Thursday, April 10, 2008

Don't Oversell Your Green Efforts, Ad Experts Warn

Companies can benefit greatly from promoting a green, socially responsible image - but there is a real risk of backlash if they over-hype sustainability programs. Speaking at the recent International Advertising Association's World Congress in Washington, ad execs cautioned that consumers are increasingly cynical and can spot overstated or contradictory claims a mile away, according to a report in Advertising Age.

"Consumers expect companies to give back as much as they take," according to David Jones, global CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide. Jones cited surveys showing that 86% of consumers think companies should balance profitability with social responsibility and 80% would avoid companies that don't contribute.

According to Jones, the key is to avoid the temptation to oversell your company's sustainability efforts. General Motors, for example, recently took it on the chin when it postponed the release of its much-hyped Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle. A few years ago Chevron Oil Company was widely criticized for its "People Do" campaign, which many felt overstated its role as a champion of endangered species and a protector of the environment.

Marketers can reap rewards not just from environmental claims, but also other activities viewed as benefiting the world. But consistency is critical. For example, Unilever earned props for its Dove campaign celebrating diverse female body types, but lost support after ads for its Axe brand of men's deodorant featured scantily clad women models.

Eric Biel, managing director-corporate responsibility for Burson-Marsteller, said that to appeal to skeptical consumers "it is absolutely critical to show a trace of humility" in green- and cause-marketing efforts.