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Book review: The green Marketing Manifesto

A new manifesto from one of advertising’s big thinkers

John Grant is one of advertising’s big thinkers, a planner who made his name as a co-founder of the groundbreaking agency St Lukes. Many of the campaigns he worked on are described in his first book The New Marketing Manifesto which, along with his second work After Image, I regard as highly influential. He has a knack of being slightly ahead of the trend.

As an independent planner, working directly with clients, Grant’s thinking has become increasingly independent and somewhat more academic. Not in an obscure sense, though—perhaps idealistic is a better word.

The Green Marketing Manifesto offers a useful examination of the history of the green movement, dating from the late 80s, when awareness of the issues reached the mainstream and many marketers jumped onto the bandwagon with products that were cynically contrived to appear ‘green’ to tap into the value of the niche, rather than actually having a positive environmental effect. Grant describes this as ‘greenwashing’. Interest in eco-marketing declined and consumers soon turned their backs on products like Reckitt’s Down to Earth brand of detergents. They refused to pay a brand premium for the feel-good factor when the products didn’t deliver any better than cheaper alternatives.

Grant rightly points out that sustainability isn’t a marketing decision, but an issue that must be embraced authentically at every level in the organisation, starting at the top. It will become a measure, not only for consumers but also for all stakeholders, ranging from investors to employees. (Who’d want to work for an organisation that is not sustainable? What would the neighbours say?)

The whole green issue is complex and sometimes paradoxical. For example, one consumer chooses a hybrid car, but the old gas-guzzler remains in the national fleet—meaning one more vehicle chokes motorways and eliminates any net gain. The book addresses many of the complex issues in a methodical, sensible and easily-digested format. I found the Green Grid particularly useful for summarising the core concepts: how to manage the transition from green to greener and then, ultimately, to greenest; taking into consideration personal habits at one end of the spectrum, then brands and belonging, and shareholders and the markets at the other.

While he’s clearly passionate and idealistic about the entire issue, Grant’s perspectives are well researched and informed by real-world involvement in the business of marketing. In fact, he openly discourages readers who have no interest in pursuing profits. His view of the topic is not informed by anti-business, anti-industrial romanticism—which will be a relief for the growing number of evangelists within New Zealand companies who can use the book as an excellent starting point for spreading the meme within their organisations.

Like many, I have found the green issue somewhat overwhelming—easy to agree with but difficult to convert to practices that will make a significant impact. This book is empowering in that respect, offering practical and thought-provoking concepts that clever marketers will profit from. An essential read for anyone in business who would like to stay in business.