The Branding and Banding of Green

Spring is in the air and “green” is high on the agenda for both musicians and major brands — but not necessarily together. Could greater collaboration be a missed opportunity?
The answer to that would seem to be “yes.”
Brands and musicians are plowing their green furrows in increasing numbers. More and more marketers are developing their communications strategies to meet consumer demands for environmentally friendly products. “Eco friendliness” is growing exponentially in sectors including household cleaning, appliances, computing, automotive and food. But musicians only seem to come together with “green” brands outside the mainstream, and in low key or specialist ways.
As Billboard magazine’s recent Green Issue reported, there’s no slowdown in the number of artists embracing environmental issues. Some fairly mainstream and iconic musicians leading the charge include John Legend, Radiohead, Ludacris, Tommy Lee, Pharrell Williams and Feist, as well as more ecologically focused artists like Jack Johnson, Okkervil and Cake. These performers are among those driving the message home to their fans, leading by example. They’re reducing their carbon footprint via biodegradable fuel in tour trucks, designing energy-efficient stage sets, running solar-powered recording studios and banning disposable water bottles at their performance venues.
Musicians are also encouraging fans to learn more and participate in socially responsible and cause-related behaviors. For example, Hanson’s Take the Walk, which encourages fans to participate in a mile-long barefoot walk with them at each gig, raises awareness of poverty and AIDS in Africa. It also raises funds to send shoes to underprivileged kids there.
John Legend’s Show Me Campaign encourages people to take individual action and, according to Billboard, has been a large part of his 2008 Evolver tour where fans can text in donations during the show and visit Show Me displays.
A number of environmental organizations have been tapping into the emotional engagement artists have with their fans. For example, Rock the Earth, which campaigns for and takes action on many environmental issues, has partnered with a number of high-profile artists including Alanis Morisette, Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crowe, Ozzy Osbourne and Tom Petty.
So with all this star power and influence, why aren’t we seeing more partnerships with big marketers?
According to Shawn Kilmurray, executive director of Rock the Earth and a music industry veteran, it’s not that brands aren’t interested; it’s that artists are wary of brands that greenwash — meaning they talk the green talk to lure in consumers, but don’t walk the walk. When the Sierra Club, for instance, endorsed Clorox’s eco-friendly cleaning line — and as result gets a share of the profits — it suffered a backlash from some longtime supporters who thought the club had sold out. Kilmurray points out that artists are worried about losing credibility if they take dollars from unsuitable brands.
Anthony Ackenhoff, co-founder of global music branding and strategy company Frukt, also notes that while artists have got over the notion of selling out to brands, when it comes to their own beliefs and personal interests they’re extra careful. Brands, he says, have to pass the sniff test and be able to stand up to scrutiny. If the artist and his or her fans smell a rat, then the artist — and the brand — could be damaged.
The stakes are high for all, but there is clearly an opportunity for brands that are genuine in their green/sustainability claims and performances. As the old saying goes, “He [or she] who dares, wins.”
Mike Tunnicliffe is a partner at the Filament Entertainment Group. He can be reached at