As a marketing student, I find it fascinating to observe how companies decide to communicate their sustainability efforts to consumers. Nowadays, most companies do make an active effort to do so, as consumers are becoming more conscious of environmental issues and scrutinising companies that fail to address such issues. With the rise of technological advancements such as social media platforms, communication about a brand occurs with or without the permission of the brand in question, therefore it is increasingly important for businesses to proactively communicate their sustainability initiatives.
According to a recent study, products with associated sustainability claims generally outperform the growth rate of total products in their respective categories. Sustainability sells, and marketers need to leverage this now more than ever. Most recently, Iceland stepped away from its traditional Christmas-time marketing approach and decided to try something different. They created a TV advertisement that highlighted the environmental degradation caused by the palm oil industry and pledged to stop using palm oil in their own-brand products. However, the advertisement was banned from TV for being “too political”. This in turn created an enormous media storm with many consumers praising Iceland for creating an advertisement that addressed an environmental-related issue, and others signing petitions demanding its return to TV screens.
However, it doesn’t make sense for any and every company to create environmentally-aware marketing campaigns. In order for a company to successfully market sustainability, it also has to be part of that company’s fundamental values. Furthermore, the marketing message has to be authentic and it has to be backed up with action, otherwise it will simply be seen as ‘green washing’ (Parkman and Krause, 2018). For example, Iceland attempts to demonstrate their commitment to their sustainability efforts by outlining their promise to eliminate palm oil and plastic from their own-brand products entirely. However, Iceland aren’t alone. It is very encouraging to see that the top reason why companies are increasingly pursuing and communicating their sustainability agenda, is because it aligns with its core business values (McKinsey Global Survey).
Ultimately, the fundamental role of the marketing function is to understand consumer needs and communicate the company’s value proposition. Therefore, with consumers demanding more sustainable solutions from companies, marketers have no choice but to address these needs in order to successfully deliver results. For example, Philip Kotler, one of the key figures in the marketing arena, advocates for a “customer-centric sustainability approach”, which meets consumer needs, whilst discouraging overconsumption and its associated strain on the environment (Kotler, 2015). It is my view that the biggest challenge facing marketers is finding that perfect balance between people, planet and profit, and as I continue my journey in the marketing domain, I look forward to observing how they will tackle this and choose to market sustainability.
Kotler, P., 2015. Confronting Capitalism: Real Solutions for a Troubled Economic System. AMACOM.
Parkman, I.D. & Krause, A.J., 2018. The Diamond Model of Authentic Green Marketing: Evidence from the Sustainable Architecture Industry. Business and Society Review, 123(1), pp.83–118.
Image credits: still from the Iceland Christmas 2018 advert.