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Marketing Green Products: Customers Weigh In

June 10, 2011

What comes to mind when you hear the “green” message in a product pitch – aside from the altruistic impression?    Don’t you also occasionally worry if there will be trade-offs in terms of product effectiveness, price, convenience, performance, or all the other usual reasons we tend to prefer one product over a competing product?   Consumers are understandably skeptical after experiencing the false-economy hypocrisy of:  

  • low-flow toilets that require additional flushes, negating water savings
  • compact flourescent (cf) bulbs that deliver suboptimal light and, if broken, expose you to mercury
  • low-flow shower heads that require longer showers to rinse shampoo away
  • energy-conserving clothes dryers that require longer cycles to actually dry clothes
  • smaller water bottle caps (70% of water bottles never get recycled)

For antidotes, visit

Lessons from the Auto Industry

Folks in the auto industry get this.   They readily admit that hybrid and electric vehicles are currently too expensive to compete with internal combustion autos.  They know price is a looming issue in buying decisions.  Big dollars are at stake here, and the sticking point is the cost of lithium batteries.  When the production of lithium batteries increases in volume, then the price can then drop to more reasonable ranges.  The auto industry is now focusing on ways to reduce the cost of those batteries.  They are facing the problem head-on.  Independent researchers, too, are making geat progress.

Every day we hear about “green” products that aren’t catching on.  What are all these “green” product messages doing wrong – or more politely, what could we be doing better?  Are we ignoring customer concerns?

Madison Avenue Does Our Homework

The good people at venerable NYC media agency Ogilvy Earth have taken on the task of surveying thousands of consumers to determine how Ogilvy’s clients – which include many major brands – could do a more effective job of selling “green” products.   They’ve even generously made the information available to us all.   Thanks, OE!

Here are some findings, paraphrased from their study.   These results are summarized from actual surveys of thousands of people, proving that public perception is everything; no matter how far it may seem from the truth, it’s the elephant in the living room that must be addressed.  We could whistle along hoping people buy because of our altruistic “green” message, but we all know hope is not a strategy.   You cannot succeed by ignoring objections.   So, let’s examine the objections,  OE’s findings, and the implications for us all.

What’s Wrong with Green Marketing Today

According to the survey respondents, Green Marketing fails to close the “green” gap, instead cementing it by making Green behavior seem too difficult and costly from a practical, financial and social standpoint.   Green behavior is also often perceived as a combination of elitist, feminine and hippie.

According to the survey responses, consumers would rather buy from a trusted, familiar brand name than from a seemingly specialized, so-called “green” manufacturer.  Put simply: given the choice, most people would rather fit in than stand out.

Green Marketing’s New Marching Orders

Here, at a high level, are Ogilvy Earth’s recommendations:

  • Resist the urge to make Green feel cool or different
  • Position Green products as normal purchases
  • Eliminate Green product price barriers any way possible
  • Make Green products more male-friendly (!)
  • Ditch the altruistic Green marketing message
  • Appeal to consumers’ enjoyment of the product
So, it would appear Green marketing is the wrong emphasis.  We should first compete on the usual bases – of price, effectiveness, and convenience.   Green benefits, as important as they are, should be positioned as additional differentiators, but not the focal point of the marketing message.
 There is much more to learn from the Ogilvy Earth green marketing study, so check it out when you have a chance, and if you find that the information saves you from expensive marketing mis-steps, say thanks!
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