The CBS initiative involving "EcoAds" began even before the company purchased EcoMedia in April, but it is now ramping up.
Back in 2002, EcoMedia founder and ardent environmentalist Paul Polizzotto had dreamed up a business plan to use some of the $60 billion ad market to fund projects to cut carbon emissions and encourage recycling.
His feeling: it would be tougher to go to a Chevrolet and just ask for cash. But if part of the ad dollars the car maker needed to spend would go to "green" schools and government buildings, what would be the downside? If nothing else, it would be an easy way for a marketer to puff its chest out.
EcoMedia's public-private ecosystem was off. It began lining up environmental projects -- maybe in partnership with an interested marketer -- while recruiting media companies willing to sell inventory and maybe take a slight hit on profits. The short flow chart: a WXXX TV station in Walla Walla would agree that about 10% of a buy would be donated to the cause. (EcoMedia would also get a portion.)
For the media company, it was a potential competitive advantage. Chevrolet might be more interested in spending more on WXXX, if it could fulfill corporate responsibility obligations at the same time.
In 2008, CBS partnered with EcoMedia on a three-market project to "green" schools in the Chicago, San Francisco and Miami areas. CBS-owned local TV stations, as well as radio and outdoor properties, ran ads in the markets, where cash would be throw off to help.
It ultimately raised $650,000. Using a 10% calculus, CBS would have collected about $5.9 million even as the donations flowed out.
The general manager of KPIX in the Bay Area, Ron Longinotti, stated at the time, the project "spread an important environmental message and helped us develop viable commercial sponsorships."
This week, CBS is looking to raise the profile of what it is branding "EcoAds," encouraging its units from the CBS network to the outdoor business to make them a wider part of their operations. The ads carry a potentially valuable sort of "environmentally friendly" stamp as an "EcoAd" symbol with a green leaf can sit on the TV screen or online or on a billboard. On radio, an ad might have a "brought to you-type" intro.
To gin up advertiser interest, the CBS network is airing a spot that targets consumers ostensibly, but advertisers through the back door. "What if the commercial you're watching helped put people back to work, save taxpayer money, even help the environment?" the voiceover says. "Now it can, because when you see this [EcoAd] symbol on CBS advertising, you'll know (the advertiser) contributed to green initiatives in your community."
Besides Chevrolet, advertisers that have worked with EcoMedia include Safeway, PG&E and the Port of Los Angeles. "EcoAds" are expected to be sold most widely by CBS local businesses as marketers can promote a link to a local "green" project, though a national advertiser a la General Electric with environmental efforts nationally could be a target of the CBS network.
At Chevrolet, CBS seems to have a lucrative and long-term client, as the automaker has recently announced $40 million to spend on clean energy projects, while a Chevy marketing executive touts EcoAds.
CBS bills the sales opportunity as "a green value-add for advertisers." If it thrives, public interest groups fighting overt commercialism could be behind it. And it just might be good for all of us.