Sunday, August 02, 2009

Recycled brands: green positioning, worm poop, and marketing accountability

I was walking thru the aisles at the local Super discount-department-store-with-concentric-red-rings-that-look-like a, um, target, when an oddly deformed form factor for a consumer brand grabbed my head, twisting it in place, while the rest of me kept walking a few steps. Hanging at eye level were what appeared to be food package wrappers. Not packages, but wrappers. Empty. Like you see run over in a parking lot...or next to a trash can. On closer inspection, they turned out to be folders and pencil bags for use by school children.

$1.00 Wrapper Trapper and Pencil Cases

Terracycle has an idea for what it calls eco-capitalism. It started with fertilizer made, not from petro-consuming, nitrogen-producing chemical processes, but from worm poop (here). Now, it's targetting the children of America and their back-to-school-shopping parents.

So what?

Much green washing backlash has been whipped up against brands attempting to claim in-name-only environmental cred (see The Truth about Green Advertising here). And while sloppy and disingenuous claims are easily spotted by all but the most uninterested, one can certainly appreciate marketers calling attention to brand attributes that, though always present, have only recently held more massively appealing appeal.

But what happens when a brand built on consumption crosses paths with a concept built on reducing, reusing and recycling...Is there such a thing as win-win in a zero sum game? I think so.

Terracycle has enlisted food + packaging manufacturers to support collection and recycling of their empty product containers. Terracycle remanufactures the recycled packages into useful folders and pencil pouches. Terracycle pays people to collect the packaging, underwritten by the brands whose packaging is being collected.

Here are three impacts on marketing enabled by this approach:

1. Brand stewards in affiliated companies can move upstream...beyond simplistic notions of logo placement and copy conformity to higher-order notions of demonstrable commitment and real action...the logo doesn't have to add a snipe noone believes [e.g., 'now with ecogreenalism']...the new product embodies it. Besides, who can control where your logo will show up when it's a trapper-keeeper.

2. Measurability is built in to the recycled product...success need not be measured solely on awareness and perception of a brand's greenality. Instead, financial metrics (cost reduced/sales repeated), participation metrics (groups collecting, wrappers returned...a boxtops for education program that doesn;t stop at the top of the box) and environmental metrics (pounds of waste stream diverted) are all additions to a balanced scorecard of key performance indicators available for marketing's use (more on that here).

3. Marketing to consumers can coexist with marketing to less consumption. The brands involved in the Terracycle program lend more than words to ideas of sustainable living. If you want to do your part, you can do it by generating demand (for the recycled product) or by providing supply (collecting recyclable material). You need not live in a damp, dark cave to do your part to save the world. And you won't have to give up your cookies either.

In the end, we're all worm food. But brand marketers who can find ways to sell us ourselves as the answer may just be the future of eco-marketing.

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