Super Green, Middle Green or Not Green At All?

A new study by OglivyEarth reveals that 82% of Americans are willing to green up, but current marketing strategies are too weak to push them over the hemp (or hump, for those not yet versed in green-talk).  View the study at

Mainstream America pairs eco-friendly practices to two disparate sectors of our society—the elitists and the hippies.  While 16%, the “Super Greens,” remain dedicated to the conservationist lifestyle, 66%, or the “Middle Greens,” have  good intentions which remain just that.  In fact, 70% of Americans are more concerned with finding a cure for cancer than saving the environment.  It’s hard to argue with that logic if you or a loved one has been afflicted with the disease.

When it comes to recycling packaging, a survey by Perception Research Services reported discouraging results as well:  only 28% of shoppers feel that they should be responsible.  The majority of consumers expressed it’s up to businesses and the government to regulate the issue.  Jonathan Asher, Senior Vice President of PRS sums it up this way—“It’s becoming clear that while consumers may voice concern for the environment, most appear unwilling—at the moment—to make any major sacrifices to make a difference.  They rather rely on manufacturers to provide products and packaging that they can feel good about, without changing their behavior, giving up performance, or paying more.” 

The April 21, 20011 issue of Resource Recycling sums up the issues and includes links to both the OglivyEarth study and Perception Research Services survey.  You can read the detailed results at

For over 20 years, Target Marketing Group has been a leader in green promotions.  We’ve never been satisfied with merely selling green products, but also with marketing products to sell green.  TMG understands the importance of educating consumers on socially responsible adverting practices that do not compromise the environment.  The results of these most recent studies, however, indicate the marketing of eco-friendly merchandise needs a makeover.  While it’s not necessary to re-invent the wheel, marketing specialists know that it all boils down to people’s perceptions.  Some have defined “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  We believe we can continue to build on the strong environmental foundation that is already established by implementing these 12 changes suggested through the OglivyEarth study. 

1. Make it Normal

Since mainstream America ties environmental issues to the wealthy and the flower children, they aren’t interested in joining the group.  However, if perceptions are changed through marketing to make them feel “everyone is doing it,” they are much more likely to jump on the bandwagon.  No one wants to feel out of the loop, even if it ends up being the recycling loop! 

2. Make it Personal

People aren’t as interested in what they can do to help the environment as they are reaping a direct benefit themselves.  If marketers can demonstrate a personal reward from participating in eco-conscious behavior, the consumer will take notice.  The OglivyEarth study noted the booming popularity of organic food—people are willing to pay extra because they perceive the taste to be better, and they feel better about consuming foods grown without pesticides and hormones. 

3. Create Better Defaults

When I give my 2-year old a choice for her snack, I limit it to two different items.  If I present her with six different options, she grows very confused and vacillates from one item to the other, since they all possess an appeal.  If marketers can make green convenient and a default, sustainability will be encouraged. 

4. Eliminate the Sustainability Tax

It’s no wonder people suspect buying green is for the rich when you consider that green products are often higher in price than a comparable alternative.  To impose higher prices on the eco-friendly choice is punitive and discourages the decisions we want consumers to make.  Marketers and retailers might need to “take a hit” by lowering prices on green items to normalize them to the public. 

5. Bribe Shamelessly

With the price of gas, I’m elated that our Shell credit card helps us save five cents for every gallon of gas we buy along with receiving a half percent return from all of our other purchases.  I would not be motivated to continue using this card if my reward wasn’t something from which I received a direct benefit.  It would be comparable to buying the golfer on your Christmas list a volleyball instead of golf balls.  To encourage eco-friendly consumer behavior, incentives need to be offered that the consumer can enjoy rather than sticking them with a dud.

6.  Punish Wisely  

Positive reinforcement and reward programs typically promote desired behaviors more effectively than punishment.  When I was a kid, schools advocated punishment.  Cross the line and you were whacked with the board by a stern principal, you were placed in the corner, or you lost recess or another privilege.  Today, many schools have adopted systems that reward students with pop, candy, pencils, and bookmarks for things like completing homework or scoring well on a test.  Students are invited to participate in “Fun Fridays” if they make it through the week without any discipline offenses.  Pizza parties are hosted for honor roll students.  Discipline still exists for those wayward children, but it’s doled out wisely.  When reward programs fail to motivate consumers toward more ecologically sound practices, never underestimate the power of shame, stigmas, and guilt to steer them to the proper course.  The OglivyEarth study cited an example where consumers had to ask for a plastic bag in front of other shoppers.  Guilt avoidance caused plastic bag use to drop from 68 million to 11 million.  Bringing green issues into the open where consumers’ decisions  are seen and felt could be a powerful motivator to increase sustainability efforts.

7. Don’t Stop Innovating, Make Better Stuff

When green products were originally introduced to the marketplace, they were branded as inferior to comparable products that weren’t green.  Sometimes the stigma was warranted.  Times have changed, and technological advancements and innovative companies have raised the bar.  Green products now often perform at higher levels than their non-green counterparts.  The consumer demands it!  No one will sacrifice quality for the sake of sustainability.  Green products will continue to climb in popularity and mass appeal if they out-perform the competition.

8. Lose the Crunch

Green marketing has not completely shaken the hippie image.  Until it does, some consumers will avoid green products simply due to the stereotype.  To reach the mainstream, the green component of each product should be downplayed.  Let the quality and performance of green products speak for itself.  What makes the product green should only be mentioned as an afterthought, if it’s even mentioned at all.  OglivyEarth labels this approach, “P.S.:  We’re sustainable.”

9. Turn Eco-Friendly Into Male Ego-Friendly

Marketing specialists have their work cut out for them on this one!  Most guys simply don’t “do” green for the sake of it.  OglivyEarth cited the example of hunters and fisherman becoming interested in green when they saw the effect climate change would have on their sports.  The marketing of eco-friendly cars should also target every man’s inner stud!   

10.   Make It Tangible

Would you enjoy sacrificing 40 hours of your life at a job each week without getting paid until six months later?  Of course not!  It’s human nature to desire a tangible reward for our efforts.  Whether it’s through pay-as-you drive insurance policies to help limit the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere or another program, marketers can impact consumer decisions when they give them something real for their efforts.

11.  Make It Easy to Navigate

The host of numbers, symbols, and acronyms for recyclable and recycled-content products can be a bit disconcerting.  For consumers who are striving for the higher road of green purchasing, the way isn’t always clear.  Marketers can make the journey easier by changing the system.  The food industry has simplified its selection through a three-color coding system.  It can be THAT simple. 

12.  Tap Into Hedonism Over Altruism

Despite a volatile economy, the entertainment industry has continued to boom because Americans like entertainment.  We like to have fun!  Creative marketing has the potential to make greening up the fun alternative.  OglivyEarth noted Volkswagen’s efforts to decrease littering while increasing exercise:  it turned a bottle deposit bin into an arcade game.  Whoever thought recycling could be so much fun!  When a staircase was converted to piano keys, stairway use increased by 66%.  You get the picture. 

At Target Marketing Group, we are not discouraged by the statistics depicting Americans as well-meaning people who don’t take action.  We believe through creative marketing strategies aimed at the “Middle Greens,” an entire crop of “Super Greens” can be harvested!  It’s all about changing mindsets, making it easier, making it better, and making it normal to the mainstream.  We know that the heart of the American people is always aimed at doing the right thing.

 As creative marketing specialists, we are confident in our ability bridge the gap.  OglivyEarth’s 12-steps towards change isn’t out of reach—it’s a challenge for innovation that’s attainable.


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