They sell sex. They sell youth. And, of course, they sell green. Advertisers are sensing that the green consumer is more mainstream than niche and acting accordingly.
Take San Francisco-based Method, whose brand of sleek and eco-friendly household cleaners will be featured in ads popping up in major media over the next few months. These ads are a new step for "green" products -- moving the marketing from word-of-mouth and small-scale advertising and into the mainstream -- a move made possible by a change in public perception of "green" products.
Like other companies in the green sphere, such as Seventh Generation paper and home products and Simple shoes, Method had previously relied largely on word of mouth and small advertising campaigns. The company's new national "Detox Your Home" campaign -- the first for the company -- was created by the firm TBWA\Chiat\Day under the direction of Patrick O'Neill and Method's creative director Nate Pence. An ad for Method's O-Mop One ad features an infant in a bubble bath in the kitchen sink with the phrase "homes so clean you could live in them." Another shows a mop propped against the wall, the bottom half of two naked bodies entangled on a wood floor, and the phrase "make floor love, not floor war."
Featured in magazines such as Domino, Parents and Real Simple and websites like Mommy Track'd and MSN, the ads will target youthful parents and homeowners. These people might not have been the stereotypical green consumer even a few years ago, but concerns about environmental issues, like household toxins, have become mainstream. This month alone has seen the publication of numerous articles in major publications like Vogue and the San Francisco Chronicle, written on the potential negative effects of certain household cleaners, whose toxic ingredients have been linked to birth defects and fertility problems.
The Method campaign doesn't spend time telling the consumer why they should use a non-toxic household cleaner. Instead, the creators assume that information and desire for this type of product has become mainstream, so they focus on what mainstream ads do: selling a lifestyle. According to Pence, Method's goal is to show "that you don't have to sacrifice style or quality to be more environmentally friendly."
Non-toxic household cleaners are an obvious first for a large green product ad campaign according to Daisy Hu of Think PR whose firm represents numerous eco-friendly product and companies, such as Gilded Age, Under the Canopy, and Sweet Riot. "It's easier for the average consumer to make the switch to 'go green' by taking small steps rather then radically changing their lifestyle overnight," she said.
Expect more ad campaigns like this, she said, as average consumers look for ways to do their part without sacrificing their lifestyle. She predicted that the retail giant Target will be a big player because part of its mission is to protect the environment, and because it integrated organic products such as beauty aids and bedding into the company profile early on.
According to Ferris Kawar, a researcher for Greenopia, a website and line of books on finding green establishments in select U.S. cities, today's green consumer has many more options and more advertisements to sort through. He believes that the new green consumers are a larger group, but not as well informed as they were a few years ago. But, consumers will have to do some legwork to figure out which companies have a true commitment to the environment and which are just trying to capitalize on the growing market for green products. This deception already has coined a term: "Greenwashing."
Part of the appeal of Method, O'Neil believes, is that the company's story has style and substance. Pence says the consumer is "looking for companies that are doing the right thing because it's in their core values."
"We didn't want people to discount the message as purely marketing," Pense says, so they downplayed the actual product in the ads and focused more on the benefits and lifestyle associated with it. A green product's survival has always relied on the consumer's belief in that product. As more sophisticated green ads are produced, it will be up to the consumer to decide if the product lives up to the billing of the ads.
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