April 13, 2010

How Green Will MadAve Get?


(Please click on photo for Greenpeace.)

Yesterday's White House declaration that polar bears are now considered a threatened species raises the question of how far marketers are going to take environmental thinking.

We're working hard at my agency to think through the carbon impact of what we do. I have to admit, after the first few relatively easy fixes, the going gets slow.

For example, a lot of what we do is still paper based. So it's easy to say we're only going to use chlorine-free, recycled paper. We're going to do extra thinking and planning to reduce waste. We'll use an electronic solution whenever it makes sense.


(Please click on photo for World Wildlife Fund.)

What happens after that?

What about electronic media? It seems more "green" to advertise online than, say, in a traditional paper magazine. But you could be using electricity generated by a coal plant. The components in the computer you're using definitely are toxic to Mother Earth.

So even magazine advertising can appear to be relatively benign. One more page in Glamour doesn't seem like a big deal -- but, of course, 2.2 million sheets of paper (that's their circulation) do start to add up to a not-so-dainty carbon footprint. Maybe we need to rethink the media plan. If you'd normally buy eight pages in the fall issue of Vogue, would it be possible to reduce it to one without impacting sales?


(Please click on photo for Diesel green marketing ad campaign.)

Then there's the photo shoot. At least digital photography eliminates some nasty chemicals . . . but the travel to Tahiti for the whole team is hard to justify financially in a recession, and completely irresponsible from an environmental point of view. Do we limit ourselves to table-top shots of the product? Fake sets? Stock photography? And, if we do all that, will the work still be effective?

Even Al Gore's new green me/we logo took some electrons -- and, no doubt, ink and paper -- to create. I'm hopeful that the good it will do will outweigh the small cost.


(Please click on photo for We Can Solve It.org.)

The challenge is to hold to high production values and make the product look appealing without doing more damage to the planet. You don't want your 30-second commercial for a cruise line look like an episode of Three's Company. Today's movies have shown that clever animators with CGI tools can make Shrek look real. It may be the environmental cause that brings those effects to the masses -- and by "the masses," of course I mean "creative directors

My mom used to say you can't make something clean without making something else dirty. And that seems to be the dilemma we're in right now. Whatever we do, we create an impact. We can think about the media we use and try to make environmentally conscious choices. We can think about production methods too. At least distribution is mostly electronic nowadays.

But none of it is pure.

Outdoor? Some would say outdoor boards are a blight on the landscape -- but they don't seem to be disproportionately hard on the earth. Even neon is an inert gas and doesn't harm the environment. However, those increasingly popular electronic boards must take a lot of energy to run.


(Please click on photo for Golf Green Media - an alternative media green marketing sports company.)

What about radio? That seems to be getting close to a low or no-impact idea. Radio towers seem fairly benign in the long run. And radios themselves have to be a better idea for the environment than that other broadcast receiver, the television.

I confess all of this is guesswork on my part. It's going to take some hard thinking for our industry to come up with so much as a benchmark for what we're doing now.

I just want to know where to draw the line. The goal isn't to turn everything upside down. So let's come up with some data that tells us what our current impact is and then make a concerted effort to improve.

I'd be interested in hearing from you if you or your company has taken these ideas any further.


(Please click on photo for Facebook page Graffiti-ReGeneration-What-does-green-mean-to-you-contest.)

Spyro Kourtis, president of Hacker Group, oversees his agency's strategic planning and relationships with a number of Fortune 500 clients including AAA, Expedia, Hilton Hotels, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, MSN, Oracle, VISA, Washington Mutual, WebEx and World Vision. He is publisher of High Performance Direct. He can be reached at skourtis@hackergroup.com.

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