The crazy-sexical world of green brands

I read an interesting anecdote the other day. The author did a Google search on the phrase 'Easy being green,' and ended up with 1.5 million posts. For context, he searched ''Til death do us part,' and got 17,500 posts. 'The cheque is in the mail' got 15,000 posts.

I read an interesting anecdote the other day. The author did a Google search on the phrase ‘Easy being green,’ and ended up with 1.5 million posts. For context, he searched ”Til death do us part,’ and got 17,500 posts. ‘The cheque is in the mail’ got 15,000 posts.

The phrase ‘Easy being green’ was coined way back in 1970. So who’s beating it to death in 2008? It’s all those green brand folks. The’re all trying, in their own way, to capture the hearts of confused consumers.

The burgeoning world of green brands is full of these interesting anecdotes and twists I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years as a CD in mainstream advertising. I’d like to share some of those observations. They aren’t in any order, conclusive or complete. And they don’t culminate in any profound wisdom. I just thought it would be fun to document some of the silliness in my new field of so-called expertise.

1. Green brands have the best mascot.

Al Gore. There is no other brand in the world with a vice-presidential Nobel- and Oscar-winning mascot. The last mascot I worked with was Mr. Clean. It doesn’t really compare.

That said, I did work with the Bud Girls. Bud Girls were cool. But nobody casts an aura as cool as Al does.

2. Green brands love green icons.

And the icon they love the most is the Earth. Better when there’s something growing out of said Earth. Best when there’s a metaphor for something worthy, like recycling.

There are green globes nestled in hands. Green globes in piles of apples. Green globes sprouting gears and on shiny awards. And, of course, green globes with the line ‘It’s easy being green.’

3. Green brands love metaphors for ‘carbon.’

Green brands like to say they’re saving a ton of carbon. But what does carbon look like? The consumer probably can’t imagine it – and if they can’t imagine it, how are they supposed to buy it? So there’s a frantic race between brands trying to come up with catchy metaphors. The most popular is, ‘Our carbon reduction eliminates the equivalent of (a suitably big number of) cars.’

There are so many green brands making this claim, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve actually eliminated all the cars on the road at least once over.

This is a good thing. With no cars, there’s less risk of getting hit jaywalking.

4. Green brands like catchy phrases.

I’ve mentioned ‘Easy being green.’ But that isn’t the only phrase getting airplay. Consider the old saw ‘Gray/tweed/chiffon/etc. is the new black.’ Well, the green fashion brands have latched onto ‘Green is the new black.’ Which (like everything in the fashion world) got old in 15 seconds and became ‘Blue is the new black.’

What next? Yellow is the new black (in honour of solar power)? Or transparency is the new black? The imagination boggles. I think it will revert to black is the new black. After all, perfect energy conservation is sitting in the dark.

5. Green brands like the wrong words.

Green brands use words like ‘ethical’ and ‘fair.’ Wonderful words, but they hardly make me want to buy. I respond more to words like ‘sexy’ and ‘fun.’

What to do? Maybe savvy marketers will combine words to convey both worthiness and attractiveness – sort of like real estate developers. Imagine sexy and ethical blended into ‘sexical.’ Sounds like popsicle. A nice word that tastes great on hot global warming days.

6. You don’t have to be green to be green.

We just did a study to see if green brand actions were rewarded by consumers. Lo and behold, we discovered that not-so-green brands still scored high for green cred – if they were cool brands. Consider Apple. Not terribly green, but very cool. Consumers gave Mac big green kudos.

7. Green brands like to line up with our ‘values.’

This sounds very good. But consider your values. Personally, I used to sell slimming programs in the morning and fast food in the afternoon. Hmmm. So do I want a green brand to line up with my values? Heck, no. I’d feel better if they encouraged me to raise my values.

So there you have it: A meander through some of the anecdotes I’ve gathered in the past three years. Not exactly educational, but comforting. Green, like everything else, is just human. Don’t be intimidated.

Marc Stoiber is the founder of Change, a green brand agency based in Vancouver, B.C.