The day after Thanksgiving — has been known as “Black” Friday since the 1950s. Yet, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the term became widely accepted as marking the beginning of the holiday shopping season… when retailers transitioned from being in the red… to being in the black.
Over time, mass market retailers seized on the idea and began to offer their “door buster” bargains earlier and earlier in the day… until, ultimately, some stores started opening on Thanksgiving Day itself.
This trend was eventually met with a backlash… against the kind of consumerism that would tempt people to forgo a traditional holiday meal with friends and family… with a mad dash, in the hopes of saving a few bucks.
Not coincidentally, this resistance started around the same time that online shopping gained momentum. While more consumers began to “opt out” of traditional, in-person Black Friday purchases in favor of procuring their gifts — from the ease of their home — the tradition maintained its appeal.
So much so that it has become a global trend. From London to Sydney, Black Friday remains a popular digital “search” term.
The Tides Turn (Green)
More recently, however, push back against the very idea of Black Friday has been gaining momentum. And various iterations leveraging the term “Green Friday” are trending.
For example, the Netherlands-based Trees For All holds a mass tree planting to encourage companies and consumers to invest in a greener planet. San Diego County celebrates its public parks on Green Friday and encourages residents to get outside. Taking a slightly different approach, Australia is debuting this year its version of Green Friday, which involves an online shopping portal where people can buy eco-friendly products.
We think some of these ideas have real merit. But before your building product decides to jump on this bandwagon, consider the real challenges of becoming branded a “Greenwasher.”
A Cautionary Tale
It’s no secret the demand for sustainable products and services is growing. Yet, in an increasingly competitive world, the temptation to exaggerate sustainability claims is real.
But it’s only a matter of time until potential audiences catch on. And when they do, the backlash can be severe.
One of the most notable examples is the Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015. Volkswagen had installed software in some of its diesel vehicles that made engine emissions appear significantly better than they actually were. And that was a big problem for the brand once known for introducing the much-beloved “Bug.”
Volkswagen eventually ended up paying more than 30 billion euro in fines and settlements worldwide. The brand’s global sales plummeted for years afterward, with nine executives facing criminal charges. And prison time.
Veering into greenwashing claims is indeed a slippery slope.. which can happen more easily than most marketers realize. It has become such an issue that the Institute for Advertising Ethics held the first-ever global symposium on the topic just last month.
And, when you consider that 64 percent of consumers claim they’ll pay more for sustainable products — and 78 percent say they’re more likely to buy products labeled “environmentally friendly” — there’s a good reason to maintain vigilance.
Brands that exaggerate the sustainable properties of their products can quickly damage hard-fought brand equity. And their reputation.
Avoid the Greenwashing “Trap”
Sometimes, unintentional greenwashing can happen over time. After all, what was compelling in the past… may not be as relevant now.
Consider, for example, how claiming that a product is “natural” was once a powerful statement. Today, however, the word “natural” has been so overused… it has been become practically meaningless.
To keep from falling into this all-too-common trap, building product marketers must accurately communicate their products’ environmental impact. And resist the temptation to inadvertently mislead audiences. They must stick to provable claims that can be backed by evidence. Simply claiming on packaging that a company has a commitment to the environment… is no longer enough.
Tips for Successful Sustainability Marketing
Building product brands that really want to make a difference — when becoming greener — should start by putting together a plan of sustainability goals. And then develop a strategy to accomplish that mission.
Rather than “going big,” brands are advised to take incremental and measured steps for increasing their sustainable positioning over time.
Following are five recommendations for building product brands to consider when promoting sustainable initiatives.
Stay away from “green” generalizations. Greenwashing happens when brands market themselves as being committed to “being green”… without taking the steps to effectively address their environmental impact. Avoid using general phrases such as “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” that can’t be backed up with metrics.
Be transparent. Instead of considering how to change product branding or messaging, instead begin sustainability efforts with measurable goals. And defined deadlines. Then share those efforts via thought leadership content and on social platforms.
A transparent approach will demonstrate a commitment to making a positive impact. And will also help to keep a brand accountable… while framing customer expectations. Reaching goals is a journey. Often considered a marathon…. rather than a sprint. What matters is the credible steps being taken to a destination.
Sustainability means more than just products. Audiences are looking beyond product marketing… and into the core values of a company. Is sustainability part of the overall brand strategy? Is it a stated corporate value? What about the environmental impact of production cycles? Where are materials sourced? Are carbon footprints being considered? How are products being made… and by whom? Where do the byproducts and waste get discarded? Can products and/or their components be fully recycled?
Collect credentials. Third-party credentials lend authority to sustainability claims. Earning this type of recognition from independent organizations not only enables a brand to defend sustainability claims — but also provides compelling differentiation that will help audiences choose a building product brand over the competition. Make sure to promote these certifications clearly on website landing pages. And prominently in marketing collateral.
Address missteps right away. Sometimes, brands make honest mistakes or overstatements. Correcting those errors promptly can help to avoid harsh criticism later.
Ultimately, the best way for marketers to avoid greenwashing is simple: tell the truth… and provide evidence to back it up.
Interested in ways to position your brand authentically with a sustainability strategy? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to get the conversation started.