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The 6 tribes and ‘Green’ Tescos- what £50 million buys you 18.10.07

The °Climate Group today launches the findings the Climate Brand Index which tracks consumer perceptions of how brands are performing on climate change. It concludes that greenwash no longer works- then places Tescos as the strongest green brand.

The °Climate Group, which is comprised of large corporations that are engaging with climate concerns on one level or another, conducted the research via interviews with 2,000 people in the US and the UK, the results showed that consumers want their traditional providers to go greener rather than find green alternatives.

Equally important despite a large minority who remain deeply skeptical about green claims by companies the majority don’t really give a damn as long brands make a noise about their green side to placate their green guilt.

The strongest message that come out of the report is that what you say you are doing the environment influences people’s perception of your Brand more than what you are actually doing, and the bigger your advertising budget the bigger the gap between talk and action you can get away with.

The poll showed that people considered corporations as the playing the most minor role in combating climate change, but when asked who should do the most business was seen as the most important. This basic gap between perceived action and responsibility is of course only a problem for companies if people are then prepared to act, either by positively supporting greener suppliers or by negatively boycotting those perceived to be environmental disaster zones.

The report gives contradictory results on what people say they believe in and what they actually do.

It fits a range of actions into four categories, ‘use less’, ‘put effort in’, ‘switch products or services’ and ‘spend money’. The use less category is the most popular, it includes simple actions such as switching off lights, lowering the thermostat. The figures drop noticeably when moving onto actions that require more effort such as conducting a carbon audit, and even further when it involves active change such as switching to an environmentally friendly car, or even changing to a ‘green’ credit car, and finally it drops of the sale when looking at installing renewable energy.

What the report concludes from this is that in essence the majority of people would like to appear greener but do not want this to actually impact on their lives, nor to necessitate changing lifestyles in the slightest. This is a deeply depressing finding for environmentalists but a boon for Brands.

The report argues, “It is clear that green behaviour is no longer a niche activity. According to the research more than 80% of the mass market have made some effort, though the proportion who have let green issues influence what they buy is only half that. When they do, it is consumer-facing brands – not green specialists – that people are looking to for solutions.”

Six ‘Climate Conscious’ Tribes (% of UK population): Following the standard groupings used in these types of market reports it splits consumers into 6 broad groupings

> Campaigners (27%) – deeply committed, but pessimistic that we can solve the problem, needing to be convinced that solutions are authentic and effective

> Optimists (17%) – also committed, but up-beat about solving the problem; motivation is more social.

> Confused (19%) – open-minded and looking for clarity about the issue and what they should do

> Followers (9%) – less sure on the issue, but ready to join in nonetheless

> Unwilling (12%) – accepting of the issue, but not prepared to do anything themselves

> Rejecters (16%) – confidently rejecting of the issue, feeling well informed

In essence the report argues that between the campaigners, optimists, confused and followers the ‘green’ motivated market has now moved out of a niche into the mainstream and that companies/brands have to meaningfully engage with the issues if they are to profit from this fact. It claims it is the end of greenwash and the start of real green Brands.

David Hall, International Campaign Director of ‘Together’ at The °Climate Group says, “This is a nail in the coffin for ‘greenwash’. Consumers want to act on climate change and expect their favourite brands to make it easier for them. It is clear big brands need to work harder to connect with consumers on climate change through initiatives like ‘Together’. We are seeing a huge commercial opportunity for mainstream brands that understand the subtlety of this emerging market and demonstrate green-substance over green-spin.”

The problem is that consumers appear deeply confused by what is meant by a green brand, 69% of those surveyed in the UK could not name unprompted one brand that is taking a lead in combating climate change.

This shows clearly when those surveyed named their top green brands.

The top five green brands:

1. Tesco

2. BP

3. The Co-operative

4. M&S

5. Sainsbury’s

All apart from the Co-op have huge advertising budgets and have in the last 12 month really pushed their green message despite the fact that it only actually comprises a small percentage of their overall turn over. The fact that Tesco’s ranks higher than M&S shows that despite Mark’s superb A Plan shows clearly it is the size of your advertising budget which makes a brand message stick not the real actions behind it.

The designer Kate Hamnett summed it up in Drapers, the fashion industry’s trade magazine, "I was initially really excited about the tie-up because I thought we could increase demand for ethical products,but I’ve come to the conclusion that [Tesco] simply wants to appear ethical, rather than make a full commitment to the range."

Which brings us back to the question, what is a brand? A brand is not the actual usefulness of a product, it is the ideas the consumer has in his or her mind about a product, company or service. It is the complex emotional feelings we have towards the brand- like Volvo instantly sums up in my mind bad driving and safety- now all Volvo drivers are not idiots I am sure- just all the ones in Hackney are, and there are probably safer cars out there.

Brands are the fluffy values we have in our mind and often have little relationship to the reality.

Take Rolex, I am sure Rolexs are superb watches, we are told constantly that they are by the adverts, product placement in movies and by journalists who never fail to mention if some rich kid is wearing one. But I have no proof, I have never had a Rolex, have no actual experience of one and never will. If I had enough money to buy a Rolex I’d buy a tractor instead. So where do all my ideas come from about Rolex?s Simple it’s advertising and the media hype, put basically Rolex have bought space in my head. Functionally of course a Rolex has little more value than most other watches. It is all the associated ‘values’ that enable the company to charge such huge sums for them.

A product or service has three values, its usefulness, the cost of producing it- labour, machinery and materials- and its exchange value- the price people are prepared to pay for it. What branding does is by boost the gap between the first two and the last. Enabling companies to maximise the difference between what it actually cost to make something and what they can charge. No wonder corporations love brands.

It is not an easy thing to do, building a brand. There is a huge industry that has grown up around brand building, advertising agencies have brand specialists, there is a PR wing and more brand consultants than you can shake a stick at. There are even now accounting standards to evaluate the monetary value of a brand.

It is also hugely expensive, Lloyds TSB sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics allegedly set the company back £80 million, Tesco’s media buying budget alone- and this doesn’t include direct mail, loyalty cards, posters, PR or sponsorship- is £50 million a year, in 2005 BP spent £85 million on corporate advertising trying to boost its green credentials in the eyes of the consumer. And of course it is the consumer not the shareholder that pays, the power of brand is reflected in the price it can charge for its products and services beyond their useful value.

The advertising industry’s defense of Branding is that it helps consumers find products that they can trust in a world full of competing claims. In Martin Davidson’s ‘The Consumerist Manifesto’ he quotes from Tyrell, then MD of the Henley Centre for Forecasting, “The importance of brands in people’s lives will, increase. The need for authority is increasing. The need for personal friends, and the scope for brands to be those authorities is rising.”

Brands as authorities, brands as personal friends? What planet are these people on? Brands are the stories companies would like you to believe about themselves and their products, so that you will pay more for them- and they spend large amounts of money to make sure you hear their fantasies.

What this survey shows more than anything is the power of brands to make statements that are far from the truth and still be believed.

Peter Shield

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Related links

Consumers, Brands and Climate Change Report (PDF)

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