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FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Jun. 11, 2008

“Green Marketing”? Save Some for the Fishes…

By Robert Gorell
June 11th, 2008

Oceana and World Ocean Day are one example of Blue MarketingHere’s a great opportunity: The oceans are dying.

Seriously, the oceans are in horrible shape, and it’s your fault. You did it, Supply, Demand, Pollution and Overfishing. And if we don’t take ownership now, our brands, our children, and our collective appetite for seafood may never forgive us.

I’m not trying to bum you out, but the next time you feel the need to impress clients or co-workers with your sushi-ordering skills, you should at least know whether you’re eating sustainable fish. (Either way, you’ll have to kiss your Chilean Sea Bass goodbye.)

Perhaps you’re wondering, “What’s all this hippy, save-the-Earth stuff got to do with online and multi-channel marketing optimization?” Great question, and I’m glad you asked.

By now, you’re familiar with the environmental catch-all term “green marketing,” but what you may not realize is that “blue marketing” is a relatively untapped way to differentiate your brand while raising awareness for an urgent problem that affects everyone. Besides, it’s not easy being green, because, when everyone’s doing something “green,” it loses meaning fast. (Seth Godin has a great post on the coming backlash over green marketing.)

A quick anecdote to make my point: The other week, I saw two containers of soy milk — original flavor, same brand, same size — sitting next to each other in the fridge at my corner store. One of the containers had a green cap, the other didn’t. I picked up the container with the “green caps for green energy” promotion, turned it around, and saw that they were promising to donate 30 kilowatts of “green power” (solar power?) if I entered the number from under the cap into the database on their website. Pretty smart, right? Well, yeah, but when the first words I read are, “Can one little green cap change the world? Just maybe.” I have my doubts. Even if their campaign is a great idea, it’s lost amid the over-branding of “green.”

It’s sad, but as much as we care about the planet, Broca is tuning out.

Making Waves

World Ocean Day happened on June 8 and, if you’re like me, you didn’t think to commemorate it. Still, I have been paying attention. Did you know that if we don’t curb overfishing, pollution and global warming trends, there will be no more (edible) fish in the sea by 2048?

It’s true. Here’s how I found out:

(If video doesn’t load, click here.)

The URL at the end caught my attention, so I went to

Oceana is the world’s leading ocean conservation group, and their website is full of blue ideas. You can become a WaveMaker, tell your grocer to buy sustainable fish, find out why you should say no to shark fin soup, and you can even download a pocket seafood guide so you always know if you’re ordering something sustainable and low-mercury.

Not concerned with saving the fish? How about saving the humans? As the climate of the ocean changes, so goes the rest of the world. Anyone who’s lived through the East Coast heat wave these past several days will find it easy to believe that 11 of the warmest years on record have happened in the past 13 years and ocean temperatures are rising.

How to Avoid Drift Net Marketing Tactics

Whether your eco-friendly marketing initiatives are focused on land or sea, here are a few ways to build trust, encourage word of mouth, and keep it financially sustainable (read: the other “green”):

1.) Be specific — What’s the exact dollar amount you’re trying to raise? What’s the exact percentage you’re donating, and to whom? Why are you donating to that cause and that specific non-profit?

2.) Campaigns are best — It’s so much easier to track and manage special promotions at the campaign level than it is to track it across the entire organization. By focusing on campaigns, you can see very closely how and why your customers and clients are responding to your environmental marketing efforts at each touch point across channels.

3.) Don’t guilt trip — Nothing is a bigger turn-off. People donate because they want to, not because you’ve nagged them to. Be careful not to come off as holier-than-thou about whatever cause you’re promoting. (I was at an event to raise money for drinking water in sub-Saharan Africa the other night, and the CEO of the company that was hosting the event was yelling into the microphone, acting as though attendees — who’d already donated $100 just to be there — were being cheap if they didn’t raise their hands to sponsor a $5,000 well, and literally shushing the crowd like they were in a grade school library. Whatever the online equivalent of that is, don’t do it.)

If Sharks Were Marketers…

Ideally, giving to a great cause should be the icing on the cake that encourages fence-sitters to convert to happy customers. Whatever you do, don’t go the drift net route and merely advertise your brand’s inner green- or blue-ness as though it’s self-evident. Each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed by drift nets while marketers like us roam free.

Hmm… If sharks had better marketing support, maybe we wouldn’t have an irrational fear of them.

Add Your Comments

Comments (7)

  1. Not to be a jerk, but didn’t you just jump on the meaningless green bandwagon with out of context comments like “11 of the 13 warmest years”? We only have 150 years of data. (and just a side note — how can 11 of the years been in the past decade when a decade is 10 years long?)

    The media (including blogs) has always latched on to the high-impact stories to drive up sales/viewing (there’s no such thing as news, only managed information). In the last few decades, marketers have been quicker to latch on to those sensational stories to make a profit… which increases awareness, heightening media lust for the topic… and so on.

    Everyone in the 40+ age bracket will remember the global ICE AGE scare which faded away. Had it happened in the age of blogs and the anyone-can-pretend-to-be-an-expert Internet, it would have been just as big as panic as warming.

    In 10 years we’ll have another planetary disaster to work with… and a marketing community positioning to make a buck on it.

    Companies are spending hundreds, thousands, and millions to give the appearance of being environmentally responsible and caring, yet a child dies very three seconds because of poverty — how screwed up is that?

  2. allangee,

    The “past decade” thing is purely my fault, which you’ll see if you click through that link. It should have read “11 of the warmest years on record have happened in the past 13 years,” so I updated it. Thanks for pointing that out.

    As far as your opinion on global warming is concerned, you’re certainly in the minority. Sure, empirical evidence doesn’t tell the story, but the vast majority of scientists are certain that global warming is happening now. Ironically, from what I understand, such shifts in climate can even trigger a massive ice age in an amazingly short period of time. So, as to whether the term “global warming” is anything but a short-term description of how our climate is rapidly changing, I’m not certain, and from your answer, it seems you consider it to be a fad and nothing more.

    My viewpoint isn’t quite as cynical as yours. It’s clear that humans have a direct impact on the environment and it’s almost certain that this will escalate dramatically as China and India develop. Everyone serious in the scientific community knows that to be true. And although not everyone seems to agree on what to do about global warming — reducing our carbon footprint with alternative forms of energy, consuming less energy, having less children, and eating less red meat are all options — there’s no arguing with the fact that we, humans, are killing the oceans.

    There’s no argument about it. Overfishing is killing the oceans. Our garbage is killing the oceans. Right now, there’s an area of flotsam in the North Pacific that’s estimated to be twice the size of Texas where plastic bags and other human refuse strangle fish populations.

    Meanwhile, whether or not any of us believe it to be a long-term phenomenon, global warming is changing ocean temperatures and killing some of the world’s most significant ecosystems. And even if that weren’t happening, overfishing and pollution pose just as big a threat.

    Clearly, poverty is a huge concern. Food shortages are a real problem, too. So think about how many people rely on fish as a food source. 2048 isn’t that far away when you’re talking about having literally no more edible fish in the sea.

    I’m not saying that companies should focus their philanthropic efforts at the oceans or other environmental causes at the expense of human causes. (Although I do think they are inherently human causes, but I digress.) I’m just pointing out that “blue marketing” is a very tangible and specific way to get involved with “green marketing” without the posturing and pretense that goes along with merely saying that your business is “green”.

  3. Eco-Neighborhood Social Network Portal

    This web site offers each US City a Green Portal, blog and calendar for sharing local information about being green, becming green and sustaining green behaviours. Being green and getting in touch with what is locally available is at its core…

    Look up your zip code and start sharing what your community has to offer now…

  4. Well said Robert.

  5. Green marketing is a new way to make people sensitive to marketing !

  6. AGE scare which faded away. where plastic bags and other human refuse remember the global ICE Had it Being green and happened in the strangle fish populations and sustaining green behaviours.

  7. I agree that the green movement has gone a bit far but why not? Is it really a bad thing if companies are donating solar power, no way what a great way to become part of the solution. Being an informed consumer is what it really boils down to. We shouldn’t say some companies are taking advantage of the green movement therefor its a bad idea. Green homes, paint, coffins even to business being green are all excellent ways that each of us can leave a smaller footprint on earth. What has been done is done but that shouldn’t mean we should just quit trying altogether!

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