous anti-Apple website. But there's no clear claim for authorship.

The campaign is interesting because it's encouraging tactical voting against Labour purely on the grounds of aviation growth. That suggests that someone with money believes the environment is, or could be, a key voting issue. And it implies that Labour is much worse than the other two parties on aviation support. I'm not sure the Conservatives or LibDems would have been much different in their handling of aviation over the last ten years if they had been in power. At first I wondered whether the ad had been placed by the Conservatives, since they seem to be targeting green voters and they'll be the next government if they unseat enough Labour MPs (even if many go LibDem).

I'm not surprised to see both these ads in the Independent, which has positioned itself lately as a liberal and green paper.

We should expect to see a lot more of this kind of activity. We're a market segment now. Be prepared to be bombarded.

Related link: Climate change: An inconvenient truth.

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