New research from Media Bounty finds the key to unlocking growth in the sustainable products market is to apply the basic law of how to grow – sell to light buyers. Harriet Kingaby, Co-chair at The Conscious Advertising Network and Florencia Lujani, Strategy Director, Culture & Climate at Media Bounty, outline 10 key recommendations.
Our recent report ‘Beyond the Climate Bubble’ tackles an important point: the market for sustainable products and services is growing but needs to grow further, faster. The Climate Change Committee estimates that, to stay on track with the Paris Agreement, one-third of carbon reductions will need to come from consumers adopting low-carbon lifestyles. This means replacing many consumption habits with more sustainable ones, and presents a huge opportunity for advertisers working with sustainable brands and categories.
This opportunity is increasingly being backed up by legislation. The UK will ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2030 for example, and France has banned single use plastic packaging and some short haul flights. This change in law has accelerated the rate of change of the automotive industry, and the ripple effects are being felt globally – during the 2023 Super Bowl, every single car ad was for an EV. We can expect more legislation driving changes across industries like aviation, construction, farming, coffee, chocolate and more. While this happens, we need advertising to do what it does best: deliver effectiveness by inspiring more people to choose sustainable products.
But right now, we have a strategic problem – sustainable products are often being marketed to a niche, the so-called ‘ethical consumer’. These people have usually already made many of the behavioural changes we want them to, and will spend an extra 50p (or £500) to save the planet. Not only that, but your competitors are probably talking to them right now about their product, making competition for their attention fierce. While their spending power is growing the size of the market for sustainable products to the value of £122b (estimated by British supermarket Co-op), brands need to continue to apply the basic law of how to grow: by selling to light buyers.
From niche to mainstream – selling to light buyers
Our research, conducted in Birmingham, Newcastle and Yorkshire over the course of three months, has focused on an audience that we call ‘Persuadables’. This group represent roughly 69% of the population, and, while they are concerned about climate change, they are yet to take the step to buying sustainable products.
They’re not being talked to about sustainable products either, and it shows. We found that the majority of Persuadables thought these kind of products “just weren’t for people like them”. And no wonder, we analysed dozens of creative campaigns from sustainable brands and found that they mostly use feminine, middle-class cues, ignore ethnic diversity, and don’t reflect the media habits of Persuadable audience.
As proved time and time again, niches are nice and powerful, but mainstream is better. Some brands, like Method, evolved to grow the market by avoiding green claims that provoked guilt among consumers, focusing instead on making beautiful packaging that made sustainable cleaning products much more enjoyable.
So, how do we grow sustainable brands? The report contains 10 tactics for marketers, from framings that cut through to the mainstream, to how to incorporate cultural cues, to the importance of humour, and more. At the heart of our recommendation is to get back to the basics of marketing, and ditch our pre-conceptions about what an ‘ethical consumer’ is, or what they want to hear. By recentring on how our brands reflect and meet human needs, and diversifying the stories we tell, we will cut through. When doing our research, we also found great examples of brands getting it right, from Burger King, to GM and Crackd.
- Connect to local issues: localise messaging and connect your brand to Persuadables’ local area. Co-op’s successfully showed their impact on local communities with their 2022 summer campaign ‘Cooking up a difference’.
- Normalise new choices: make your brand fit seamlessly into Persuadables’ day to day, or challenge social norms. For example, Burger King’s ‘Meat?’ campaign played on the visual similarities between animal products and plant-based options with the tagline: “Sorry for the confusion, meat lovers”. They challenge even the most committed meat eater to give plant-based a try.
- Ditch the green tax: rethink your pricing strategy where possible.
- Lead with strong personal benefit: lead with how your product improves or adds values to people’s lives, and great branding. For example, when we launched Crackd, a pea-protein egg substitute, there was no mention of ‘vegan’ anywhere. The campaign focused on taste, recipe inspiration and convenience. When measured against 182 brand evaluations, our Crackd TV ad achieved the greatest increase in prompted brand awareness, along with a 14.9% uplift in aided advertising recall – 317% higher than the usual benchmark.
- Find your trusted messengers: work with people who look and sound like your target market, rather than green experts.
- Crack cultural codes: do your best to insert yourself into Persuadables’ worlds, and to reflect their cultures.
- Sell to men too: they’re 50% of our audience, and sustainable products are not yet being marketing to them. Sustainable brands could learn from other tricky categories. For example, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance partnered with Ryan Reynolds to create an ad to raise awareness about colon cancer amongst men with a different approach.
- Buy media where your audience can see it: use multi-media campaigns for maximum effect.
- Funny or die (literally): climate change may be a serious issue, but that doesn’t mean our marketing needs to be. Ram Truck’s 2023 Super Bowl ad focused on their latest EVs range was a spoof of typical American pharmaceutical ads, but full of innuendo and linking the fear of EVs to a disease called ‘Premature Electrification’.
- Match hope with a concrete plan: back up big messages of hope with concrete actions to win over the cynical.
Ad Net Zero pillar five lays out a challenge to the ad industry to do everything it can to promote sustainable behaviours. This year, Cannes will include sustainability reporting as part of its entry process across all its entries. It’s time to focus our collective talents on the brief of our lives – shifting consumer behaviour to combat climate change. We need more Cannes winners effectively selling the products and services the world needs, and we hope that by focusing our efforts away from a niche, we will see that happen.
If you want to find out more, join Media Bounty’s Harriet Kingaby and Florencia Lujani who will be expanding on their ground-breaking audience research in the Beyond the Climate Bubble webinar on Thursday 8th March at 10.30am – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/beyond-the-climate-bubble-how-to-grow-the-market-for-ethical-products-tickets-518603927307