12-Step Program to Better Green Marketing

June 22, 2011

Hmmm, how do we make energy efficiency more accessible and fun? Smartphone apps like this one fro the UFO Power Center can help.

What’s wrong with “green” marketing? A lot, according to a recent Mainstream Green report by OgilvyEarth, which should be essential reading for anyone attempting to market green or energy-efficient products and services.

“When it comes to motivating the American Mainstream, marketers, governments, and NGOs have been approaching messaging and marketing around sustainability all wrong,” the report declares.

The problem, Ogilvy says, is marketing to the “super green” segment, or the early green adopters and super rich who can afford to buy green and energy-efficient products and services at premiums, rather than targeting mainstream Americans and their interests.

According to Ogilvy, 82 percent of Americans have good green intentions but only 16 percent are dedicated to fulfilling these intentions, putting 66 percent in what Ogilvy calls the Middle Green and forming a “green gap” between wanting to be green and filling it.

Yet, many marketing green products and services aim their pitches at earthy-crunchy or affluent “super greens.”

“Why are we trying to motivate the Green Middle with the same tactics we use for the highly motivated Super Green niche? As marketers know, you can’t motivate a mass movement with niche marketing,” the report states.

The price of green goods and services, as well as social pressures, are two of the main obstacles in selling eco-friendly products and services.

Our research found that the valiant minority that venture into the green space do so with a relatively high social and emotional cost. Upper Middle and Super Greens told us they feel ostracized from their neighbors, families, and friends; the mainstream said they fear attracting the negative judgment of their peers if they go out on a limb to purchase green products. Being human, those in the Middle don’t want to feel different, they want to feel normal. Until green products and services feel normal, the Middle is unlikely to embrace them. …

The barrier is even higher for men. Fully 82% of our respondents said going green is “more feminine than masculine.”

Ogilvy offers 12 steps to closing the green gap. We offer a highly condensed version here:

1. Make it normal

Opower does this brilliantly by showing you how your energy bill compares to your neighbor’s.

2. Make it personal

Companies that can link their products to highly personal benefits are better positioned to succeed. Ogilvy states that 80 percent of Americans would rather cure cancer than fix the environment. “They need topics to be personal, positive, and plausible — which the environment, as of now, is not.”

3. Create better defaults

In other words, make energy efficiency or green a part of your regular offerings. “Sometimes the best thing to do in the sustainability space is to remove the burden of complex choices from our overburdened consumers. Convenience has always sold, and making green convenient is a powerful inducement,” the report states.

4. Eliminate the Sustainability Tax

Eliminating the price barrier eliminates the notion that green products are not for normal citizens.

5. Bribe Shamelessly

Think rewards programs. Offer incremental, ongoing rewards for what they do accomplish, creating a framework which rewards individuals as they move up the green continuum. Incentivize progress, not perfection.

6. Punish wisely

According to Ogilvy, sustainability can use some of the smart shaming strategies tried by others. Stickk.com, for example, is a website engineered by Yale economists to help people achieve their goals. By setting up your own contract to achieve a personal goal, you commit to a self-inflicted punishment — some loss of privilege or a donation to charity — if you fail to achieve your goal.

7. Don’t stop innovating. Make better stuff.

It’s not enough to perform just as well; products have to perform better. Companies like Nike and GE saw the performance challenge as an innovation opportunity. Sustainable materials for shoes increased comfort and performance, and an $18 billion a year business has been made out of GE’s “ecomagination” product innovations — the size of a Fortune 150 company, says Ogilvy.


Innovation needs to go beyond the products we make. It needs to extend to inventing creative ideas that also change the way consumers use the products we make.

8. Lose the Crunch

Don’t sell green. Sell the benefits of energy savings and efficiency. “We need to ditch the crunch factor of green and liberate ourselves from the stereotypes. And the best way to do it may be not to mention the ‘G’ word at all; that or push sustainability down the benefit hierarchy.”

9. Make Eco-friendly Male Ego-friendly

“Sustainability could use its Marlboro Man moment,” states Ogilvy. “Those environmental brands grabbing male attention are doing so by relying on old-fashioned sleek and stylish ads emphasizing performance and design, with credible environmental messages woven into the appeals to primal desires to go fast and look good doing it.” In other words, bake energy efficiency into your designs for convenient, comfortable and safe home systems. Make the energy savings a value-added.

10. Make it tangible

We need to translate the murky benefits of sustainability into something immediate and concrete. According to Ogilvy, DIY Kyoto, a UK startup, tried to do just that when it brought the Wattson to market. By changing color according to a home’s current energy use, Wattson provides instantaneous feedback on energy use to consumers. Some smart thermostats can also do this.

11. Make it easy to navigate

Eco-suspicion and eco-confusion need to be addressed with truth, transparency, and a very good road map, Ogilvy says. We have to make energy efficiency easy for people to attain.

12. Hedonism over Altruism

People are motivated by things they enjoy doing, like having fun, so rather than making sustainability choices seem like a righteous thing to do, wise brands are tapping into enjoyment over altruism. So again, sell convenience and connectivity through fun devices like smartphones—and don’t sell “green.”


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