Marketers Fail at Promoting ‘Green’ Choices

OgilvyEarth recommends taking sustainability beyond the niche

In the wake of Earth Day, fresh research finds that marketers continue to fail in motivating the masses when it comes to sustainable behavior choices.

OgilvyEarth found that while 82 percent of those surveyed have good green intentions, only 16 percent are committed to fulfilling those intentions. The study, "Mainstream Green: Moving sustainability from niche to normal," found that marketers haven't been able to close that gap because they've treated green marketing as a niche and not as a mass market. Half of those surveyed, for instance, thought environmentally friendly products target "crunchy granola hippies" or "rich elitist snobs." Indeed, the No. 1 barrier cited was the price of green products, with some commanding as much as a 100 percent premium.

It’s even harder to get men to adopt sustainable behaviors. The WPP unit found a full 82 percent of respondents said going green is "more feminine than masculine." That perception makes men more reluctant to go public with their green behavior, shirking away from things like shopping with reusable grocery bags or carrying around reusable water bottles.

Nearly half of those surveyed claim they feel guiltier "the more they know" about how to live a more sustainable life. But when asked whether they would purchase an environmentally responsible product from a familiar brand or buy one from a specialized green manufacturer, 73 percent opt for the mainstream brand. The Ogilvy sustainability consultancy cited a history of poor performance by green niche brands as the reason consumers preferred well-known options.

Therein lies a big opportunity for mainstream marketers. OgilvyEarth argues that most of green marketing communications has focused on the "Super Green" enthusiasts or the "Green Rejecters" and not on the "Middle Green" masses. The agency contends those consumers are not looking to set themselves apart; they want to fit in, so marketers need to restrain the urge to make green feel cool or different. Green products need to be positioned as a normal purchase.

Among the recommendations OgilvyEarth makes is to eliminate the price barrier, make products more male-friendly, and make them less identified with granola stereotypes. Furthermore, marketers should ditch the altruistic marketing message and appeal to consumers’ enjoyment of the product.

"Research shows that many of the environmental messages are not just failing to close the ‘green gap’ but are actually cementing it by making green behavior too difficult and costly from a practical, financial, and social standpoint," said Graceann Bennett, director of strategic planning, Ogilvy & Mather, contributing strategist at OgilvyEarth and a co-author of the study.