Branding the green movement

A greener message requires a heaped spoonful of substance, not just a sprinkling of style

A greener message requires a heaped spoonful of substance, not just a sprinkling of style

Tim Rainger

[Strategy]

One of the key commercial challenges of our time is locating the point where the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘business’ can exist happily in the same sentence. For the business community it’s a prerequisite for engagement; for the planet it’s a condition for survival.

Certainly the branding and communication challenges thrown up by merging sustainability messages with other brand priorities require a deft sleight of hand. Even in the greenest of companies, sustainability issues are rarely the only features of a brand competing for priority. Desirability, price, performance and a whole plethora of other positioning and preference considerations don’t just disappear when sustainability issues are embraced.

Consider the new BMW campaign, focusing on efficient diesel engines with the tagline ‘Efficient Dynamics’, as an interesting case in point. Obviously, the design and branding concept has evolved as a response to environmental concerns in the European market. Previously, BMW had a brand profile framed around luxury, sexiness and a butch kind of performance. It’s safe to say the range had little appeal to the world’s greenies.

A change in sentiment triggered by global warming and peak oil theories has seen low fuel consumption feature much more prominently in purchasing priorities, but while the company is clearly attempting to appeal to a market with a new set of values, its old ones haven’t been entirely ditched. For BMW, the driving experience is still paramount; yet the sense of consumer guilt that driving can now inspire has been addressed with new, more efficient engines.

There’s a scramble for green credentials occurring in the business world. Communicating what at times appear to be mixed messages remains a challenge, drenched in consumer cynicism. If there’s one obvious solution to the dilemma, it lies in conducting an honest, fully integrated campaign with strong ‘below the line’ messaging, focusing on positive stories around real environmental achievements

Draft, the agency responsible for its promotion, took a pretty ballsy approach to the campaign, directly confronting the issue of consumer guilt—smug in the knowledge they’re not just talking the talk. The fact that BMW has developed a prototype hydrogen vehicle behind the scenes projects the company’s sustainability message with some credibility.

It’s a fairly luxurious position to be in these days, with the scramble for green credentials that’s now occurring in the business world. Communicating what at times appear to be mixed messages remains a challenge, drenched in consumer cynicism. If there’s one obvious solution to the dilemma, it lies in conducting an honest, fully integrated campaign with strong ‘below the line’ messaging, focusing on positive stories around real environmental achievements.

In truth this can only be achieved in the long term by organisations that have taken the issue on board at a fairly deep level, though it doesn’t mean there has to be a total retreat from growth or sales-based performance indicators. After all, what the planet needs right now is a kind of Darwinian selection based on sustainable principles, where low impact companies and products grow quickly and displace the dinosaurs. In particular, wilfully burning fossil fuels needs to become a fossilized concept as soon as possible.

Recent research conducted with Wellington taxi customers indicates that consumers aren’t so naive as to demand every environmental issue is solved over night, but fully appreciate any initiatives that indicate effort is being applied in the right direction.

Effort and honesty go a long way in these matters. It’s the same in the battle of the brands as it is in life: actions speak louder than words.