As many of you already know, Sun Chips has stopped producing its 100% biodegradable chip bags because of consumer complaints that the bags are too noisy. Social media-driven consumer lobby: 1, Planet Earth: 0. It's just one chip bag in a multitude. So, why is Sun Chips' move giving my gut that queasy déjà vu feeling that I experienced in the early 1990s, after the last big green faux-renaissance? Could this be the canary-in-a-coalmine turning point for the new green economy?
Aside from Sun Chips' reactionary shortsightedness of a missed marketing opportunity (expounded beautifully in a post by Catharine P. Taylor in MediaPost's Social Media Insider), there's something generally foreboding about this decision. After all, "green" affects all of us in a way that's much deeper than our work at agencies or companies. Presumably, regardless of our political leanings, we all want to live in a cleaner world don't we?
If marketers and advertisers are truly supposed to be clamoring for green and cause-based initiatives, why would a product like Sun Chips not embrace all this attention as a way of clearly positioning itself on the green side of the equation?
Part of the answer may lie in the belief that public perception is moving away from green. Spike Lee's recent documentary, "If God is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise," documents some scathing verbal attacks on BP. In one particular rant, a New Orleans slam poet yells a string of alternative acronyms for BP, employing just about every B or P expletive ever devised. It was an illustration of the angry sentiment that BP has led us astray with their "Beyond Petroleum" branding. Let's be clear: BP's green marketers are being called out, folks.
Meanwhile though, my inbox is filled with success stories of cause-based initiatives in year 2 of this renaissance. Most significantly is Toronto agency, The Hive Strategic Marketing. Last year, I reported on the Bicycle Factory campaign: a multi-platform initiative combining consumer purchase with social investment for Cadbury.
A few weeks ago, it was announced that The Bicycle Factory not only won the Marketing Agencies Association Globe Award (first prize) for Best Cause or Charity Marketing Campaign, but it also won the Best in the World Award for the same campaign. The campaign generated 500,000 unique purchases and web engagements, sending 5,000 bikes to Africa.
Despite an alleged green backlash, there still exists deep and repeated cause-marketing success. Anyone for a game of which of these things belongs together?
It's not enough to be green, and maybe not even enough to be good (as Sun Chips experienced). The key to any green campaign is to insure that it is tied very closely with some accountable and measurable social good! It's no coincidence that green and cause-based trends are correlated with financial meltdown and social discontent. But, the motivating force behind this is essentially a human-centric one. Destroying fish in the Gulf of Mexico is one thing, but destroying a fishery is quite another.
Marketers and advertisers need to continue to tap into the powerful anger, fear, passion, and hope that green marketing can nourish. However, the next evolution of this trend will require creative and accountable ways of tying green to the human factor.