The green halo effect
LONDON - Brands are gaining a premium gloss by promoting their eco-friendliness.
Marketers are beginning to recognise that green credentials can be used to meet business objectives beyond simply highlighting their brand's ethical records.
This thinking is evident in the latest burst of advertising by InBev UK for Stella Artois. Press and outdoor ads for the lager brand showcase its new lightweight bottle with the strapline: 'Less glass. Less CO2 emissions'.
The campaign is part of an ongoing effort to bring back a premium lustre to Stella Artois, which retains an upmarket positioning, despite having suffered an unfortunate association with binge-drinking in recent years. Adam Oakley, marketing director for Stella Artois, Western Europe, explains the strategy below (see box).
Using similar thinking, when BMW quit Formula One last season, the reason given was not its dire racing performance or the state of the economy. Chairman Norbert Reithofer reasoned that 'premium will increasingly be defined in terms of sustainability and environmental compatibility', so its involvement in motor sport ran contrary to its strategic business plan.
'Sustainability can be a good way to draw a line in the sand from where you are and where you are going,' says Solitaire Townsend, co-founder of sustainability communications consultancy Futerra. 'It can catch the attention of the consumer who would (otherwise) just block it out. It's a great indicator for premium and luxury.'
She adds: 'There was a 70s hangover about what being green was, but over the last year this has changed and green behaviour has started to become a status signifier.'
The theory that consumers opt for eco-friendly products to enhance their standing is supported by a study published by the Rotterdam School of Management in March. This found that consumers would choose products such as hybrid cars over more luxurious equivalents as they saw the former as improving their social status.
The organic food sector is hoping to tap into this trend. Bruised by falling sales, it has also had to contend with damaging Food Standards Agency research that concluded its products' health benefits over standard equivalents were negligible. To combat this, the sector is said to be considering repositioning itself around its sustainable credentials to justify its higher price.
'One of the most price-sensitive categories is food. If there's an environmental benefit, it seems right to promote that,' says Jim Prior, chief executive of branding agency The Partners.
In the automotive sector, hybrid and electric cars are being used to strengthen brands' claims that they are innovative and cutting-edge. Robert MacNab, automotive analyst at Mintel, points out that while sales have been sluggish, the marketing of these ranges by brands such as Nissan and Renault is intended to show consumers they are forward-thinking companies.
'The car manufacturers' shift into future technologies has a glossing effect on the other products,' he adds.
However, any attempt to tap into the wider benefits of a green positioning carries a health warning. As Prior points out, companies are shifting from rolling out green marketing messages to embedding sustainability in their businesses. Brands seeking to use this strategy without first taking this step risk lapsing into greenwash.
INSIDER'S VIEW - Stella Artois' 'Recyclage de Luxe' strategy - Adam Oakley, Marketing director, Stella Artois, Western Europe
In 2009, Stella Artois introduced 'Recyclage de Luxe', the attitude through which we communicate our commitment to taking small steps to improving our environmental performance. We know our consumers care about the environment and felt it was the right moment to let them know about what we've been doing to improve our performance, in the unique and stylish way they have come to expect from Stella Artois.
Through the summer and autumn, retro-chic ads featured key achievements, from our 75% recycled glass bottles - a rate above the industry norm - to our 50% recycled aluminium cans and 100% recycled boxes, as well as announcing the awarding of compostable certification for our cardboard packs.
With more than 5.2m promotional packs purchased, our 'Hedge fund' promotion was also a success: more than 8000 hedge trees and 60km of hedge rows were planted in the UK - a real achievement.
The results demonstrate that these initiatives really resonate with our consumers: those who have seen our eco-advertising are more likely to name Stella Artois as one of their three favourite brands; they also see Stella Artois as being a trend-setting brand.
More recently, we have reduced the amount of glass in our best-selling 284ml bottle by 7%, resulting in a 7% drop in CO2 emissions per bottle produced - at more than 250m each year, small steps make a difference.
Once again, we have taken a unique and stylish approach to communicating this improvement in our environmental performance, introducing the bottle with a special limited-edition label and a unique on-pack promotion, called 'Is Jeannie in Your Lightweight Bottle?'. This guarantees consumers a prize of at least 50p, and the chance to win up to £100,000, with each pack purchased. The prizes can be kept, or donated to an environmental charity.
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk
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