Our perception of green brands versus the reality

Posted by jamie — 1 April 2008 at 1:18pm - Comments

Is BP greener than Greenpeace?

BP greener than Greenpeace? Our survey said 'uh-uh'

During my semi-regular trawl through news stories featuring the word 'Greenpeace' last week, one in particular leapt out: 'BP tops Greenpeace in green brands survey'. But despite the apparent awfulness of that headline, I don't think it's as bad as it looks.

The survey - conducted by Marketing Week and YouGov - delved into the minds of professional marketing gurus to find out which brands they thought were the most eco-friendly. Asked which brand they thought was greenest, M&S came out tops, with names like Innocent, Ecover and the Body Shop also in the top ten. Greenpeace came tenth, one place behind BP but what that headline didn't mention was that BP also garnered fourth place in the list of brands doing the least for the environment, alongside many of our other friends of Shell, ExxonMobil, E.on, British Airways and BAA. So it seems opinions are split as to the oil giant's green credentials.

But like I said, this isn't the disaster it might first appear to be. The advertising and marketing executives taking part weren't provided company names to choose from, they named BP, Greenpeace and the rest spontaneously. So the fact we figure in the list at all is pretty good going and when you're being asked about companies, Greenpeace is not one that would readily spring to mind. And no disservice to Friends of the Earth, WWF and the rest, but we were also the only campaigning organisation named.

That said, this kind of information is all about perception, and what was at the forefront of people's minds when they were filling in the survey would be reflected in their answers. As Marketing Week points out, M&S probably got such a good score because, while the survey was being carried out, it got a huge amount of publicity about its plastic bag policy. By the same token, we got plenty of ink about our Heathrow action and marketers are as influenced by the zeitgeist as anyone else. Conduct the survey just a few weeks later, the results could be completely different and we might not have featured at all.

Perception also plays another role. I got hold of some more detailed information about the survey, and the question asked was about 'green reputation'; in other words, what these brands appear to be doing about the environment, not what they're actually doing. As we know, BP's green claims are mostly greenwash and it appears the company is actually reducing its involvement in renewable energy, but their huge marketing budget allows them to project the image that they are fluffy, cuddly and worried about bunnies.

In yesterday's Independent, our communications director Ben Stewart highlighted some of the current greenwash offenders (hello, BP) who make misleading or disingenuous claims about their greenery. According to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), complaints about greenwash are on the increase so it's organising an advertising summit later this year to discuss the problem.

But back to the point, which is that I'm not too concerned about this survey. What does concern me, however, is just how far some sneaky marketing can go - if you've seen an advert you think reeks of greenwash, don't forget the ASA are always happy to hear from you.

And yes, Greenpeace is a brand. It's sad and unfortunate, but there's no getting away from it.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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