The Marketing Gap in Green panel at the PSFK Conference London

The Marketing Gap in Green panel at the PSFK Conference London

This 50 minute video from the PSFK Conference London 2007 presents Karen Fraser (Ethical Index) chairing a panel with Tamara Giltsoff (OZOlab), John Grant (BrandTarot) and Diana Verde Nieto (Clownfish). The panel set out to examine if marketing departments and their agencies get left behind by both the corporations they serve and the consumers they supply?

Piers Fawkes, PSFK

Tamara discusses Zopa, and how web 2.0 can help cut out systems of commerce that have been in place for centuries. I like Zopa, and really wish I’d have talked about it in various client meetings – ah well, it’s one for another day. But would I use it? I’m not sure….

John discusses the importance of thinking globally and acting locally – supporting local produce and shopping at the local corner shop, citing farmers markets and the like to support his statement. I’m all for this; I hope the local Londis can spark a revival of sorts (albeit with MUCH better advertising).

Karen wants to know just what it is consumers want, having overheard Tamara’s point about packaging, and how you’d rethink convenience over ethics – essentially, people don’t like too much packaging, but sometimes it is essential…when do the two converge?

John holds that people just want to be involved. Ask them, and you shall receive your answer. With my cynical hat on, I wonder – do I want to be consulted about a company’s packaging decision? No, not really – but I suppose, it’d be nice to be asked. How long before we have floods of questions, and things become the question age…?

John follows that up by contesting that there is very little evidence to suggest that consumers require incentivisation any more. No – in an ideal world, he’d encourage mobile phone companies to halve their fees per month, but have a minimum of a four year contract per person. Nice idea, and one I think will happen. Not sure when, but I find myself nodding and agreeing with it.

Diana pipes up; people want to be rewarded and made to feel happy in her view – to be given an objective and an opportunity to do good. What’s wrong is how much people are made aware – Second Life uses a lot of electricity. At this point, I wanted to speak up, and make the point about Second Life avatars and the average Brazillian, but I guess I was wise to keep it quiet…John’s chock full of stats, even off the top of his head.

John proposes that green is beyond what people want – it’s more needs based in the future. People will need to live in bigger cities. It’s paramount that people realise that there will be things that they won’t be comfortable with, like the debate about fortnightly bin collections. People will have to deal with issues like waste management in the future.

Karen then asks – what should agencies do? Diana immediately answers, telling them to embrace day to day sustainability, Carbon Footprints and the cost per employee. John holds that there will be niche ‘green’ agencies, much like digital is now. Diana cuts in, telling people not to treat the green issue as special interest; no-one is an expert at the moment. Too true – you seem to read a different statistic every day.

For Diana, being naive is a big part of learning, and leading to improvement. People think experientially, and we are all learning at the moment. All of the panelists agree, and it’s time for the next talk..

Audience Comments

Amelia Torode had this serious reaction to the talk:

It was Tamara and John Grant on the Green Marketing Panel and Johnny Vulkan from Anomaly that made me actively stop and question rather than just passively sit and think. Which brings me on to my “elephant in the room”…

What is the purpose of the industry that we are in?

Having spent years at Ogilvy, I was always taught it’s “we sell or else…“. For all that we work in a creative business, at the end of the day our job it to connect people and brands and in the process sell our clients products. If we don’t, we get fired.

But when you talk with people like John, Tamara and Johnny and start to think about the world that we live in, it gets a bit more complicated. Our creative end products (ie, advertising in all its forms – direct, digital, TVCs) help to faciliate a relentless culture of continual consumption and the creation of an un-ending desire for new “stuff.” But how sustainable is this in the long-term?

The elephant in the room for me is, how can we marry together ethics and a concern for a sustainable and healthy future with a “we sell or else…” philosophy?

I suppose the answer, in as much as there ever is ‘an answer”, is that we at agencies have the opportunity to represent the views of the consumer and to ensure that ethical, sustainable marketing ideas and practices are not only things that live in a CSR department. The question that the Green Panel was debating was whether advertising agencies were being left behind in pushing this debate on. I worry that for they most part we probably are.

The AdLads summed their key learnings as:

  • We need to embrace sustainability.
  • Every client/product/brand wants to be seen to be doing something green, but most don’t know what to do.
  • We live in an era where the macro-economical environment dictates changes that are almost being thrust upon advertisers.
  • To be successful in communicating the message of green, the product must use itself to communicate a bigger issue, and please, please don’t patronize me.
  • Being green can be broadly seen as a 3 step process, set new standards, collaborate with the consumer and help them live and feel better.

Helen Taylor commented:

Then came the Marketing Gap in Green panel which was all too short, but enough to really unsettle us and place what Amelia smartly calls the elephant in the room.

Hemal at The Eightfold wrote:

“We are creating the skin of culture…We need to create an intuitive connection with things that are radical.” — John Grant, BrandTarot. With our mental, physical and global reality in flux, it’s only natural we will look for markers to make sense of it all.

Charles Frith‘s made this review:

The PSFK conference last Friday held a panel to discuss the topic with Karen Fraser from The Ethical Index chairing the discussion with John Grant (Greenormal), Diana Verde Nieto (Clown Fish) and Tamara Giltsoff (Ozolab). Not so long back I took some time out to study a bit about propaganda because it seemed obvious to me that there was no way that after the failure of Kyoto and the growth of China and India that the neoliberal capitalist model was going to rein in the excesses of marketing communications credo of sell more despite it ‘getting hot in here’ (so take off all your clothes). Actually I was pretty much floored by the release of the Stern Review Report on climate change which I had no expectation to see in my lifetime. If the human race can make a global business out of something like World Wrestling, Hello Magazine and Blue Tooth Headgear for anyone other than taxi drivers then I’m sure we can make a buck from shifting something not from A to B, but say from A to C. It really is as simple as that.

John Grant kicked off and although we’ve met in firstlife and talked bundles on his greenormal blog I only realised at the PSFK gig why he really does kick ass. John talks coherently in compelling joined up paragraphs and really could use an hour or two on his own to take us through a journey from sinners-in-denial to messianic converts. I think he’s a national asset and at some point the British should collectively chip in to give him our spare carbon points because we need him out on the road and ‘representing’ for the U.K. around the globe since he practices what he preaches and only flies when only absolutely necessary. John opened with some breaking market research that aviation brands are the new dirty word. Can we anticipate a renaissance for the great British seaside holiday and the rise of the guest house again? Flying seemed to lose its sex appeal around about the time Pan Am were shot out of the sky in 1991, but its official now; only losers and drink drivers fly unnecessarily.

I urge you to buy John’s about to be published book The Green Marketing Manifesto when it comes out, for all the juicy bits about how to do green marketing. He did talk about how the green (sustainable living) movement is in its early stages right now like digital was in 1995, and that there’s a real opportunity for all marketing folk to get into this and start changing the senseless waste of that indulgent age ‘The Consumer Society’ and make good money out of it. Money and Green are not incommensurate, and one idea I liked was the movement to get children walking to school with a kagoul brand perhaps getting involved. However if you do check out one website to wet the whistle and that John has championed before, take a look at freecycle. Because sharing and recycling is the new Sexy black as I mentioned back here.

Tamara Giltsoff also chimed in with a similarly reasoned argument that a new sustainable business model is emerging and that its a front end change that we should be putting our marketing brain cells to, not short sharp shock. She also championed the need to put marketing and corporate responsibility (C.R.) together. We need to urgently be speaking to each other because doing good is actually something that sets products and services apart. Its not exactly rocket science is it? I did like the way that Tamara implied that SUV’s were now approaching the social pariah status of something like a Chavmobile.

Diane Verde Nieto of Clownfish made a great observation for those in attendance, that modern communications professionals should be able to handle the schizophrenia of leading two agendas. One to sell our clients products and services and the other to build sustainability into the way they work. Again they are not incommensurate but it takes a twin track mind to handle the conflict in the transition stage. She also drew our attention to London’s aim to be a sustainable city by 2020 which was something I wasn’t aware of and will surely be a terrific motivator for business to reshape and retool. In addition Diane pointed out the Ariel low temperature wash cycle campaign(30 degrees) and that the internet is a heavy user of electricity impacting on the environment through huge data centers that are sprouting up around the world, as well as the costly running of computers and servers. Water, she alerted us, is going to be the next big challenge after carbon footprint responsibility takes hold. This makes complete sense for those who follow geopolitics around the globe and is a timely reminder for Sci-fi fans to reread Dune. Lastly Diane used a bleak euphemism for the business of carbon offset trading described as the equivalent for the environment of the morning after pill

Lynette Webb made these notes:

Karen Fraser (Ethical Index & the Fraser Consultancy) – moderator

  • Envision a future where consumers are able to specify their ethical/sustainable preferences in what they buy – more subtle than boycotts
  • One third of people talk about ethical issues surrounding brands with their friends

John Grant (BrandTarot)

  • 4 out of top 5 “eco-unfriendly” brands named in recent survey were aviation… Aviation is this summer’s 4×4
  • Green marketing isn’t about creating green brands.
  • Green issue isn’t going to go away if there’s a recession; the same as health issues for people don’t go away. But a lot depends on the media and how much they choose to maintain focus.
  • Job of designers & marketers is to create an intuitive connection & positivity around things that today are awkward – to break through and overcome fundamental myths that are preventing take-up of some solutions (eg: composting toilets, methane fuelled power)
  • At the moment, “green” is in the equivalent clumsy stage of digital in 1995… Green is also like digital in that it’s a pervasive issue
  • Sustainability programmes in companies don’t always have to be only for altruistic reasons – eg: GE does it to force the pace of regulation on standards etc and thus drive out their competition
  • “Gcommerce” – eg: Freecycle. Working with an insurance company on developing a system where people could lend each other good they don’t need that often (eg: power drill)
  • “Local” is going to be a big issue for supermarkets in the next year or two. Now we have the technology to make local as efficient as mass production. Also, Water will be the next big ussue not only because of toxicity but also because it’s most likely to start wars
  • News Corporation is a great example of an organisation being transformed – giving lightbulbs to offset; now championing no power standby
  • Re: what should agencies do? — he can’t see green being part of a mainstream agency, there’s a need for breakaways, just as happened with digital

Diana Verde Nieto (Clownfish)

  • Green isn’t about charity, it’s economic. Greener brands are helping to edit choice
  • Technology is part of the problem because of the cost of energy in connecting to the internet
  • Communications agencies should be mediators, getting client marketing departments to talk to their CSR departments
  • Eg: of Ariel 30… didn’t change the product at all, just promoted washing it at 30 degrees which saves a lot of energy
  • Carbon footprint is the big issue now; Water toxicity is the next big issue
  • She hates carbon offsetting calling it the “morning after pill of environmentalism”
  • Re: what should agencies do? — teamwork (talk to NGO’s etc

Tamara Giltsoff (OZObrand)

  • Green marketing isn’t a trend, it’s moving to a sustainable new approach to doing business
  • You can’t decouple environmental issues from social change because you’re affecting the way people live, eat, etc.
  • “Conspicuous organics” – people who don’t always go organic but do for dinner parties
  • Not everything has to be about selling new “product”… there is also room for innovation in service; “see the world through a service paradigm”.
  • Look behind any product, where can you express values throughout? How do brands make it tangible, how do they show they’re making these decisions?
  • Most of public aren’t thinking “how can I do better”, more “I’m feeling a bit guity – do whatever you can to make me not feel bad”… What’s needed is reframing – not about making less guilty, more just a “nicer and better way”
  • Agrees with John that News Corp are a great example… BSkyB were years ahead on their corporate framework, so now in good position to focus on the consumer side.
  • Re: what should agencies do? — Don’t treat it as special interest, that’s why the environmental movement failed. Nobody is an expert, what’s needed is naivety to fuel innovation

Come listen to more inspiring speakers at the PSFK Conference Los Angeles on September 18 2007 in West Hollywood –