Don't Pollute Earth Day With Irrelevant Advertising

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Marketers might be dreaming of a green Earth Day, but already the message of the day has been lost amid the rush to cash in on a trend.

We understand the impulse. With the drumbeat of environmental causes pounding so loudly that even George W. Bush is reconsidering his stance and Wal-Mart shoppers are considering green purchases, even the most blinkered marketer can see we've come to a tipping point. But we may have come to a saturation point as well -- especially in terms of efforts surrounding Earth Day.

With a glut of Earth Day-related advertising ahead of the big day, such attempts have little more meaning than those car and beer ads that we see during Christmas wishing everyone a happy holiday. Similar to such ads, in many Earth Day spots, there's no idea or product being pitched other than "Hey, look at us! We love trees. Remember that next time you're in the store."

When pressed, marketers will suggest their messages "raise awareness," the last refuge of those who have absolutely nothing relevant to contribute to a topic. What makes that claim ring even more hollow is that it's unlikely there are any U.S. consumers left unaware of Earth Day, global warming and other environmental issues.

The other concern here is blowback. According to a study from Burst Media, consumers have a better-than-average recall when it comes to green advertising.

But -- and this is important -- they aren't buying into the claims: 20% said they never believe the claims, and two-thirds said they believe the claims only sometimes. Granted, because there are so many people in the space now and because some of the efforts don't necessarily make big claims, marketers might not suffer a greenwashing backlash.

But why take the risk with your reputation and your money -- especially if you have nothing particularly green to sell? For some, Earth Day is a fit. For others it isn't. Say what you will about Alliance for Climate Protection's "We can solve it" (and we have), but at least that involves a relevant "brand" and an actual call to action. And it doesn't hurt that Al Gore has credibility in the arena.

And if you do have product, message and credibility, by all means, go for it. But good luck cutting through the holiday clutter.
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