Agencies are scrambling to incorporate eco-friendly messaging.

By Warren Berger

If you're going to be successful with green marketing these days, you've got to "walk the talk." At least that's the consensus view among a number of creative directors who are producing some of the most interesting work right now in a green advertising category that is fast becoming red-hot.

With so many companies now starting to communicate environmentally-themed messages, consumers are likely to look beyond the noise and search for signs of real action on the part of a company, according to creatives surveyed by this magazine. Moreover, when it comes to this issue, the public's antennae seem well tuned and able to pick up false signals or empty hype.

"The old advertising paradigm said, 'You can advertise your way out of who you really are,'" says David Fowler, a creative director of the current Ogilvy "helios power" campaign on behalf of client BP. "But these days, with green marketing, that doesn't work anymore and just gets you into trouble." Fowler says brands that promote green messages today must be able to back up the claims they're making. And the message should seem at least somewhat consistent with a brand's image.

That view is echoed by Pete Favat, who's led Arnold's creative efforts on behalf of green-conscious clients like Timberland. "If you're going to put a green marketing message out there, the most important thing is that it be authentic—it should feel natural coming from the brand," Favat says. "It's a mistake for companies to just try to attach themselves to this issue."

The reason it's dangerous to blow smoke in this category is because corporate transparency on the Internet now makes it possible—easy, in fact—for consumers to check on a company's environmental record and its real-world actions. "The whole world is transparent now," says Ogilvy's Brian Collins. "Brands who talk about being green without actually doing something are going to get their heads handed to them." In the case of BP and Ogilvy, the current campaign is based around something tangible that BP has actually done—in Los Angeles, the energy company recently opened a state-of-the-art, eco-conscious gas station, known as "Helios House." But the multimedia campaign supporting the launch of Helios House goes beyond just showing off this experimental new gas station; it also is trying to educate consumers on how they can do their part, day by day, to save energy.

That brings up another important component of successful green marketing; it should be empowering to the individual, says Saatchi & Saatchi creative director Tony Granger. If a campaign can somehow give people an opportunity to feel as if they can take part in a company's green efforts, it's a way to turn a potentially depressing subject into something more empowering. "If you just say, 'This is what the planet is going to look like in a few years,' you leave people saying, 'well what do I do?' Everybody pretty much knows about the problem. What they still need help with is, 'how can I make a difference.' That's what you need to tap into with your message." Granger and Saatchi did that with a recent campaign for Tide coldwater detergent, which used striking images to show what can be created with the energy consumers save just by washing clothes in cold water.

But at the same time, if you're going to recommend that people get involved and do something, it's important not to do so in a preachy way. "Nobody wants to be lectured to on this issue," says Mike Shine, of Butler Shine & Stern.

Diesel seems to have been thinking along these lines with its tongue-in-cheek global warming ad campaign, which debuted earlier this year to mixed reviews. The campaign's print ads fantasize about the effects of global warming on New York City, Mount Rushmore, and other famous sites which are shown partially underwater—though none of this stops the beautiful models in the ads from going about their business, looking chic as ever. The clothing in the ads is touted as being "Global Warming Ready." Diesel creative director William Das has explained the ads by saying Diesel wanted to present global warming in a positive context, rather than in a dour and serious way. And the absurd imagery is designed to shock people into thinking about the issue, Das says.

Shine thinks that's not a bad approach. He says, "I think there needs to be less heavy-handedness and more playfulness – I'd welcome more of the kind of approach Honda took," Shine said, referring to the award-winning "Grrr" spot (for Honda UK) and its mix of playful animation and childlike innocence.

The current BP "helios" campaign actually has some of that same playful sensibility, owing to the simple, retro-style animation that Ogilvy employed for commercials and webisodes. The $36 million ad campaign features a cast of animated characters that include "Beeps," magical workers who have the power to make things cleaner and more fun. Fowler, who worked on the multimedia ad campaign (while Collins' group was focused more on the design element of the Helios House gas station) says of the ads: "They almost look like animatics, and that's what we were going for—a sensibility that's basic, understated, and not slick at all. It's an extension of the BP brand, so we wanted to reflect that by making it humble, progressive, and upbeat."

The real star of this campaign, though, is the Helios House gas station, with its solar-paneling, organic food, recaptured water, and restrooms to die for. On top of all that, visitors to the station get a mini-crash-course in living green, with the eco-friendly tips presented by way of staff, on-site displays, and via mini-films shown right on the gas pumps, all geared to explaining, in a not-too-heavy-tone, how to reduce your carbon footprint. The agency was very involved in designing these elements, but initially Ogilvy downplayed its role so that attention would be focused on BP.

Collins notes that companies such as BP and Wal-Mart (with a new eco-friendly store design and its efforts to shift customers to energy-efficient light bulbs), are taking demonstrable actions—which may be the best form of green marketing a brand can do. "These brands are walking before they're talking—they're trying to figure it out first before they advertise about it," says Collins, who argues that green marketers should think in terms of designing greener experiences for their consumers. "If brands really want to capture the imagination of people on this issue, they should be using design to create experiences that show the company is sincere in its efforts."

That is, in effect, what Timberland did when it redesigned its packaging to make it more socially responsible. Urged on by the agency team at Arnold, Timberland made its shoe boxes reusable and equipped them with ready-made stickers so that that they could be used to donate items to charity. "The issue is, how do you make it easy for consumers to get into this kind of behavior and we thought the boxes were a great way to do it," says Favat. In addition, the agency created ads with wildflower seeds embedded in the paper, so that the page could be torn out and planted in the ground. "When the magazine goes into landfill, at least there's one less ad in it," says Favat.

Shine of Butler Shine & Stern says his agency has also chosen action over words, but in this case it took the form of an "eco-stunt." To promote a new Sun Microsystems server that was more energy efficient, the agency calculated how much coal it would take to power a big company's data center for a day, and then placed two earth movers full of coal in a high-foot-traffic plaza in San Francisco, with signage explaining that this was how much energy was wasted with inefficient servers. Interestingly, the green angle hadn't even occurred to Sun when they first unveiled the server; the client just thought of the product as more efficient and economical. But the agency saw it as a way to tap into the rising green consciousness.

Expect to see lots more advertisers and their agencies trying to ride this green tide. Granger says, "If we can make it so that it makes financial sense for the planet to be saved, then it will be saved. The simple truth is, there is money to be made in green products, particularly as you look ahead to the future. We're finding that youth's biggest concern is global warming; these are going to be your customers. So what we're saying, basically, is: Go green—it's the color of money."

To read more about the Green Wave, pick up a copy of the spring issue of one. a magazine.

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