Jacquie Ottman's
Green Marketing Blog

Play Ball with a Polluter—or Not?

ExxonMobil is coming around to the fact that a green reputation is necessary to compete. Among other steps, they are investing in their R3M technology to remotely detect oil and gas and reduce drilling. From a marketing perspective, they are running an extensive campaign in major dailies and newsweeklies, and among other things, are sponsoring the Washington Nationals’ LEED-certified baseball park.

But not everyone is so comfortable with Exxon’s green marketing efforts. Sponsorship of the baseball park is drawing flack from environmental activists, who are pressing the Nationals to cancel Exxon’s contract. Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for ExxonMobil notes that [ExxonMobil] gets criticized for not doing enough for the environment, then get criticized when we do.” Does he have a legitimate beef?

Analyze the situation from all angles. Defend Exxon’s right to free speech. Think about the financial support for a LEED-certified ballpark that might not be so easily replaced if support were withdrawn. Do ball fans question, or are they even aware of - Exxon’s environmental record?

Consider any excuse for Exxon to advertise in the ballpark, but never forget that activists are leery of a former environmental transgressor’s commitment. And they’ll quickly don their policeman’s cap to protect an unsuspecting public from greenwash.

Given their history of environmental transgressions, Exxon would be best advised to pursue exemplary initiatives but not rely on paid advertising to tout them. Rather, they should defer to the power of third parties, PR efforts, the press, employees, and supportive influentials to make their case for them until its safe to “go in the water” on their own.

Still reeling from accusations of child labor abuses over a decade ago, Nike has yet to invest a penny in paid green marketing efforts. Yet, a track record of positive CSR and sustainable design innovation such as Recycle-a-Shoe and the Considered product line has garnered them much positive publicity.

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