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Is Green the New Thin? Only in Clorox Green Works’ New Campaign

Raz Godelnik
| Thursday January 31st, 2013 | 3 Comments

the Green HousewivesWhat do you think is the top issue women feel pressured about? Being thin? Getting married? Making sure their children do well at school? No, no and no. Women, apparently, mostly feel pressured about being environmentally conscious. At least, that’s what you can learn from a new survey that was conducted for Clorox Green Works.

Where is this pressure is coming from? Shekinah Eliassen, Green Works brand manager, explains that “women are feeling this pressure because somewhere along the line green became a status symbol, now everyone has an opinion about how you aren’t doing enough to be eco-friendly.” On its Facebook page, Green Works added that it found “that consumers have been overwhelmed by green, and that’s mostly because they feel like they can’t do as much as the eco-fanatics and the rich in time and resources.”

So let me see if I got it right – eco-fanatics and rich people have made “green” into a status symbol that makes many women frustrated because they feel the bar is too high and they do too little, which doesn’t really count and hence they’re still part of the problem rather than the solution. Sounds a bit odd? Not to Green Works, which built an entire marketing campaign around these findings, proclaiming that “You Don’t Have to be Ridiculous to be Green.”

Worried about all these women that are out there worried sick that they’re not green enough, Green Works’ new campaign is “trying to alleviate that pressure with a little bit of humor, with the goal of making everyone feel like their green efforts count.” It started with a “green housewives” video clip, which is a parody on the “housewives” cultural phenomena, presenting Michon “Anxious Eco-Snob,” Jamie “Eco-Socialite” and Elyse “Queen of Green.” The three are making a trip to a local farmers market and you can see what happens there in the clip below. Let’s just say that they provide a perfect example of what an extreme, obnoxious or ridiculous green persona is exactly.

While the use of humor can be a great way to make your point in a green marketing campaign (remember SunRun ads?), it seems that here not everyone thought the housewives theme was smart or funny. “This is actually really offensive to women. I’m so sick of the ‘housewife tv show’ kick. Poor choice,” or “The ‘green without the ridiculous’ message is drowned out by the portrayal of women as being excessive shoppers and party throwers who are only concerned with ‘out housewifing’ other women through fashion and appearance. What message does this send?” were some of the messages on Green Works’ Facebook page.

In fairness, there were also many others that found the video hilarious, but in any event, it did seem that this campaign got some people irritated and the reason, I believe, is the message rather than the messenger.

Here’s how I see it: Clorox Green Works has a great advantage – it provides very affordable, eco-friendly cleaning products. The company decided to characterize the choice in its line of green products as the choice of reasonable people who want to do the right thing for themselves and the planet. So far, so good. The problem starts with the decision to do it by creating a storyline where “green” has become a status symbol with high standards set up and maintained by eco-fanatic and rich people that all the rest feel pressure to meet, but mostly can’t, and hence feel like they just don’t do enough to be green.

While this is an appealing story, I’m not sure how realistic it is. First, the whole pressure to be green doesn’t make much sense. I haven’t found any other research or study that will back up the finding that being green is on the top of the list of issues women feel pressure about. In addition, if this was the case, wouldn’t we expect to see greater adoption of practices, which are as green as it gets as well as affordable, like sharing-based services?

And what about Green Works itself? If this is really a green “working class hero,” why does it sell relatively so little in the first place ($60 million in 2010)? Why did this line of affordable green cleaning products fail to become a hit if the market includes so many women under green pressure looking for affordable alternatives?

The answer to the latter might come from the Regeneration Consumer Study  that looked into consumer attitudes and behaviors of consumers worldwide. While the study agrees with Green Works’ finding on affordability being an important factor for consumers when switching to greener products, it also explains the following:

Making a product that’s good for our planet is important, but, for consumers, it’s not enough. Aspirational consumers crave what we call ‘total value’: products that deliver practical benefits like price and quality but that also negate buyer’s remorse by providing societal and environmental good and provide “tribal benefits” that help them feel connected to a larger community that shares their values.

So Green Works got it right when it decided to focus on the tribal benefits, but for some reason it chose to portray it as the best way to reclaim green from Tesla owners and Portlandia residents rather than focus on its positive attributes. Doesn’t it look ridiculous to you?

[Image credit: Clorox Green Works]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and Parsons The New School for Design, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.


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  • Dave Shires

    Great article. What I don’t understand is – why doesn’t Clorox just make their regular products “green” and not say anything about it? Save the marketing dollars.

    Some of these clips are actually pretty funny but most are just idiotic babbling “US Americans” who just enforce the idea that being dumb and catty is better than being smart.

  • trina d

    So the Clorox messaging does merit a bit of critique. Bottom line: they stereotype anyone who is green (save those consuming Clorox products) as ridiculous, extreme and annoying. They perpetuate the notion that consumerism (which is foundational to the destruction of our planet) is a reasonable response to what is going on around us. And the sexism is mind-gratingly repulsive, as are all the “housewives” shows and their variants. Very good question asked by Dave Shires – Why doesn’t Clorox make all its products green?

  • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

    I think we’ve got to remember how filled with misconceptions “mainstream America” still is. Granted, to a certain extent this campaign reinforces those misconceptions by making an issue out of “green” … (The SunRun advert Raz links to above is much better) …