Jacquie Ottman's
Green Marketing Blog

Exxon Called “Climate Friendy”...What Did You Expect?

The five companies consumers consider most "climate friendly" are GE, BP, Toyota, Wal-Mart, and Exxon. Here's why I'm not surprised (ok, maybe a little).

On the surface, the results of a recent survey by U.K.'s Climate Group and Lippincott, the brand consultancy firm, seem to fly in the face of what all card-carrying sustainability pros believe - walk the walk or consumers will cry "BS!" The survey found that 76% of Americans couldn't name a single "climate-friendly" company despite significant amounts of investment by American businesses attempting to portray their green bona fides. So what's going on? Has all that investment and green marketing been for naught? I argue not.

Frankly, I'm not surprised that the five companies mentioned most often are GE, BP, Toyota, Wal-Mart, and Exxon. (Ok, I'm a little surprised at this last one.)

Take note of what the survey results are not reporting: If 76% of consumers failed to name a single climate-friendly company, then a solid 24% could. Not bad considering that global climate change has only come to the fore as an issue in the past two years.

Heed the rule of thirds: the bottom third of consumers will never be interested, the top third will influence everyone else, and the middle third will simply follow the leaders. So the critical learning here is that the corporate messages are getting through to the top one-third - right where they're ostensibly having the most impact.

That this top one-third mentioned companies in energy-related industries, suggests they - unlike their counterparts in the other two groups - understand the links between climate and energy-related industries where the potential for the greatest impact lies; normally one would expect to see familiar names like Coke and Procter & Gamble in surveys of this kind.

All five leaders have been investing significant sums advertising their environmental achievements, including Exxon, so it is not surprising that Exxon shows up on the list.

The lessons? Keep in mind that the target audience for sustainability communications is not all consumers but your consumers and other stakeholders. The test of your efforts is not whether an independent survey deems you to be successful, but your own in-depth tracking research. Is your message getting through? To whom? If not,  you may need to adjust such factors as media (deep-green consumers tend to use the internet, and rely on word of mouth from other influentials), media weight and, of course, distinctiveness of your message.


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