Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How Green Got Cool

As we push further into the new millennium, the concept of green living has gotten a makeover. Environmental issues are no longer isolated to special interest groups such as Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Adirondack Mountain Club, to name a few, but have rather become an issue staring every man, woman, and child straight in the face. This issue does not, per se, affect our generation, but more so, future generations. As green living no longer finds itself as an alternative lifestyle, marketers are capitalizing on an opportunity to tap into a new segment of the market: the eco-friendly consumer.

As green living has become more prevalent in the United States, it has not only become acceptable, but at times a fashion statement, especially among youth consumers. In this analysis, we will take a look at how three companies, Toyota, Honda and Whole Foods Markets, have positioned themselves as green initiators and cemented their place as eco-friendly companies. These three companies, along with many others, are at the forefront of noveau-green resurgence. In an effort to expand their market share and boost the bottom line, they were able to effectively bring green living back to life.

TOYOTA PRIUS

In 1997, Toyota began production of the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, the Prius. After success in Japan where it was sold exclusively, the Prius made its way to the U.S. in 2001. The original American Prius model ran on a 1.5 liter, 4 cylinder engine, along with a permanent magnet A/C electric motor with MSRP under $20,000.

In 2004 the Prius was completely redesigned into a slightly larger, sleeker and sexier automobile. As its popularity grows, many have found the Prius to be harder to come by with many potential buyers finding themselves on wait-lists to purchase the vehicle.

NATIONAL TREE DAY PARTNERSHIP

In 2005, Toyota undertook the challenge of finding Australia’s “Greenest” celebrity in order to leverage them as environmentally credible and generate positive publicity of the Prius.

Using National Tree Day as a launching pad, they were able to create media opportunities using celebrities and Toyota ambassadors including world renowned environmentalist David Suzuzki, to participate in a photo shoot demonstrating how driving a Prius for a week could reduce CO2 emissions as effectively as planting 21 trees.

Australian debutante and Miss Universe 2004, Jennifer Hawkins was commissioned to plant trees creating buzz leading to National Tree Day. Prius’ were also loaned to media personalities to secure substantial endorsement.

Toyota was able to position themselves as the vehicle of choice for environmentally conscious drivers through a feature on the eco-friendly show, The Great Outdoors on Australia’s Channel Seven.

Through their strategy, Toyota achieved coverage through many different outlets including radio, national and local TV as well as a number of placements in consumer publications with a positive image for Toyota.

Toyota has also reached out into the social marketing realm to address criticism from environmental advocacy groups claiming Toyota is “two-faced on fuel economy”. The company has made numerous online and offline efforts in support of their green initiatives. Toyota is in a position to balance their green products versus their not-so-eco-friendly products. However, any consumer interested in Toyota’s green initiatives can visit their Open Road blog to read “Being Green”.

Toyota has revamped their Web site to showcase their Hybrid Synergy Drive technology and have added a hybrid filter to their online showroom. In addition, they have initiated a community site for Toyota Hybrid owners enabling them to create a profile based on their reasons for purchase.

Through their initiatives, positioning themselves as a green leader, Toyota has been named one of the top ten “Greenest Brands” and as of 2007 has sold over one million Hybrid vehicles.

HONDA

Although Honda Motor Company is relatively small compared to other Japanese car manufacturers, Honda is the largest engine maker in the world. Honda also had the first engine to pass the 1970 U.S. Clean Air Act. The Civic, Accord and Prelude were the only Honda vehicles sold in the U.S. up until the 1990s when Honda decided to expand their model lineup. In particular, the Honda Civic is the second-longest continually running nameplate from a Japanese manufacturer.

Since its premiere, the Civic has undergone several generational changes, making it attractive to a younger, hipper customer, ranging in ages 18-34. To reach out to this audience, Honda launched the Honda Civic Live Tour, a six-city tour featuring live concerts by leading bands such as the Black-Eyed Peas, John Legend and 311 combined with a festival and test drives of the Civic.

This event was a first for Honda, allowing them to team with The Powell Group to leverage the car to “tuners”, predominately young car enthusiasts who customize their vehicles to increase performance, personalize appearance, and enhance the volume of their engines and audio equipment. This market segment was exactly what Honda was after to align the car as a hip, urban trend. They were also able to create successful radio partnerships with local stations to promote the tour.

The Honda Civic Live Tour generated a total of 6.4 million impressions with an estimated $250,000 in publicity value. Not only was Honda able to generate strong traffic into the showrooms, but they were able to reach out to their target audience, providing this hip and upcoming audience with the notion that Honda is the “it” car of our time. Their ability to leverage themselves as the cool car for this younger audience has ultimately led them to align their “cool” factor with their green cars as well.

The Civic Hybrid is the most economic and environmentally responsible gasoline-powered Civic ever. The 2006 Civic Hybrid was so well received by consumers, that it has won the 2006 World Car of the Year Award for greenest car.

Akin to Toyota, Honda is able to promote their green initiatives through interactive and educational online marketing. The site, http://www.world.honda.com/green offers consumers a visually appealing and informative site. Honda was also named one of the top ten “Greenest Brands”


WHOLE FOODS MARKET

Another leader in the eco-friendly marketplace is Whole Foods Market, based in Austin, TX. Whole Foods Market’s mission—Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet; reflects its care and concern for the environment. A key component of the Whole Foods mission is to be a leader in comprehensive environmental stewardship and the company has made an ongoing commitment to green power.

To many, Whole Foods has become a vested part of green living. Consumers say shopping at WFM has become a part of their lifestyle, as the company is noted for having high prices but historically, it has also been a leader in community outreach. In order to position itself as the leading natural food retailer and the go-to marketplace for the eco-friendly shoppers, Whole Foods Market focused on the “Whole Foods Experience” creating unique shopping environments catering specifically to each distinct season utilizing seasonal products and unique items within the stores. Outside the store, Whole Foods Market media outreach emphasized their community support and environmental stewardship practices as well as positioning the company as an industry leader in topical issues in terms of agriculture, food production and consumption.
To further cement their place as a hub of environmental friendliness, many Whole Foods Markets have begun holding seminars on green lifestyle, in and out of the kitchen including seminars on renewable wind energy. Whole Food’s has also publicized itself as a green leader through its Green Power standing. WFM is recognized by the EPA for running on 100% Green Power and has used this standing as leverage to differentiate from competitors.

Whole Foods is still making progress to maintain standing as the greenest brand. As of January 2008, Whole Foods eliminated all plastic shopping bags and now offer only 100% recyclable paper bags. WFM also offers stylish grocery sacks for a low cost.

A unique trait of Whole Foods Market’s CSR initiative is their community dedication. Whole Foods Market has consistently focused on supporting local agriculture, and community citizenship. Each year, WFM allocates a minimum of 5% of their profit into the local communities, generally dispersed throughout the year to a number of groups.

Ultimately, by keeping itself in the local media through community initiatives as well as creating store loyalty, Whole Foods Market has maintained itself as the top green brand in the U.S. and is a staple of green living.

EVALUATION

The three companies presented above have done an exceptional job at keeping the youth market involved with green initiatives through the use of hip and “cool” tactics. This effort positioned the green lifestyle in a fashionable light, building a platform for future green initiatives. It has also diminished pre-existing notions toward environmental-friendly living. Each of these companies has made it a priority to show the exact impact of customers’ loyalty to the business in terms of green lifestyle. Whether reducing your emissions by purchasing a hybrid car or supporting green power through Whole Foods Green Power initiatives, consumers know their brand loyalty makes the difference.

These companies are exceptionally successful because they are not making sacrifices when it comes to the bottom line. In fact, they are the pioneers in green marketing. Their marketing efforts have proven to be successful from both a consumer standpoint as well as a business perspective. Honda was able to reach out to a young audience with their music tour by incorporating Honda’s green values with prominent celebrities and musicians. Toyota was able to accelerate the Hybrid from the drawing board to a reality. They were able to effectively and cost-efficiently partner with green campaigns such as National Tree Day to align themselves as a green company. Whole Foods was able to position themselves as the retailer of the green lifestyle by extensive community support and an ongoing commitment to green initiatives.

These companies have created a solid foundation for the future of green marketing. Now that marketing has taken this course, the green issue will always be in play. Consumers will start to question whether or not businesses are doing their part to practice environmental responsibility, whether at consumer level or at the executive level. This movement has created a mutually beneficial relationship for three distinct parties: the companies, the public and the environment. In the foreseeable future, there seems to be no end to the trend. Until environmental issues begin to resolve, campaigns like these will be commonplace amongst everyone else.

Public relations professionals agree that green lifestyle coming to the mainstream is not just a passing phenomenon. Monica Del Rosario, an account executive with Hill & Knowlton's New York office has worked extensively with Green Cross International, specifically with their global solar report card efforts. "Stories about sustainability have been getting picked up more frequently than ever". said Del Rosario. "Everybody wants to see where they stand in comparison with others. The bar is definitely in the process of being set as to the standard of what it means to be green."

Del Rosario also noted that living green has become sexier in the media. "You may have noticed this recently, but driving an Escalade is much less sexy now a days. Green is profitable. Leo DiCaprio drives a Prius and Brad Pitt is trying to rebuild New Orleans with all green materials." said Del Rosario. "Being green has caught on big time and this is proof that it is most definitely cool."

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