Make a (proof) point when going green

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The groundswell of interest in save-the-planet products is becoming more evident in b-to-b advertising, where eco-friendly themes are playing out with varying degrees of success.

But playing the green card is no surefire way to win over the hearts and minds of decision-makers, who can be just as skeptical about claims of environmentalism as they are about claims of superiority. Proof points are critical.

Saint-Gobain, which designs, produces and distributes construction materials for energy-efficient homes, overdoes the proof points with a blizzard of tiny callouts that detract from the intriguing image of a glass-walled house. The 16 callouts are not only a distraction, they're an exercise in self-infatuation. Each one begins with the company name as in "Saint-Gobain's self-cleaning glass" or "Saint-Gobain's fuel cell."

The corporate ego trip spilled over into the headline that bumptiously states that: "The future is made of Saint-Gobain." The ad needs to do a better job of selling builders on the need to use Saint-Gobain products. A pretty picture of an energy-efficient home is not nearly convincing enough.

SKF, a 100-year-old Swedish company, touts its system of self-regulating glass blinds that deflect heat in the summer and absorb it in the winter. But the photo of the woman behind the glass is confusing. It took us a while to realize that she was peering out from behind SKF's climate-friendly glass. The image is interrupted by the page's vertical split, which creates a different look on the right-hand side of the ad.

The right-hand side is designed to serve as a less-complicated background for the text, but it distracts. That's unfortunate because the message in the text describes how SKF's self-regulating glass blinds can help large office buildings reduce energy costs by more than 10% a year. That's an important proof point that falls flat amid poor art direction.

BASF, a German chemical company, stops readers with this attractive ad featuring the single image of a school bus displaying a blue "Breathe" sign. The bright yellow bus set on a brilliant field of white space allows readers to concentrate on a single point: that BASF's diesel-emission control technologies can reduce a bus' harmful exhaust emissions. Cleverly, the blue of the sign plays off BASF's brand color.

When your company's trucks are green, you can't help but feature one in an ad that describes the effort to use every available resource to save the equivalent of more than 14 million barrels of oil a year. The headline in the Waste Management ad appears on the side of one its garbage trucks: "The waste we collect helps power over one million homes." The periphery of the photo resembles a paper-doll cutout, but in this case it's a series of homes.

The ad's message and image are clear, simple and feel-good: Waste Management saves energy. We'd prefer the short burst of text didn't appear in italic.

API, the trade association representing America's oil and natural gas industry, describes how engineers are making diesel fuel cleaner and more efficient. The ad features a truck cab and the headline set against an azure sky: "THINK 18-wheel air freshener."

The claim would seem like a reach, although the subhead states: "Ultra low sulfur and advanced engines will mean 90% less emissions." The copy does a solid job of persuading the skeptics that engineers are working to put an end to the days of big trucks belching dark, noxious fumes into the atmosphere.

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