Green Washing

Ever seen a product marketed as being good for the environment – in a plastic bottle?

Consumers are looking for sustainable options in their purchasing, and companies follow that trend. Sometimes the change is has an environmental impact, sometimes not. It can be hard to tell. When a company markets their products as sustainable but spends more on marketing than sustainable sources, or produces misleading marketing or packaging, or promotes their product as simply better than alternatives – that’s greenwashing.


Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is.

Some Examples

Starbucks announced last year that they would ban straws and instead introduce a “sippy cup” lid. Turns out that the lids use more plastic than the straws and are unlikely to be better for the environment. But they got good press at the time of the announcement.

TIP: If you’re worried about straws then skip the straw/plastic beaker all together, and opt for a reusable cup. Starbucks and many cafés will make coffee in your reusable cup and may even offer a discount.

Walmart joined the sustainability trend, launching a “go green” sustainability campaign. Given that Walmart customers are price sensitive this was always going to be a challenge, and the report card is mixed. They’ve reduced foodwaste, and increased recycling of plastic. Their efforts to shift to 100% sustainable energy have so far (in more than 10 years) only got to 4% according to the EPA.

TIP: if you’re trying to assess claims look for agency reporting on data, and beware of percentage improvement, a move from 1% sustainable energy to 4% is a 400% improvement.

Coca cola – and other beverage companies – are working on “plant-based” plastics, that will be biodegradable. In some countries these bottles are already on the market, in some cases they’re still as much as 70% plastic, and about 80% of beverage containers still end up in landfill.

TIP: If you’re worried about this source of plastic stop buying drinks in single use plastic. Ask for tap water in restaurants, carry a water bottle from home (assuming you live somewhere with safe water).

In these cases the companies are trying to do something genuine, it’s just not easy to change people’s behaviour or build new resource infrastructure. These are not the worst examples of greenwashing.

Airbus took the skies in 2008 using the slogan “A better environment inside and out” for the Airbus A380, even putting on the planes’ tail. But air transport is a highly polluting industry, putting millions of tons of CO2 into the environment every year. Their argument seems to be that because of the scale of the plane less pollution occurs per kilo transported – true, but in the interests of honesty in marketing perhaps the slogan should be “not quite as bad for the environment as our old planes (which are still flying)”. Hmmm, not so snappy, needs work.

Volkswagen’s emission scandal which came to light in 2015 was possibly the most extreme example of greenwashing to date. Volkswagen not only made false claims about the emissions from their cars, the emissions devices in half a million cars themselves were modified to pass emission tests over a period of forty years. One good outcome, I suspect this scandal led to countries adding legal requirements for ecological claims to companies’ marketing.


Probably not, most countries have advertising standards requiring that statements in an ad are verifiable. Some countries  -Australia, Canada, Norway, the US – have including requirements for companies to back their environmental claims with data the advertising standards.

Even so, as a consumer it’s worth keeping a cynical eye on claims of “greener”, “eco-friendly”, “biodegradable”, and “sustainable”.


Image via pixabay

Go Home Black Friday

The latest import from the USA appears to be “Black Friday”, that day falling between Thanksgiving (on the last Thursday of November) and the weekend when everyone goes shopping and the retailers offer amazing bargains.

It’s got nothing to do with Europe, so why in the last 2-3 years have retailers here started offering Black Friday deals?

MediaMarkt – The Netherlands

“Giga-many offers on top products” for their Black Friday Cashback.

MediaMarkt – Spain

“Save on your Christmas Shopping”, and a countdown of the hours left to shop.

Amazon – UK

Amazon have a complicated series of offers for “Black Friday Deals Week”, extending their one day campaign to seven.

News promoting offers  – UK

It’s even making the news, where are the best deals for Black Friday, and Cyber Monday – that’s today, the day where there is apparently a peak in online sales. The video is set to the stirring tunes of Rossini’s William Tell Overture and the scenes it depicts are enough to keep me out of stores, I guess that means that I hate crowds more than I love a bargain.

This is all happening at the same time as a movement begins in the USA to point out how consumerist Black Friday is, this popped up on my Facebook feed;


But my favourite action come from Cards Against Humanity; They closed their site for the day leaving just a “donate” button on the site. They collected over 70,000 USD.

This is one American import I hate. I do understand the marketing angle on this; all sales are good, lets drive sales. But take a moment to think about it. We’re heading into the busiest shopping season of the year, discounting right before that can’t increase your profit. But it’s a race to the bottom, once one retailer jumps on the American Bandwagon their competitors are under pressure to do the same.

I did shop on Friday, I bought milk, coffee, soap and toilet paper. There were no “Black Friday” discounts.

Barriers to Entry

CM2009_06_EntryAt lunch the other day I overheard two guys talking about “creating barriers to entry” in enthusiastic tones, from their conversation I gathered they’re in the telcom industry and looking at phone applications. What they were actually referring to, without going into detail, was a first mover advantage.

They’re not really in a position to create any barriers to entry, and software development is one area where it is difficult to create a real barrier to entry unless you can reach a critical mass of users when a network effect kicks in. With the increasing interoperability of software, increasing use of open source software and the move to web services even this is being eroded.

“Barriers to entry” are defined as conditions that make it difficult in a given industry for new competitors to enter the market.n a network effect kicks in. With the increasing interoperability of software, increasing use of open source software and the move to web services even this is being eroded.

Some barriers are naturally existing in a mature market where resources may be controlled, some occur through government legislation and some are created by companies already in the market to exclude newcomers.

In more detail;

Naturally occurring

  • intellectual property
    -examples; pharmaceuticals, coca-cola
  • investment requirement
    -examples; large construction companies, heavy industry, pharmaceuticals, oil exploration

In a mature market

  • resource control
    -examples; oil exploration,
  • customer loyalty/customer switching costs
    -examples; banks, telephone companies, energy supply companies
  • economy of scale
    -examples; manufacturing, insurance
  • network effect
    -examples; software, social media web services, stockmarkets
Picture 7
Barriers to entry make starting in an industry more difficult

Government legislation/authority controlled

  • control of resource
    -oil, coal, salt, private-public partnerships for services such as jails.
  • licensing requirements
    -examples; professions such as doctors, telcom operators, bars/restaurants
  • restrictive practices
    -examples; landing slots at airports

Company controlled

  • advertising
    -examples; big spend advertising/marketing by an incumbent could make it difficult for new entrants to attract sales
  • predatory pricing
    -examples; a French court found that was in breach of their antitrust laws in their offer of free shipping
  • vertical integration
    -examples; oil industry, American Apparel, supermarkets who adopt an own brand strategy

image from Designtek via pixabay


Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 13.48.23Buy-ology; How Everything We Believe About Why We Buy Is Wrong
By Martin Lindstrom

Buy-ology takes a scientific look at our decision-making process around buying, in a series of tests they examine the connection between advertising and sound, advertising and religion, advertising and sex. It comes up with some interesting conclusions.

The research was done using fMRI and SST, two brain scanning techniques that have been used to “map” brain activity to show which parts of the brain are active on specific tasks and in response to specific stimuli. Work has already been done on which areas of the brain are linked to various emotions and Linsdstrom connects that research to our reactions to various advertisements to examine whether warnings on smoking packets work (no), whether adverstising/shopping gives us anything like a religious experience in terms of brain chemistry (yes). And other critical marketing questions such as product placement.

Does product placement work? Are we more likely to buy a certain product when we see it on screen in a movie or tv programme. Well no and yes. Let’s take the no part of the story first. Continue reading “Buy-ology”

And the ads for the girls?

I went to a movie this weekend, a movie that featured a lot of sparkly shoes, pretty clothes, champagne parties and a predictably happy ending. A movie some would call a chickflick. The few men in the audience were on dates, at a guess the audience demographic was female (80%) and young (18-35). So the movie had found the right target.

The ads presented before the movie were interesting.

Ad 1: Grolsch
It’s a beer I like, but this particular ad features a famous architect (Roberto Meyer) and a famous rockstar (Barry Hay) discussing blueprints. Two middle-aged guys making witty comments about architecture and sharing a beer.

Target audience male, 30+.

Ad 2: Killzone
Killzone is a playstation multiplayer game. It’s a particularly violent game, you can get a taste of the ad here.

Target audience: male, 30+

Ad 3: Adidas
One of the “houseparty” advertisements from Adidas, with shots of skateboarding, tagging, dancing, painting, swimming… all young and happy people. Ratio of men to women = 3:2

Target audience: both sexes (more male?) under 30,

Ad 4: Axe
This is an ad for male deodorant, set in a caveman village. Where the caveman wearing axe gets to wear leather, ride a bison, and of course – get the girl. The ads can be seen in its entirety here.

Target audience: male, 30ish

There’s not really anything wrong with the ads per se, but they’re missing their demographic. Women do drink beer, play online games and wear sports shoes. Potentially they may buy deodorant for their boyfriends or partners. But none of these ads really targetted women. None.

Why is that?

A similar line of ads could have included Coke, WiiNike, L’Oreal. All of whom have products that suit women and produce ads that are more relevant for women.

The media sellers from the movie theatres are not smart about their sales strategy. They’re lazily selling in bulk avoiding all the tools marketers should use. If they used market segmentation tools to understand to whom the movies are targetted they could sell the advertising space to the right companies at a premium.