Greenwashing – An Advertising Professional’s Insights

greess.jpgA recent commentary in Adweek on “Green Advertising” warns that if new regulations are implemented by the Federal Trade Commission on “Environmental Advertising” it would negatively affect innovation in the advertising industry.
The author of the story, Ronald Urbach, writes that the FTC’sdecision to update its standard rules on ‘green’ marketing one year ahead of schedule are welcomed by professionals in the advertising industry so long as they don’t cut back on the sector’s competitiveness.
Urbach, who is the co-chair of the advertising, marketing and promotions department of law firm Davis & Gilbert, went on to mention ‘product packaging’ claims specifically. He uggested that new regulation in that sector (which happens to be among the easiest for companies to address) would hurt companies’ ability to communicate with consumers about packaging innovation, and might even stifle innovation itself.

Despite the wild growth of confusing, even conflicting messages in the marketing arena, Urbach is not too happy about stricter rules. He warns that “implementing further government regulation would likely have a chilling effect on an advertiser’s ability to communicate important and valuable information to consumers — and might actually contribute to making our environmental problems worse by stifling innovation.” He also says “Advertisers have every right to promote their green credentials, and it is important that companies feel the responsibility to do so and to become part of the environmental solution, even if their sense of responsibility may arise more from an attempt to seize a sales edge than a desire to save the world.” Perhaps the latter statement indicates where the divide between companies and rules is.
The environmentally friendly product sector has been estimated at around $230 billion recently by the National Marketing Institute. That’s quite sizable, putting green products firmly in the mainstream markets’ league – and the green products market is still growing. It’s estimated that 80% of Americans check out a company’s environmental properties before purchasing.
Two comments on Urbach’s article.
-I wonder whether he agrees at all that clarity actually benefits the debate. Without rules, companies run the risk of being found misleading to consumers even if they did not intend to do so. In other words; companies might need as much protection as consumers in a situation where end-users are overly skeptical.
-I wonder what the advertising industry thinks about consumers. A recent TerraChoice study have shown that as much as 90% of all green marketing of products carried misleading information and any action to set some sort of standards would definitely not be impoverishing this scene. Information about good products already is to a large extent distributed via free networks like the internet, which is a clear signal that information provision is not dependent on financing. Further underscoring this is the accuracy of information which in many cases is not sponsored at all. Bloggers, for example, have long left traditional commercial communication behind, interacting directly with each other about what’s recommendable and what not.

6 responses

  1. Hey Angelique, nice post and really good catch on a rather vague article in Adweek. Urbach may have a point in that sometimes regulation stifles all sorts of things, but he’s totally unspecific about what kind of regulation he opposes – just that he seems generally opposed to it. Also, he doesn’t site anything that the FTC specifically asks for. Given that we may be talking about a battle between dinosaurs and a bureaucracy, I’m not even sure where to begin but it’s awfully hard to know where one stands when they’re so unspecific.
    It’s a pity these battles have to take place at all. That’s what I love about the internet – if used properly and openly, it can cut across most of the bs.

  2. Yeah, if the author is just venting general concern about ‘regulation’, then it’s not even newsworthy and IMO a disservice to both readers and advertisers.
    Vague marketing copy and words with subjective/multiple meanings can’t be banned. Look at the personal care & health food categories – they’ve gotten away with it for years. But the best companies just happened to add additional information about the product’s contents, perhaps the brand story, sometimes in a playful manner that reflects the brand’s personality. That my friends, is creative marketing.

  3. Green Advertising is one of the best advertising I've seen. The message of ads are so strong and incisive it makes me want to save the planet again and again. I've seen a great campaign in local business reviews. It belonged to Greenpeace and it was named “Now it's your turn to swallow”. The pictures, made by Chris Jordan, send such a strong message to not throw waste products all around, I now bring garbage together everywhere I see it.

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