Green Marketer's Branded Play Includes No Branded Content

Seventh Generation CEO Backs Pilot Aimed at Debunking Environmental Marketing Claims

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- For years, Seventh Generation CEO Jeffrey Hollender has dispensed opinions, analysis and branded content through his books and blogs, along with environmentally friendly household and personal-care products.

Jeffrey Hollender
Jeffrey Hollender
Now he's embarking on what could be his biggest branded-content endeavor yet: backing and appearing in the pilot of "Big Green Lies" today -- Earth Day -- on the Fine Living Network. He's confident will catch on as a series with at least six to 12 episodes aimed at debunking myths of green marketing -- or at least putting claims to the test.

While the show is billed as "presented by Seventh Generation," with plenty of brand advertising on the Fine Living Network website, Mr. Hollender said he doesn't want it to be a heavy-handed branding vehicle.

"You won't see a single bottle of Seventh Generation anywhere on the show," Mr. Hollender said. "Nor will you see any of our competitors' products."

Seventh Generation won't be advertising on the show either, though he doesn't know about the competition. That's up to Scripps Networks and the advertisers, he said.

Nor is the focus on green cleaners and paper towels but rather on a range of other environmental marketing claims, including whether organic food, hybrid cars, turning off the car air conditioner or using cloth rather than disposable diapers is really better for the environment.

'Credible source'
"'Big Green Lies' really addresses the tremendous consumer confusion and conflicting information and, in some cases, commercial interests telling consumers things that really aren't true," Mr. Hollender said. "Because Seventh Generation is viewed as a credible source of information and really an educator, we've created this show, which is an entertaining look at green myths."

He likened the show to a "Mythbusters" for environmental claims, drawing a comparison to a Discovery Networks show that puts more general scientific questions and myths to the test.

Mr. Hollender won't host the show but will make appearances. "This is a purely educational activity," he said.

Of course, he won't mind if it also helps build business for Seventh Generation. Annual sales are approaching $200 million, but the brand faces growing competition from big package-goods companies such as Clorox, SC Johnson, Church & Dwight and Kimberly-Clark Corp.

The show "gives us a remarkable platform to build trust with consumers as a credible and important source of information," Mr. Hollender said. "I think it will be terrific for the brand. It's not something Tide can do or Arm & Hammer can do or Clorox can do, [though] they could buy an hour's worth of time."

Challenging sustainability claims
Mr. Hollender has never shied from controversy. For years he has criticized Walmart's sustainability efforts as not going far enough. He recently relented to sell products through the retailer's Marketside stores, a challenge to Tesco's Fresh & Easy in Western states, citing the retailer's progress, though he still won't sell to Walmart supercenters.

The idea for the show sprang from Mr. Hollender's third book, by the same title, which probably won't be out until next year. His entertainment-marketing company, United Entertainment Group, New York, a joint venture with of United Talent Agency, began shopping the idea for a TV series last year and found considerable interest, Mr. Hollender said. In all, the book covers 100 "Big Green Lies," leaving plenty of room for a long-running series if there's an audience.

One good sign, he said, is that screenings in New York and in Seventh Generation's hometown of Burlington, Vt., drew plenty of laughs. "The goal is to do this in a really entertaining way," he said. "Most of the green programming I've watched would put you to sleep."

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