Jacquie Ottman's
Green Marketing Blog

The Value of Authentic Green Branding

I opened the business section of my New York Times on Earth Day and noted with dismay the lead article, “As Shoppers Cut Back Spending, “Green Products” Lose Allure”.   It reported that green brands launched in recent years by mainstream marketers such as Clorox (Green Works) and S.C. Johnson (Nature’s Source), had experienced sharp sales declines during 2009 and that introductions of green brands were off during that period, too.

And then I perked up. The article went on to report that, in stark contrast —even during the recession—brands like Seventh Generation and Method experienced double-digit growth and market share gains, too.  Authors Stephanie Clifford and Andrew Martin attribute the more promising performance of these smaller, more expensive brands to their “loyal following” who tend to be “more affluent” and “wedded to environmental causes.”

I suspect the term “authentic” needs to be inserted into this conversation. It’s easy for consumers to tell that Green Works and Nature’s Source are made by the same companies that produce the “brown” products consumers are trying to shift away from. (As proof of efficacy, the Clorox name is prominent on Green Works packages, and the famous “Scrubbing Bubbles” icon accompanies the S.C. Johnson offering). Is it possible that green market momentum is not so glum as the article suggests, and that the presumed “light green” consumers that Clorox and S.C. Johnson cater to suspect a fake?

One rather telling market development that I include in Chapter One of my new book, The New Rules of Green Marketing is that many mainstream consumer brands have opted to move into the green marketplace by way of acquisition. Colgate-Palmolive now owns Tom’s of Maine; Estee Lauder bought Aveda; Stonyfield Farm was largely acquired by Danone,  and the list goes on (page 12).

I suspect that the loyalty to the Methods and Seventh Generations of the world suggests that consumers are willing to pay the price for the assurance of efficacy and safety that comes from upstarts rather than presumed accomplices to the status quo. Word to the wise to would-be green new branding efforts: ensuring the authenticity of one’s green brands adds value that can help your brand thrive in good times and in bad.

Jacquie Ottman is an expert adviser to Fortune 500 and the U.S. government for green marketing and eco-innovation. Current clients include Johnson and Johnson and the new USDA Certified Biobased Label. She is the author of The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).  Download a free chapter here.


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