Looking Behind the Green Screen

It’s not all butterflies and rainbows when it comes to effective environmental advertising. Or is it? The Biennial Green Ad Language Study by the Soap Group found environmental language in ads is down – only nine percent of the 100 ads researchers examined included language describing the green attributes or benefits of the product, service or company, compared to 22 percent of ads in 2009.

But there’s more to these findings than meets the eye. The Soap Group notes, “This does not mean, however, that green was missing from ads. In fact we saw a disproportionate amount of ads implying sustainability through graphics with no linguistic reference to anything remotely green. Products (tires, servers, windows, shoes, makeup, etc.) were placed in forests, dangling in mid-air, and found resting in fresh fields in order to imply green.” Rarely were these images actually tied to product attributes or performance, the report notes.

Vague environmental imagery is a troubling trend in the green marketing space and poses a real risk of consumer misinterpretation. Cone’s recent Green Gap Trend Tracker asked consumers to “purchase” the most environmentally responsible of three generic cleaning products based on an isolated marketing approach. Nearly one-in-five (19%) consumers chose the product with a green image (pictured above) without any other indication it was better for the environment. Some consumers believed the environmental imagery indicated this product was safe for the environment (14%) or that it could even help reverse the effects of climate change (4%). The Soap Group study calls this implied environmental benefit the “face of greenwashing today,” and it’s hard to disagree. With the risk of such extreme consumer misperception, a mountain lake or virgin forest suddenly doesn’t seem so pristine.


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