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CMOs: Does your green marketing pass the, “If a tree falls in the forest…” test?

What?

What?

When I was growing up, this one conundrum always bugged me:

“If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?”

I couldn’t understand why anyone would waste energy contemplating such a question. So, as a young man, I decided to put the debate to rest once and for all with this answer: technically the falling tree by itself does not make a noise, because sound is made up of three things:

  1. A source that creates a sound wave (The falling tree)
  2. The sound wave itself (Invisible but audible waves)
  3. And a receptor of the sound wave (Someone there with eardrums to receive the waves)

If any one of these three elements is not present, then there can be no sound. In the case of our toppling tree, we have everything but a receptor (Although I suppose the animals hear it, so it does make a noise to them). Therefore, it does not make a sound to humanity.

Reasonable enough, I concluded.

The same can be said of bad green marketing and rotten advertising in general. Just apply the same three-part recipe to your green marketing, and you’ll see what I mean.

Does your green marketing…

  1. Elicit a pause?
  2. Solicit a thought?
  3. And is it complicit in changing behavior?
     The World Wildlife Fund uses the veins of leaves to tell the  story of the impact encroaching populations have on the rain forest.

Do you have the courage to run an ad without copy? The World Wildlife Fund uses the veins of a leaf to tell the story of the impact encroaching populations have on the rain forest.

First and foremost, your green marketing communications must stop the consumer in their tracks. It has to capitalize on the split-second availed to you to grab the consumer’s attention. It must be designed to elicit a pause in your prospect.

Then you have to transform that moment of fleeting attention into rapt participation in your message. “See-and-say,” “price-and-item,” unimaginative advertising produces just the opposite reaction. Rather than rewarding attention, it clubs it. So be interesting when you tell your story, and for God’s sake, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SPELL OUT THE ENDING. Let your customer draw their own conclusions. If your story is designed and told well, I guarantee they’ll arrive at the punchline you intended. This intellectual connection will intrinsically tie them at some level to your movement. But that’s not enough for your campaign to make noise.

The "Plant Smething" movement for the Arizona Nursery Association invites you to rethink what seeds and saplings actually bring to your backyard.

The “Plant Something” movement for the Arizona Nursery Association invites you to rethink what seeds and saplings actually bring to your backyard, and then nudge you into action with a logo that is a plant stake.

Grabbing their attention and telling a compelling story are the first two elements. Your green marketing MUST provide a determined nudge toward the behavior change you are seeking. This is where your marketing becomes complicit in creating the desired behavior change. It must be active by educating the consumer on the next steps of participation and cajole them into acting upon your cause.

If your TV spot, website, direct mail, WOM stunt, banner ad, print ad, brochure miss on any one of these three essential elements, your efforts – and marketing investment – fall on deaf ears. If a client’s creative doesn’t meet or exceed every one of these three criteria, I argue that their marketing impact is diminished by at least 50 percent.

There is just too much din in the marketplace – too many towering trees in the forest – for you to stand out and be heard unless you tell truly compelling brand stories.

Types of advertising that don’t make a sound  include:

  1. Practically ALL retail advertising (IKEA and Target are among the few exceptions)
  2. ALL price-and-item car ads (Honda’s occasional Hybrid spots make some noise)
  3. 98% of the print ads in your local newspaper
  4. 97% of TV spots (Why do you think Tivo was invented?)
  5. ANY campaign created by fearful people. “I’m afraid they won’t get it?” are the six words that kill all great advertising.

So is your green marketing making noise, getting attention, and igniting a movement? If you’re not sure, put it to this one test:

Does it make you nervous?

If it does, and you got the guts to run it, congratulations. You’ve just fallen a giant sequoia* for all the world to see, hear and act upon.

* (No trees were actually harmed in the writing of this post)
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1 Comment On This Topic
  1. Joe posted
    October 5, 2012 at 2:38 am

    Hi very interesting perspective on the use of ‘green’ in mass media advertising. I think there needs to be a fundamental change in how businesses are run – with a commitment to sustainability form the top down – before green advertising has any real creditably.

    I’ve just read a report here in the UK that offers a glimmer of hope that big business is now getting the idea that sustainability is good overall and not just a green-wash marketing tool.


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