For Many Americans Green Does Not Mean Go

Earth Day is this Friday and countless brands are using the occasion to further their commercial goals. Yet, many of the messages are failing to connect with mainstream consumers.

A new study from OgilvyEarth finds that 82% of Americans have “good green intentions,” but only 16% are dedicated to fulfilling them. “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,” the agency says.

The problem is that green continues to feel like a niche position. “Existing green marketing is either irrelevant or even alienating to most Americans,” the study notes. “Half of Americans think the green and environmentally friendly products are marketed to ‘Crunchy Granola Hippies’ or ‘Rich Elitist Snobs’ rather than ‘Everyday Americans.'”

According to Marketing Daily, OgilvyEarth believes there’s an opportunity for P&G and other household brands to make ecological products more approachable and gain an advantage over niche brands like Seventh Generation. They’re likely right about that, but I want to veer from how to sell more and better packaged goods and focus for a second on how to make the environmental movement something that mainstream Americans care about.

I think the “elitist snob” label for environmentalists is right on. I don’t know what can be done about it (elitist snobs are who they are), but I do know what can be done about the tone of their messaging. Messages from environmentally-driven, well-meaning organizations, brands and people are often necessarily didactic, but the trick is to rework the messages so they are universally understood and accepted. Environmentalists tend to believe so deeply in their cause, they assume other people will too and they forget to persuade. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, if you forget to persuade, you’re a buffoon with little chance of impressing anyone except yourself.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.