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September 2008

ESOMAR Congress 2008: Nokia’s environmental initiative and how Wal-Mart and Volkswagen put research to work 

James Aitchison and Geoffrey Precourt of WARC Online, hear how Nokia is looking to mix business with ethics, and how Wal-Mart and Volkswagen are utilising market research

This is one of a series of edited extracts from the ESOMAR 2008 Annual Congress in Montreal. Other articles cover: 

For WARC’s full coverage of ESOMAR Congress 2008, visit our conference blog page.


The ice didn’t freeze over in Helsinki Harbor last winter and the people at Nokia headquarters took notice.

Despite efforts to recycle paper, cans, plastics, clothes, and a variety of white goods get second use, it was clear that global warming was making a powerful statement.

“Our people are worried about climate change,” Dave Riley Nokia senior research manager/United Kingdom, told the 2008 ESOMAR Congress audience. “It concerns them. It worries them. And they know a company like Nokia can make a big difference.


Joe Brown, global Director at Illuminas in London, addressed the difficulty of extending recycling’s good will–and environmental common sense – to cellphones. Globally, there are some 3.3 billion cellphone users – a number that’s roughly half the world’s population. “That makes it the most prolifically used piece of technology in the world,” he said, “and Nokia has a 40 percent global share.”

To examine the possibilities of recycling Nokia equipment, Illuminas studied the consumer habits of 500 different people in 13 different countries. “The initial reaction was, ‘Who’s against it? We’re all pro-environment – especially in developed markets.

“And, in fact, 24 percent of the respondents told us they had recycled their own phone when the purchased a new one. But most of them were lying. In fact, only 11 percent of our audience recycled their last phone. And that represents only a 3 percent share of the total global market”

Why don’t people recycle their cellphones? For one, they’re probably not aware of how much a difference it could make on the environment. “Then there are barriers that are rational and emotional,” Brown continued. “The rational argument is that they want a back-up in case their new phone fails. The emotional is that they’re afraid that their old phone contains some sort of personal information that they don’t want anybody else to have.”

In fact, most people don’t do anything with their old phones. They don’t pass them on to friends or charities. In fact, the average household has five old phones stuck away in some sort of drawer filled with pens that don’t work, empty staplers, and batteries that may or may not have any life left in them.

Brown outlined five steps to jump-start cell-phone recycling:

Nokia’s specific recycling initiatives began in 1997 in Sweden and the United Kingdom. It was the first manufacturer to provide alerts on its phones advising consumers to unplug their chargers. During the last nine years, Nokia has reduced the amount of energy its best chargers use in no-load modes by 90 percent. And its newest chargers consume 94 percent less than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US) efficiency targets.

Riley echoed Brown’s examination of consumer insensitivity to the issue, adding that 74 percent of cellphone users don’t even consider recycling; of those who do, 50 percent are completely unaware of how to go about doing so.

Until habits begin to change, Nokia is using two tactics to minimize more phones ending up in more cluttered drawers.

One, it is regularly downsizing its products, with smaller, trimmer phones (“Remember those bricks we used to carry around?” Riley asked his ESOMAR audience). And, two, product convergence means that a phone is no longer just a phone – it is a camera, a music player, a radio, an alarm clock, a video recorder, a GPS device and, in some cases, even a laptop. “Much less material goes into one of these phones than all the things they replace.”

The company also has an education initiative aimed at consumers all over the world and has created 5,000 collection points in 85 countries.

Wal-Mart in Quebec

With a turnover of $375bn, an employee count of 2 million and more than 7,000 stores worldwide, Wal-Mart is the world’s largest corporation.

But the presentation given at Congress this year focused on a region that accounts for just 0.72 percent of that turnover and 54 of those stores: Quebec. That’s because an industrial relations dispute in the region over union membership of employees brought about a nadir in the grocery giant’s public approval rating, which dipped 60 points between 2004 and 2006 to just 11 percent and culminated in the closure of one of its stores.

The details of the dispute were not expanded upon, but Wal-Mart’s response and supporting PR offensive to regain lost ground were. They focused on the introduction of its Achat-Québec program (“bought in Québec”). This initiative highlighted and encouraged consumers to buy products that Wal-Mart had sourced from the region and, at the same time, sought to expand the number of such products that it offered. The insight behind it was to tap into a topic close to the heart of the region’s consumers: supporting the indigenous economy.

The fact that the company has adapted its offering in a regional market is not remarkable in itself; Wal-Mart operates around the world under a range of different brands and guises. But the disproportionate effort that it made in Québec suggests that the labour dispute was having an equally disproportionate effect on its reputation beyond the province’s borders.

Since the introduction of Achat-Québec in 2006, the company has clawed its approval rating back to 41 percent and claims sales have increased by nearly 10 percent and market share by 1 percent.

Automotive touchpoint tracking

The car buying process is complex these days. There’s a myriad of potential promotional channels and touchpoints, consumers are unpredictable and over-informed and there’s an abundance of product choices in the market.

The joint presentation from ad agency Agence V and research firm Panel on the Web gave a glimpse of how VW sought to better understand the journey of the car buyer in the French market, in order to sharpen its supporting marcoms.

Their approach involved the recruitment of 500 potential car buyers to a panel of online diarists who were asked to record all their purchase-related activities and exposure to relevant media over a 22-week period. Most of the specific findings that came out of the analysis of the 55,000 diary contributions remained under wraps for commercial reasons, but a few were shared:

About the authors:


James Aitchison is the managing editor of WARC Online.



Geoffrey Precourt is the US Editor of WARC Online.


You can read their reports from ESOMAR 2008 Congress and other recent marketing events here.

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