Shortly, inflating claims will become tougher, however. The
Federal Trade Commission is about to issue its final Green Guide,
to be released at the Oct. 1 National Advertising Division meeting
in New York. Questionable environmental claims prompted the
development of the guide, which will result in increased regulatory
scrutiny of marketers' environmental benefit claims.
Any way you cut it, green is big business. Sales of
environmentally friendly products in the U.S. exceeded $40 billion
last year, according to data from various market tracking services
and Advertising Age estimates. This includes $29.2 billion for
organic food, more than $10 billion for hybrid, electric and
clean-diesel vehicles, more than $2 billion on energy-efficient
light bulbs and $640 million on green cleaning products.
Ms. Crispell sees a bifurcation of the market, with the most
committed and educated "Green Indeed" consumers still being willing
and able to spend more on products, while those in the mainstream
grow more skeptical. "The awareness is there about environmental
issues, and people are motivated," she said. But the novelty has
worn off for green products, "so people are evaluating them more
and being more critical."
In 2008, 62% of GfK's respondents said they would pay more for a
car that pollutes less; only 49% said so this year. When it comes
to energy-efficient light bulbs, 60% of respondents this year said
they would pay more for them versus 70% in 2008. And though organic
food sales seem to be booming (given the explosion of Whole Foods
business and the like), tolerance for high-priced organic foods is
waning among the survey's consumers. Just over half of respondents
to the 2012 survey (51%) said they would shell out more money for
food with no hormones or antibiotics, down from 57% in 2008.
Perhaps taking into account increased consumer skepticism, a new
wave of environmental marketing seems to be less about selling and
more about saving energy or water. Unilever, for example, is
running a sustainability effort tied to its Axe brand about
reducing hot water. The "Showerpooling" campaign on Facebook and
YouTube, done with typical Axe irreverence, asks fans to take a
pledge to share a shower with a like-minded acquaintance or
Rob Candelino, VP-U.S. skin care for Unilever, said the company's
environmental assessment found consumers account for 95% of
greenhouse-gas emissions associated with its soaps, shower gels and
shampoos globally. While the "Showerpooling" effort is
tongue-in-cheek, he said the video does ask viewers to visit
Facebook.com/axe to take a pledge that involves installing a
water-efficient showerhead and reducing shower time to five minutes
or less as well as inviting a friend into the shower.
None of this directly affects Axe sales, so why do it? Global
Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed, who also oversees
sustainability efforts, has said the world doesn't have the
resources to support the growth in developing markets that will
help Unilever reach its ambitious business goals.
Advertising-law attorney Chris Cole of Mannatt Phelps in
Washington points out that people sharing showers may result in
more time with the faucet running but, when it comes to a general
direction, the campaign and others like it may not be such a bad
idea for marketers as the new guidelines arrive.
And while such campaigns may spur sales, they pay off in the
form of building goodwill for brands, GfK's Ms. Crispell said.
Marketers who focus on things consumers can do to improve the
environment "cede over control to the consumer," she said. This
"can be very attractive. People like to feel they can do