NBCU Greens It Up, Again

Despite challenges, new advertisers join 4th annual Earth Week pitch

Kermit the Frog famously lamented, “It’s not easy being green,” and the dearth of eco-friendly content on TV seems to bear him out. For the fourth straight year, NBCUniversal will try to reverse this, marking Earth Week yet again with 100 hours of green-themed programming splashed across its brand portfolio.

The centerpiece of NBCU’s April 18-24 “Green Is Universal” initiative integrates story lines about recycling and power conservation into the narratives of series such as Oxygen’s Tori & Dean: sTORIbook Weddings and G4’s Attack of the Show.

News outlets MSNBC and CNBC will also participate in the weeklong event, as the former will cover the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill while the financial news network will debut a documentary that examines America’s love affair with petroleum.

While green marketing can be a tough nut to crack—last week, CBS was blasted for its alleged penchant for “greenwashing,” a charge the broadcaster has vehemently denied—advertisers with eco-friendly products to flog are expected to make a greater investment in measured media in 2011. Per a survey conducted by Kiwano Marketing, 80 percent of marketers said they were looking to “spend more on green marketing in the future.”

Trouble is, most green marketers tend to look to the Internet and print media as the primary vehicles by which to get out their messaging. Only 7 percent of those surveyed by Kiwano said they had money in television.

Although only 15 advertisers have signed up expressly for NBCU’s Green Week play, that’s an improvement of 50 percent from last year’s total. Of the 15, eight are new clients. NBCU said this year’s stunt has generated the highest amount of revenue since it began pitching the concept in 2007.

Among the sponsors who have bought time in Green Week are Honda, Frito-Lay, Sun Products (a manufacturer of eco-friendly laundry detergent), and the group buying service LivingSocial.

“Earth Week has always provided an attractive platform for green clients because it offers greater context for their properties,” said Beth Colleton, vp, Green Is Universal. “There’s a great deal of interest in green, whether marketers are revamping their products or making green part of their overall brand profile.”

Apparently, a significant portion of the NBCU audience is sold on green marketing. The media conglomerate’s in-house research suggests that 83 percent of all consumers said they are now buying more green products than they did three years ago.

If some of the programs aligned with the Green Week push are not exactly ratings titans (sTORIbook Weddings has averaged just 324,000 viewers in its first two episodes), there are a few reach vehicles involved as well. The broadcast flagship’s Today show, NBC Nightly News, and Access Hollywood will all feature eco-centric segments in the coming week.

A rebounding economy may have put some consumers in a more altruistic frame of mind. “I think during the recession the green pulse was still strong, but for many people, the focus was on the value proposition inherent in repurposing and reusing,” said Colleton. “Now it’s about values with an ‘s.’ There’s the economical focus, but the movement is now more concentrated on doing one’s part for society as a whole.”

As CBS’ recent PR headache demonstrates, green often comes freighted with an awful lot of agita. Should one’s product or service not meet the approval of groups like Friends of the Earth or Ecopreneurist, it’s safe to assume that a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission will be forthcoming. This sort of intense scrutiny has led to greenwashing charges against organizations as diverse as Cape Wind, Kimberly Clark, and Comcast.

Then there are the cynics, who are drawn to the green issue like moths to an energy-efficient CFL bulb. The 2007 launch of "Green Is Universal" was greeted by at least one newspaper column that accused the media company of fronting some sort of con job. (After all, it's hard to imagine a less eco-friendly operation than a television network.)

By focusing a great deal of its efforts on this one very specific chunk of time, NBCU has avoided another major hurdle. As Discovery Communications has learned since it launched Planet Green, the numbers just don’t seem to support a stand-alone network dedicated to eco-themed programming. Last year, in its second full season of operation, Planet Green averaged 89,000 viewers in prime, of which 38,000 were members of the 18-49 demo.

According to SNL Kagan estimates, Planet Green in 2010 took in $26 million in net ad sales revenue, up 7 percent from its year-ago haul.

Discovery did not include Planet Green in its April 14 upfront presentation. The company is expected to make sweeping changes at the network, programming a mix of much more generalist fare.