Green pushes have ally in Obama

As the country anticipates Barack Obama’s inauguration this week, wondering if he can turn the economy around, marketers touting environmental messages wonder what the new presidency will mean for green marketing.

While the green movement appears to have an ally in Obama, who is pushing for funding of alternative energies and sustain­able industries, green marketing is showing signs of waning interest from consumers after reaching a high point last year.

“The first half of 2008 was prob­ably the peak of green marketing,” said Russ Meyer, chief strategy offi­cer at agency Landor Associates, pointing to examples such as the launch of Clorox Green Works, a line of eco-friendly cleaning prod­ucts, and the significant media sup­port behind green products.

In the second half, however, con­sumers began losing interest in spending more for green products as the economy worsened.

“With Obama coming in as pres­ident, there is renewed interest in sustainability,” Meyer said.

The new president “gives green marketers greater visibility than we would have otherwise,” added Matt Williams, EVP, partner and group planning director at agency The Martin Group. “As long as green is in the public conversation, that is good for green marketing and green in general.”

That’s what the attendees of this week’s second annual Business of Green Media Conference in San Luis Obispo, CA, are hoping. The conference focuses on sustainable business practices among printers and others in the graphic commu­nication industry.

“The only way American busi­ness responds to sustainability with anything approaching enthusiasm” is if there’s a return on investment, said Terry Wellman, VP market­ing, at SustainCommWorld LLC, which produces the show.

This was as true last year as it is this year. What has changed, however, is the general attitude toward sustainability.

“The atmosphere has changed tremendously with the change in [presidential] administration, and it is now very positive about sustainability” because it looks like the new administration will invest in some significant initia­tives, Wellman said.

Still, there are signs that green marketing will evolve in 2009.

Global warming is the marketing concept that decreased the most in terms of importance to marketing executives, according to a recent survey of Marketing Executives Network Group members by Anderson Analytics. Green mar­keting dropped 5%.

“Marketing executives are focusing more on marketing basics in 2009, which is an indication of their nervousness about the economy,” said Tom Anderson, founder and managing partner, Anderson Analytics. The most important marketing concepts in this year’s survey were customer satisfaction, customer retention and marketing ROI.

Still, several industry executives agreed that sustainability has gained too much momentum to disappear completely as a marketing concept.

For example, Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy Program, which offers incentives for hom­eowners and businesses to install energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, has gained popularity since its launched 10 years ago as a pilot program, said Tim Wirtz, account supervisor at Hoffman York, the agency that works with the program.

When the state made the decision to harness wind power and put up 100 wind turbines, Hoffman York faced a challenge and engaged in marketing efforts to combat some residents’ ‘not in my backyard’ senti­ment about the wind turbines, he said.

“We tried to show people [energy effi­ciency and renewable energy products] are not only good for the environment, but they can help you save money in the long run,” he said of the agency’s overall efforts. As a result, “a mainstream audience that didn’t know much about this movement a few years ago, now is very aware and knows the right questions to ask.”

Due to this momentum, marketers are unlikely to overlook green messages com­pletely. However, they will tweak their mes­saging so that it speaks more directly to what consumers are concerned about now.

“There will be less messaging about sus­tainability directly in green marketing this year,” said Meyer. Instead, marketers will try to “shape their message around value and efficiency,” he explained

Green messages will continue to come from marketers this year, Williams agreed. However, there will be “a stronger empha­sis on product enhancement and the eco­nomic message,” a trend that was already beginning to happen before the economic downturn as consumers got used to see­ing green messages and began to feel they didn’t need to make a sacrifice in order to buy something that’s good for the environ­ment, he added.

It was apparent at the North American International Auto show in Detroit this month, where every manufacturer that dis­played had a hybrid, plug-in or electric battery car to show off, that environmental messages are still important to some marketers.

The auto industry had come under some fire from members of Congress, in the wake of a $17 billion government bailout, who said Detroit had not invested enough in hybrid technologies — and automakers were eager to prove them wrong.

Ford showed off an expanded hybrid selec­tion, General Motors unveiled its intentions to compete in the electric battery market and Toyota plans to sell 180,000 units of the third-generation Prius in the US during its first full year.

“People are interested in curbing carbon emissions and saving money at the pump,” said Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. This is why car manufacturers face a challenge marketing green vehicles now compared to six months ago, when gas prices were significantly higher.

For drivers who want to be more eco-friendly, but can’t afford to buy a new elec­tric car, the association launched the Web site, which provides eco-friendly driving tips, such as maintain­ing a steady speed.

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