I once had a conversation with a leading brand exec from a major cleaning-products company about “green” cleaning products and how they’re marketed. This person told me that the biggest problem wasn’t that the “green” products had any performance weaknesses at all. Rather, the problem was that the majority of their customers felt that if a product didn’t sound and smell like it was going to kill them, they didn’t believe it would get the job done. This person didn’t see this as a problem, just a demographic fact.
Hence, you get articles in Wired magazine like this one about Palmolive promising “Killer Bubbles” that shred every last life form from whatever they touch via an unpronounceable alphabet soup of nasty chemicals. It might not be ironic then, that most “greener” brands (Ecover, 7th Gen, Method, and even Clorox’s GreenWorks) work just as well as the more toxic variety but remain less than mainstream.
You also get hypocrisy in branding. Jeffrey Hollender brilliantly illustrated this problem a few months ago by catching Clorox in an ironic dichotomy – simultaneously touting the beneficial attributes of Green Works, while bragging about the heinous toxicity of Formula 409 at the same time.
So what is it people want? Do they really think that only nuclear-powered brands of death will clean their counter tops? Or is there a genuine change of heart going on that the larger brands are just slower to jump on?
My strong hunch is that we’ve got the latter, with reservations. Some people may nostalgically want to keep using harsh chemical cleaners, and still others, perhaps motivated by advertising pressure to live in a spotless environment may continue to “overclean”. Still, a very large and growing segment of the market is understanding two things – one, that strong chemicals have myriad negative side effects, and two, that a company who presents itself as pro-human being as opposed to anti-germ might be more appealing. Okay, It really is just a hunch, but the success of Clorox’s Green Works, hypocrisy aside, shows that a lot of brands see a bandwagon in the long term.
So what does this mean for brands that have had “green” in their blood from the get-go?
Ecover, for example (See details of our company tour here) tells a very different story from Clorox. The brand’s approach is less steeped in germ-paranoia and uber-cleanliness and more focused on a systemic look at the larger ecosystem and how healthy people can thrive within it. More importantly, as stated on their website, honest & open communication and a commitment to sustainability are among their stated goals.
I’m left full of questions – is Ecover’s approach too complicated for the average person’s time and thought? Will Green Works et all keep growing and overwhelm the likes of Ecover and 7th Gen? Or will people be sparked to learn more and be drawn to the solid foundation and more open communication of the real true-greenies? Or will the screaming voice of “kill all germs!” always win out for the majority? Where would you position a “green” cleaning brand?