Dawn’s Attempt to Market Sustainability Ruffles Feathers

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Dale Wannen

Marketing the sustainability of products has always been a touchy subject.  Greenwashing seems to always be looming around the corner.  This past week amidst numerous natural disasters, Dawn commercials seem to have taken center stage. 

If you haven’t seen this 29 second commercial, please take half a minute of your day to do so below (viewer discretion advised). 

Almost a year ago, consultant Jacquie Ottman opened us up to the Dawn brand with the post Stand By Your Cause: What Marketers Can Learn From Dawn & The Oil Spill in Triple Pundit.  Ottman was in support of Dawn’s marketing campaign involving the use of oil covered animals to show us the problem of increasing oil spills throughout the world.  While marketing its dishwashing product as the most effective tool to eliminate oil from otters and ducks, Dawn also campaigned to raise a maximum of $500,000 to be given to organizations such as International Bird Rescue Research Center and The Marine Mammal Center.

If you have a strange twisted feeling in your gut, that’s normal.  Feel free to go wash your hands.  Dawn is currently owned by the $170 billion conglomerate, Procter and Gamble.  Procter and Gamble also owns companies such as Gillette, Tampax, Febreeze, and Crest.  Most of these products and their packaging require loads of petroleum that is delivered via oil freights every day. 

Procter and Gamble also has over $3 billion in cash and their total annual revenues hang around $21 billion.  The marketing campaign to help support these small non-profits with the $500,000 is about .00016 of a percent of their cash in the bank.   A much more effective tool to promote the Dawn product could have been to simply donate a certain percentage of their profits towards helping eradicate the problem. 

Many large companies are making enormous strides to create products that are deemed safe for the environment taking into account cradle to cradle methods and triple bottom line accounting.  Dawn’s continual attempt to profit in light of situations where humans and animals die seems tasteless at least.  Though a beautiful sounding song, Joe Purdy’s Wash Away that is used in these commercials contains lyrics that are nothing short of horrifying when thinking of the millions of animals that have died.

 Lyrics to Wash Away:

I got troubles oh, but not today
Cause they’re gonna wash away
They’re gonna wash away
And I have sins Lord, but not today
Cause they’re gonna wash away
They’re gonna wash away
And I had friends oh, but not today
Cause they’re done washed away
They’re done washed away

What do you think of the Dawn campaign?  Am I just an overtly sensitive Pisces or is Procter and Gamble shooting itself in the foot by continually airing these commercials in light of increasing natural disasters?

3 responses

  1. Hi Dale,

    Thanks for your post, and my feelings of validation. When I first saw this commercial on TV I was disturbed. Do you know of a way we can let Dawn know their portrayal of killing wildlife is inappropriate, given their company’s stance on oil use?

    1. Killing? Looks more like scrubbing to me :-)

      But still, the idea that Dawn can save the day is a bit absurd and the “buy this and we’ll donate money” thing is borderline cynical.

  2. Greenwashing… yep, that it is. But does the cost outweigh the benefit? I think that in some cases, yes, if NGOs can receive enough funds that it saves the lives of more animals while also targeting the problem – which usually targets the company – then, yeah, maybe it’s worth it. I have always hated the idea of accepting contributions from major polluters and companies that sanction vivisection – especially when they want exposure – using images of the GOOD work to make them seem less BAD. The real problem with the whole PG/Dawn campaign is that they made it SO difficult for people to REALLY make a difference – you don’t just buy the soap – you have to register or something before the buck goes anywhere but in PG’s pocket. THAT is what needs changing.

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