by: Michael Hoexter

Taking a break from my series on the electron economy, I wanted to share some impressions from the changing market and media landscape.

In the last couple months, I’ve noted some products, media and pronouncements that for me signal a, perhaps permanent, turn in corporate and government affairs towards green. I am wondering if this means that green is (part of) a new common sense for most people and markets not just one of a number of flavors, a personal choice or (small) market segment.

One encounter for me was in the cereal aisle at the local Safeway, the national chain of supermarkets that does not carry as many “specialty” product lines as Whole Foods or supermarkets with a specific ethnic identity. Now I don’t usually get my cereal at Safeway, so this was, relatively speaking, terra incognita. In any case, on this trip, among the offerings of (usually way too sugary) cereals I saw the icons of my childhood transformed!! Yes…transformed!! Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and Raisin Bran were present in their familiar blue and purple boxes with a difference…these iconic boxes had a large green banner declaring them to be “Kellogg’s Organic”. I noted that nearby there was a stock of regular Kellogg’s cereal including regular non-organic Rice Krispies and Raisin Bran. I feel though that I had just personally witnessed a sea-change in American marketing.

People forget that Kellogg’s and breakfast cereal in general actually started as part of late 19th century health food movement. So it there is something of a fit between Kelloggs launch of Kelloggs Organics last year and its corporate heritage. On the other hand, the timing may be a sign of our current times, in that organic has been around for a couple decades already. Safeway itself had rolled out its own house-brand organic cereal line last year. Some of the trend into organics has to do with the specifics of the food business; the success and expansion of Whole Foods as well as the search for slightly better profit margins than one usually finds in the grocery sector. There may be something more at work.

As Raisin Bran used to be my favorite, I went out a bought a box of Organic Raisin Bran to “test”. It was good and as it turns out, less sweet than the conventional variety. Still a little too sweet for my current tastes but apparently trying to avoid the excesses of one of the other negatives of the American food industry, excessive use of sweeteners.

Another sign of the greening of major American manufacturers and retailers could be found on TV a month back. In, perhaps its Earth Day (in America its in late April) ad campaign, Walmart touted its organic cotton pajamas for women, a change up from the usual price-cut message of its consumer ads. In a previous post, I applauded, despite concerns about Walmart’s potential to dilute the standard, Walmart’s initiative in the area of organic food. The rapid advance into organic clothing was surprising to me in that organic cotton is still uncommon in almost all major clothing lines in the US, so it seems that Walmart has now leapfrogged some of the more expensive clothing manufacturers. In my mind, organic clothing, more than food, still was in the “premium” category.

As it turns out, Walmart, according to its website is now the largest purchaser of organic cotton in the world. As conventional cotton is a major polluter, Walmart’s leadership in this area is a boon to the environment and a challenge to its more upscale competitors. While organic cotton is fairly common now in baby clothing, Walmart’s influence may help spur the general clothing industry and fiber growers to go organic.

There are many other indications of a changed climate with regard to sustainability. Media campaigns require less investment than new product lines and there are ample examples of “green” in the media. My cable provider, Comcast, has been advertising in its regular cable channels a new line of free animated videos on its on-demand feed channel, Channel 1, called “The Unsustainables”. Produced by Sustainlane, an online interactive green business directory, the 4 minute videos are fun and portray a group of people “stumbling” into the future. What is different about this video series when compared with typical public service announcements is that the message is hidden in a (usually) funny story or character quirk. The Unsustainables sometimes “get it right” and sometimes they don’t but we are encouraged to laugh along with them. The positive public service information is sometimes spoken by a character who is casting aspersions on that very information for all-too-human reasons.

I’m encouraged by the style and creativity that goes into these animated videos and the light touch. Sometimes, though, the message may get lost in the effort to be too subtle and non-judgmental. Nevertheless, if the “Unsustainables” get enough shots at communicating the message, I’m quite sure some of it can get through.

Finally, one of the least “environmental” of contemporary political figures in the US, George W. Bush has started to allow for the reality of climate change in his public pronouncements. We had the “addicted to oil” speech last year but now it seems like the last holdouts are being pulled along in some of their public pronouncements. Current differences with the G8 may cloud this picture of a universal consensus…

So do you think that green and sustainability are now an inevitability for marketers and public figures? If you get a chance, let us know what it looks like from your standpoint, market area, etc.

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