What can Toyota teach us about marketing green homes?

Here are a few suggestions for how marketers in the green home industry (and other industries as well) could benefit from emulating certain aspects of the marketing of hybrid cars:

2014 Toyota Prius hybrid“What can we learn from the marketing of hybrid cars that can help us market green homes?”

A LEED AP contractor posted this question as a discussion last month on the LinkedIn group Building Green.  “The cost premium for a high performance house is 5-10% for 90% better efficiency,” he added, “while the cost premium for hybrid cars is (only) 15-25% for 10-15% better efficiency.”

He didn’t elaborate, but I’m pretty sure he meant to imply that more consumers are springing for hybrids than are purchasing energy efficient homes, despite the better energy performance of the homes. In a quick search, I was unable to find hard numbers to back up this assertion. However, I do think he may have a point.

Here are my thoughts (in no particular order) on the topic:

  •  Marketing is (in general) less about logic than it is about appealing to the emotions. I hate to say it, but cars have the advantage here. They just have more sex appeal than houses for the average consumer. (Try creating a home ad that can even come close to this Porsche hybrid concept car ad in the sex appeal department!)

It’s great when your product has native sex appeal. However, there are plenty of other deep emotions that can be just as powerful. Look how Toyota openly uses the concept of non-romantic love to speak to their target audience’s desire for purposeful living in this hybrid ad:

(A nice additional touch: the YouTube post includes an invitation to join the conversation on other social media via the #LoveHybrid hashtag.)

  • Branding has merit. Toyota gets about 60% of the hybrid market. They have done an excellent job of elevating the Prius in particular to virtual cult status.
  • Related to branding, consider the mass media exposure that hybrid cars as a category enjoy. When was the last time you saw a TV ad for Passivhaus?
  • Despite the fact that people spend way more time in their homes, the energy efficiency of their cars is more top of mind. Think how many times per month people come face to face with their home energy bills. Compare that to the number of times they look at their gas gauge.  The act of driving (and fueling up) could also be functioning as a type of physical involvement device – a proven response-boosting marketing tactic.
  • Speaking of face-to-face, there are enough hybrids on the road now that their popularity is becoming obvious. (They are no longer just for tree huggers, either. My former neighbor, a deer-hunting, die-hard Green Bay Packers fan who throws all his recycling in the trash despite having access to curbside pickup, now drives a bright red Prius.) Thus, the all-important (in marketing) social proof is being offered. In contrast, it’s often difficult to tell from the outside whether a building has any progressive features.
  • Interest and accessibility. Start talking about R value and watch people’s eyes glaze over. Yet many in the green home industry continue to try to hook buyers with loads of energy efficiency data rather than presenting them with emotional benefits. On the other hand, watch a few car ads and see how technical they get. (I’ll save you some time: they’re typically 95% emotion, with a few MPG statistics thrown in.)

green roof buildingHere are a few suggestions for how marketers in the green home industry (and other industries as well) could benefit from emulating certain aspects of the marketing of hybrid cars:

1. Appeal to people’s emotions in your marketing.

2. Use language they can relate to. If you’re speaking to engineers, get as technical as you want. They love it. (Just make sure you’re accurate.) Otherwise,  translate your benefits into plain English.  Shoot for a middle school reading level. Your audience may be educated, but they’re also busy and distracted.

3. Get physical. Don’t just talk about R value and HVAC. Demonstrate energy efficiency in ways people can see and feel. Involve them. Have them handle samples of building materials. Hold an open house or expo. Sponsor a contest. Shoot a video that illustrates how your green technology works.

4. Address as many benefits as you can, including deep benefits. A lot of people don’t understand all the benefits of an efficient home. For example, a well-insulated room will feel warmer (in cold weather) than one kept at the same temperature that is not adequately insulated and air sealed. The benefit? They’ll feel much more comfortable in the insulated room. A deeper benefit is that feeling warmer reduces stress on the body (especially for older people and small children.) This means a healthier, happier family, fewer trips to the doctor, and lower medical bills.

5. Show social proof. Share testimonials and case studies of successful green buildings. Don’t just talk about meeting LEED standards. Show and tell how your type of building is meeting real people’s needs, saving them money, allowing them to enjoy a more comfortable experience, etc.

6. Try cooperative marketing. You may not have the ad budget of Toyota or Honda, but if you team up with other companies with similar target markets, you can certainly do a media blitz in your local community. Co-sponsor an event, form a local green building association, pool funds to purchase billboard space and other co-op advertising – the possibilities abound.

7. Don’t forget PR. Local press, especially, is always looking for interesting stories. Green building success stories certainly qualify – especially if you can tie in a human interest story or make a connection to a trend.

(One last thought: are green building sales really that far behind those of hybrid vehicles? Some recent research indicates that homes with green features are in high demand, and are commanding higher prices. Social proof, in and of itself!)

Lots to learn from Toyota – but should you emulate their marketing strategy to promote your construction business, architectural firm, manufacturing company, or other small to medium sized enterprise?

No way.

The image-building marketing strategy Toyota and the other major car manufacturers follow requires a huge budget and would bankrupt most smaller companies.

A much smarter and more profitable approach for most companies is to design and implement a multi-media inbound marketing funnel  – including lead-magnet pieces such as white papers and books, compelling sales letters and landing pages, events, and drip marketing campaigns such as print and email newsletters. One study found that on average, inbound delivers 54% more leads at an average of 13% less cost per lead than is typical for traditional outbound marketing strategies.

What successful marketing strategies have you used that could help market green homes?

The Silent Crowd of Customers Many Green Companies Ignore

Many eco-responsible businesspeople only market online because they think it’s more sustainable. But they’re out there – a silent crowd of customers who prefer to do business offline.

I was in the post office just before Christmas and couldn’t help but overhear the conversation taking place in line ahead of me:

“I just ordered a book from Amazon. It’s the first time I’ve ever ordered something online.”

“Oh really? Pretty convenient, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but I don’t know, it makes me nervous.”

“Oh, well, with Amazon I think you’re OK.”

“That’s right – they’re so big I’m sure they keep up with security. But I don’t think I’d trust most sites.”

If you’re like me and spend a lot of time online, it may be hard to believe. But they’re out there – a silent crowd of customers who prefer to do business offline.

Many of them may be your ideal prospects, especially if your products appeal to the older generations and/or a rural audience. Ignore them and their needs, and you may be shortchanging yourself badly. (As well as refusing them the pleasure and benefits of doing business with you, and potentially forcing them towards options that are less environmentally responsible.)

Many eco-responsible businesspeople avoid offline marketing because they believe digital media are more sustainable than traditional media – particularly because of the consumption of paper.

However, I believe that when done responsibly, print need not be any less sustainable than paper, and integrating print media into your marketing mix can really benefit your environmentally responsible business.

What’s your opinion? Do you avoid marketing your business offline? Why or why not?

Social Media: A Support Tool or Menace for Sustainability in Business?

Social Media Butterfly Iliyana Stareva shares research and insights on using social media to promote sustainability and green products and services

Iliyana Stareva, Social Media Butterfly
Social Media Butterfly Iliyana Stareva shares research and insights on using social media to promote sustainability and green products and services

A few months back I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Iliyana Stareva, then a graduate student in management and marketing at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Dortmund, Germany, as part of her research for her dissertation, “The Power of Social Media as a Communications Channel for Creating Business Sustainability Value: a Support Tool or Menace?”

As you might guess, Iliyana’s research is an excellent resource for anyone marketing sustainable products or services, as well as any company interested in sharing its sustainability initiatives publicly.

On her blog, Iliyana graciously invites sharing of her findings. So it is my pleasure to include an excerpt from her post about the project. Here (in Iliyana’s own words) are the main conclusions of her research (I have emphasized certain key ideas and phrases that I think are highly important for green marketers):

  • There is a need for a new business culture based on the ability to feel and show empathy and the ability to change and move away from traditional horizontal and vertical business approaches towards a web, ecosystem and dialogue-based mindset for more innovative and value-driven collaboration. Consequently, there is a requirement to change the currently very dry, technical and preaching-like nature of sustainability communications towards making it more relevant, emotional, fun, provocative and engaging in order to better reach audiences on a larger scale.
  • In this regard, social media can be that new tool because, since it shares the same values as sustainability (community, transparency, authenticity, innovation, creativity and collaboration), combining and aligning the two concepts could have a powerful impact on effectively balancing the triple bottom line. Social media can thus be an asset that companies should capitalise on, as it can provide competitive advantages and allow brands to become pioneers. But, real commitment to social media sustainability communications is nevertheless required. Most importantly, both practices need to be embedded throughout the organisation – only then can they be effective.   
  • Social media allows companies to be creative, authentic, honest and transparent in their sustainability communications approaches and offers them the platforms to attentively listen and directly respond to what customers and other stakeholders are saying. Hence, social media provides tremendous benefits for organisations to increase brand awareness, promote sustainability initiatives and efforts, engage with stakeholders, integrate them into the company processes, facilitate knowledge management, advocate green activities and inspire sustainable lifestyles.
  • As a support tool social media can not only serve as a communications channel, it can go beyond just sharing information to being a collaboration and co-operation tool that can create value and drive real change through storytelling, community building, crowdsourcing, open innovation and co-creation. Thus, social media can be a strong differentiator and a source of transparent and engaging competitive advantage for business sustainability and so help create a sustainable brand.
  • On the other hand, as social media gives everyone a voice and allows for information to spread rapidly like a virus, brands have lost control over the conversation and it becomes a challenge how to deal with stakeholder scrutiny and negativity expressed online. Those, who try to control the conversation in persuasive and manipulative manners or by deleting comments, are put at the risk of a crisis that can seriously damage or even destroy a company’s reputation. Organisations that lack transparency and honesty in their communications are inevitably found out.
  • Not understanding the nature of social media and ignoring its transparency requirement by, for example, choosing practices such as greenwashing is a main reason for inducing the menacing role social media can play. But because on social media nothing stays hidden brands are required to ‘walk the talk’, aligning content with context.
  • The benefits of social media outweigh the risks for most organisations; those who fail to understand the new social landscape will be endangered of having their business disrupted by social technologies.

(If you have read my white paper on FTC compliance, you might recognize many of the key concepts echoed in Iliyana’s findings.)

Iliyana ends with a profound thought: that it is the responsibility of businesses to be leaders in the shift towards a more sustainable world.

To enhance the present and preserve the future companies must play their role in educating society… Education, though, starts with communication – if society is not made aware of the issues and their extents, then solving them is not possible. As Galileo once said, “you cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself” – people cannot be forced or driven to agree or act in the way others want; people need to be gently and friendly led, inspired and engaged to change their minds. This is where the potential of social media lies because it is first and for most about people and relationships.

This is an especially important point.  With all the risk of greenwashing it can be tempting to steer clear of addressing sustainability, but ultimately it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep it top of mind publicly as well as when planning one’s own corporate sustainability initiatives.

One last gift from Iliyana (who, by the way, received an A+ on her dissertation and is now the Social Media Account Manager at Brandzeichen Markenberatung und Kommunikation GmbH in Duesseldorf – congratulations, Iliyana!): this awesome Best Practice Guide infographic you can use to help your company stay on the good side of social media:

 Sustainability Social Media Best Practice Infographic


One Bad Ad: Hyundai’s unfortunate blunder

Every once in a while an ad catches my attention, either because it’s unusually clever – or unusually bad. Like the ad released last April in the UK by Hyundai Motors. To me, the story is doubly tragic. I’m saddened by the insensitive depiction of human tragedy for no other purpose than to promote a product. And I’m disheartened that the world’s first mass-produced, zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle’s marketplace debut had to be marred with such negative psychology.

The Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell is the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen powered vehicle. Will it survive the negative press generated by its debut UK television ad?

I don’t always keep abreast of image advertising, since I’m more involved in the content marketing and direct response arenas. But every once in a while an ad catches my attention, either because it’s unusually clever – or unusually bad.

Sometimes, bad ads can be (painfully) fun to view. Sort of like watching an old Godzilla movie.

But others are just plain tasteless. Like the ad released last April in the UK by Hyundai Motors, depicting a man attempting to commit suicide by piping his exhaust fumes back into the passenger compartment of his car. At the end, he is unsuccessful because – ha, ha! he owns a Hyundai zero-emissions vehicle.

(I decided not to include the video in this post because I don’t want anything that crass on my blog, but if you really must see for yourself, you can do so here.)

Was Hyundai expecting their “clever ad” to go viral and result in blockbuster sales of zero-emissions cars to people wanting to protect their loved ones from suicide?

Or maybe the brand simply had a death wish. Because the ad did go viral, thanks in large part to Holly Brockwell. The U.K. copywriter wrote a tearful and outraged blog post raking Hyundai and its advertising agency, Innocean, over the coals for making her relive her father’s suicide using the same method depicted in the ad.

“I understand better than most people the need to do something newsworthy, something talkable, even something outrageous to get those all-important viewing figures,” Holly wrote. “What I don’t understand is why a group of strangers have just brought me to tears in order to sell me a car. Why I had to be reminded of the awful moment I knew I’d never see my dad again, and the moments since that he hasn’t been there.”

Why, indeed?

To me, the story is doubly tragic. I’m saddened by the insensitive depiction of human tragedy for no other purpose than to promote a product. And I’m disheartened that the world’s first mass-produced, zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle’s marketplace debut had to be marred with such negative psychology.

I’ve said it before, and this incident brings it home: harping on the negative does nothing to promote green products. People want to feel good about what they buy. Who can feel good about a car that conjures up images of attempted suicide?

There’s one more thing that has me scratching my head – Hyundai’s statement after pulling the ad:

The ad was created by an affiliate advertising agency, Innocean Europe, without Hyundai’s request or approval. It runs counter to our values as a company and as members of the community. We are very sorry for any offense or distress the video caused.

What? The ad was created and aired without Hyundai’s request or approval? Huh? I find it awfully hard to believe that Innocean could or would create and run a major television ad without at least a nod from its client. And if so, then shame on Hyundai.

Hyundai slipped up bad by allowing an ad agency that obviously doesn’t have a clue about green marketing psychology (nor, apparently, human decency) to represent their brand. And they slipped up again by neglecting to protect their own reputation and values, and then attempting to shift the blame.

I don’t mean to come down too hard on Hyundai. The company has an exemplary diversity policy, has donated millions to charitable causes, and is a pioneer in eco-aware vehicle manufacturing. I just want to point out that in green marketing, (and increasingly in all marketing), it’s so important to talk your walk as well as walk your talk.

One Company’s Journey Towards Supply Chain Transparency: Interview with BuyGreen.com Founder Douglas Farquhar

No one knows the challenges of green product sourcing more than Douglas Farquar, founder of BuyGreen.com. Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Doug about the Green Products Standard – his company’s proprietary green product rating system – and the rewards and challenges he and his team experienced in developing and implementing it.

stainless steel water bottles
Figuring out what’s “green” about these water bottles is hard enough, let alone comparing their environmental footprint to, say, a ream of copy paper.

What makes a “green” product green? A simple question, but not so easy to answer. Almost no product is “green” across the board – some features are greener than others, and one has to weigh the environmental pros and cons.

This, of course, is one of the biggest challenges faced by businesses trying to offer more responsible choices – and by consumers trying to make those choices.  The whole scene is confusing, and too often results in consumers just throwing up their hands and giving up – either blindly purchasing whatever “seems” like the best option, or walking away from responsible purchasing altogether.

One Company’s Journey Towards Transparency

No one knows the challenges of green product sourcing more than Douglas Farquhar, founder of BuyGreen.com. He launched his online business in 2007 with two goals:

  1. To create a one stop shop for eco friendly products, and
  2. To offer a way for consumers to intelligently compare products based on their environmental impact.

In order to meet the second goal, BuyGreen.com developed a comprehensive proprietary rating system – the Green Products Standard – for all products sold on their site. The Green Products Standard reviews and rates products based on their environmental impact in four key areas: source materials, manufacturing, materials and disposal.

Products are scored from 1-100 in each of these categories, plus each product is given an overall score. (It’s important to note that a positive score, even a low one, still indicates that a product is more environmentally friendly than typical products on the market.) This scoring method is notable because it enables consumers to compare all BuyGreen.com’s products at a glance – making it much easier to make informed environmental choices.

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Doug about the Green Products Standard, and the rewards and challenges he and his team experienced in developing and implementing it.

Anne Michelsen: What prompted you to implement the Green Products Standard?

Douglas Farquhar: At the time (that we launched BuyGreen.com), I wasn’t always able to understand objectively why & to what extent a product was green. There are a lot of certifying organizations, but they are mostly product or industry focused. For example, if I want to buy copy paper, I know the FSC certification is very good and I look for that. But if I want a water bottle, how do I make sure I’m making as good a decision?

We take trust very seriously – it’s even reflected in our tagline – and I think the Green Product Standard is a pillar of trust for our customers.

Anne: Please tell me about the process you went through to bring the Green Products Standard into being.

Doug: We started out taking it from a laymen’s perspective. Some of these certifications you need to be a PhD to make sense of them, your eyes kind of blur over. We wanted to put it in plain English and in layman’s terms, to make it accessible to the average Joe.

It’s really a part of our product selection process. The initial part of identifying products is not particularly scientific. It’s a gut reaction – “oh, that one looks really good.” That’s how our product selection starts. Then we get samples of the product itself. We want to know that it’s something of quality, that it will last longer than the warranty. We also use the products make sure our customers will have a good experience.

We then ask the supplier to participate in an online questionnaire. There’s often some back and forth communication to make sure we understand the information they supply, and they understand what we’re looking for. We use an algorithm to come up with a rating. Once we accept a product, at the bottom of the product page there’s a link to a full 2 page report for each product.

Once we got the basic framework worked out, we ran it by a number of people for feedback – sustainability consultants in different areas. Our basic theory was, the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. We took that approach and threw it against the wall to get people thinking.

I shudder to think back on it – it’s involved several thousand ratings. It was – is ― a huge endeavor.

Anne: What has been the reaction from suppliers?

Doug: We’ve had varying reactions. Some are happy to complete the product questionnaires, some do it grudgingly.

Our merit rating is 0 -99 (it’s technically impossible to reach 100.) One supplier – her products rated in the 60’s – only met the threshold for two of the four basic components. She was fixated on the fact that her product rated a 68, and applied it to her academic experience – “my product is not a D+ product.” What I couldn’t seem to get across to her was that we only apply the standard to products we’ve already identified as green. By virtue of being rated, you’re several steps ahead of most; a 68 actually puts you in the top quartile. But she opted not to go further.

We’ve had some manufacturers, though, who got a rating and said, “what can we do to get a better rating?”

I look at this whole thing as a journey, a marathon rather than a sprint.  Whether it’s the consumer changing their purchasing habits, or the manufacturers changing their products, we’re still moving along for a greener world.

Having a number is a good place to start a conversation. Scores are something people are familiar with and have a good understanding of. Especially in the e-commerce world, we’re all familiar with comparison shopping. A rating system like ours allows customers to have an apples-to-apples comparison to, say, the water bottle and the copy paper.

Anne: And that’s great, especially if they’re looking for a gift and need to compare two very unlike things.  How have customers responded?

Doug: Historically, our light green customers have taken more of a blind approach. They just want to know it’s “green.”  Our dark green customers often have a very specific belief – all things from China are horrible, all plastic is bad.

Of the green buyers, some really like the Green Product Standard a lot and some are oblivious.

With the poor economy the greenwashing situation has become a bigger problem. (We’ve noticed that) more traditional manufacturers and suppliers are trying to put a new spin on their products, and are seeing green as an opportunity to, if not grow, then at least maintain their business. You certainly have traditional stores that suggest that (a product is) green, but it’s often a complete mystery why it’s “green.”

A lot of times the info as to why and to what extent a product is green, is nowhere near the product. You have to go search for it. Or, you’ve found the accreditation and now you’ve got to go find the product.

(Both) transparency and easy access to information are important considerations if you’re trying to avoid greenwashing. Most people don’t have the time or interest in doing the research. They just want to know it’s safe and eco friendly, so they can buy it and move on. (Our program) gives consumers easy access to reliable information they can base their decisions on.

Anne: It’s interesting to hear you make the distinction between different types of consumers. Can you elaborate? Do you have an idea what percentage of your customer base you’d describe as “light” vs. “dark” green?

Doug: No, not really. We get approached from all sorts of different angles.

When we started we were somewhat confused by the LOHAS consumer. We thought people would want to vote with their wallets. Clearly there are consumers out there that do that with some regularity, but regrettably they are the minority. I think it’s somewhat exacerbated by the economy.

Personal safety and health are often the biggest motivators, and by the way, if it’s softer on the planet that’s icing on the cake.

I think we’re starting to see a bit of a change. Selfishness continues to be a motivating factor, but over the last 12 months with some of these weather conditions and gas prices you’re starting to see some of the non LOHAS consumers turning the lights on in their heads. With Sandy, we started selling solar powered flashlights, etc. That motivation was more necessity, but it seemed to come along with a realization that green has merit.

(Interest in going green) comes from all sorts of different places. Sometimes it’s just awareness. Like, “I didn’t know there’s a solar powered flashlight, or biodegradable garbage bags.”

I think we’re facing both a challenge and an opportunity. Ask 100 people if they’re interested in going green, and most will say yes, but there’s a big gap between saying and doing.  Any time we can bridge that gap, whether it’s simple education or making a personal connection, it makes a difference.

Anne: Are you aware of anyone else who’s doing this? Wal Mart comes to mind with their sustainability index – do you know of any others?

Doug: WalMart has some areas where it has a bit of a black eye. As the largest retailer in the world they have an unbelievable opportunity, but I think they’re backed off lately. For them it was more this conceptual effort, where it was going to get pushed down through the supply chain.

The Good Guide is a really good resource, although they were just bought by Underwriters Laboratory – I don’t know what effect that will have. I think they’ve done a good job. But they wouldn’t talk with the manufacturers, they just pulled publicly available information. And they have more of a social focus.

Anne: Tell me about your new website, AskGreen.com.

Doug: From a business model, we hope to have a portfolio of green business websites.  We’re developing GreenCouture.com, we’ve got PrettyHealthy.com in the works, etc. We were going to develop blogs for each one, and thought maybe there was something we could do that would apply to all our ecommerce websites.

And hopefully something interactive. Every time we do a show or something, a person waltzes up and looks at a water bottle or something and asks questions.

AskGreen.com is very new – we’re still working on the questions and answers section. But we hope to offer something of value. To get instant answers, obviously, Google & other search engines provide answers, but sometimes there are things that can’t be answered in a Google search. We’re hoping to offer a place where people can come with their green product questions and get them answered.

Anne: Linked In just dumped their Answers section – are you thinking of jumping in and filling the gap here for green topics, inviting lots of interaction, or will it be more set up as an authority site?

Doug: We’re going to let the interest and demand dictate what direction it will take.

Anne: Thank you, Doug – it’s been a real pleasure speaking to you!

Doug: You’re very welcome!

Please enter your comments and questions about Douglas Farquhar’s insights and/or the Green Products Standard below!


 Anne Michelsen was not paid for this article.

When Best Practices Can Land You in Trouble

Every industry has its best practices – methods and techniques that have been proven time and again to bring exceptional results. But best practices are based on what has worked in the past. What happens when an industry – or perhaps an entire society – is in flux?

in troubleEvery industry has its best practices – methods and techniques that have been proven time and again to bring exceptional results.

And few industries test their techniques so brutally as direct response copywriting.

After all, a slight tweak to a sales letter can mean a difference of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of dollars in profit – or loss.

So when three of the highest-paid, most successful copywriters in America all endorse a technique, don’t you think you’d better listen?

Normally, I’d say, “You bet! Listen and emulate!”

But heads up – and this is important.

Best practices are based on what has worked in the past. What happens when an industry – or perhaps an entire society – is in flux?

Then you’d better watch your tail. Because blindly following best practices – even when endorsed by giants in their fields – can land you in trouble.

The Magic of False Logic

Bob Bly is an extremely well-known, top-tier B2B copywriter.  Bob publishes an insightful e-newsletter in which he shares many of his excellent copywriting, marketing and personal productivity tips. (It’s worth following.)

A couple of months ago Bob published an e-newsletter article titled The Magic of False Logic.

“False logic,” he explains, is “copy that manipulates (but does not lie about or misrepresent), through skillful writing, existing facts. The objective: to help readers come to conclusions that those facts, presented without the twists of a copywriter’s pen, might not otherwise support.”

He uses the example of a metal broker who claims that “95% of orders (are) shipped from stock,” even though he does not have a warehouse. When questioned, it turns out they are shipped from the metal supplier’s stock, not his own.

­­Green vs. the Three Giants

Bob Bly isn’t the only master copywriter to endorse the “false logic” technique. I’ve seen Dan Kennedy and Michael Masterson encourage it, too.

Now, each of these individuals belongs to the upper echelon of the copywriting world. To put it in perspective, they are the Donald Trumps and the Bill Gates of their profession. They know what they are talking about, and then some.

So when I say they are wrong, I’m risking my reputation.

But I’m going to say it anyway.


They’re wrong, at least, if you are selling anything that might be considered “green.”

What the Green Guides Say

False logic is an effective, proven technique. And it’s endemic in conventional marketing.

However, when applied to green claims, it’s an approach that is likely to violate the FTC’s standards for environmental messaging.

In Section 260.2 (Interpretation and Substantiation of Environmental Marketing Claims), the Green Guides state:

“A representation, omission, or practice is deceptive if it is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances and is material to consumers’ decisions…To determine if an advertisement is deceptive, marketers must identify all express and implied claims that the advertisement reasonably conveys. Marketers must ensure that all reasonable interpretations of their claims are truthful, not misleading, and supported by a reasonable basis before they make the claims.”

Preventing deceptive claims is the primary purpose of the Green Guides. The FTC doesn’t care about the literal truth – the only thing that matters to it is whether or not customers might find your statement misleading.

The FTC’s Zero Tolerance

Last October’s FTC action against two paint companies is an excellent example. The paints in question were labeled “Zero VOC.” This was technically true – for the paints as they came in the bucket.

However, depending on the final colors used to tint the paint, the customer could end up going home with paint containing measurable VOC content.

The FTC showed zero tolerance for truth twisting in this case. This, even though one of the companies had included a disclosure in their marketing collateral.  (The disclosure wasn’t obvious enough, according to the agency.)

A Better Best Practice

Best practice or not, I would be very careful about using false logic when marketing and advertising green products and services.

And given the trends I am seeing towards greater transparency even amongst mainstream companies, I would hazard a guess that it’s not the safest bet for anyone anymore.

Despite Bob Bly’s assurance that false logic is not lying or manipulation, it’s a fine line between truth and misrepresentation, and the technique can dance you dangerously close to the edge. All it takes is one or two dissatisfied customers who feel they’ve been lied to (whether or not it’s true) to smear your name all over social media. And then, of course, there’s the FTC.

A better best practice?

Use real logic.

Figure out how to position the truth of your service, product or company as a benefit to your customer.

Like that metal broker. It seems to me that instead of pretending to be something he’s not, he could position himself as having a unique business model (which he does; instead of being a dealer with a big warehouse like all his competitors, he’s one guy in an office.)

He could explain how his business is based on relationships, and how he uses those relationships to meet his customers’ needs better and faster than the competition.

In fact, a true story like that might even be more compelling than his dicey false logic claim.

Just sayin.’

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photo credit: CircaSassy via photopin cc

Handy Directory of Federal Green Legislation

Keeping up with federal green legislation can be a little daunting, since there are over 2 dozen acts involved. To make it easier, Greenerful.com has put together a list of US green legislation.

Green legislation reflects a realization that our soil, air and water are natural capital that must be preserved in order to maximize human health, wealth and well being.

Did you know that there are over two dozen federal acts protecting the environment? From clean air to cosmetics, these regulations help maintain a healthier environment for all of us.

However, keeping up with them all can be a little daunting. To make it easier, Greenerful.com has put together a list of US green legislation. I’d suggest scanning the list to see which ones apply to your business. You might also want to bookmark the page for later reference.

Here’s the link: Federal Green Legislation list

Not included on this list is the FTC Act, legislation designed to curb unfair trade practices, including deceptive marketing. The Green Guides are the FTC’s guidelines for FTC Act compliance in regards to environmental claims (in other words, anti-greenwashing guidelines.) You can order my free report on Green Guide compliance here: The FTC Green Guides Made Simple



photo credit: Johnny Peacock via photopin cc

Are the New FTC Guidelines Killing Green Marketing?

The Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides have always suggested that marketers avoid general environmental terms like the word “green.” But the revised guides come down even stronger against such terms. This puts some marketers in a tight spot, especially if they have worked hard to brand their company and/or products “green.”

Does this mean the end of green marketing, or is there a bright side to the Guides? In my recent article published on GreenBiz.com, I explore the reasoning behind the guidelines, and point out a very compelling reason to follow them.

Read the full article here: Are the New FTC Guidelines Killing Green Marketing?




FTC Takes First Action Since Release of Revised Green Guides

On October 25, the Federal Trade Commission cited two paint companies for misleading “Zero VOC” claims on paint can labels and promotional material. This is the first enforcement action taken by the FTC since releasing its updated green marketing guidelines. What are the lessons here? First…

Last week the FTC cited two paint companies for distributing misleading “Zero VOC” claims. Could this be the beginning of a major wave of Green Guides enforcement?

Less than a month after releasing its updated version of the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (Green Guides), the Federal Trade Commission has taken its first action concerning environmental claims since last April.

On October 25, the FTC cited two paint companies, Sherwin Williams (maker of Dutch Boy Refresh paint) and PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc. (a division of PPG Industries and manufacturer of Pure Performance paint), for misleading “Zero VOC”  claims on paint can labels and promotional material.

In both cases, the paints in question contained no or trace amounts of VOC’s in the base formulation. However, in numerous instances the colorants used to tint the paint add enough VOC’s that the final product cannot qualify as “Zero VOC.”

The FTC ruled that since base paint is designed to be tinted and is added to the paint at the time of purchase and at no additional charge, any reasonable consumer would assume the “Zero VOC” claim to apply to the tinted final product.

One of the companies, Sherwin Williams, had included a disclaimer on their promotional materials and on the backs of the paint cans, stating that “some colors may not be zero VOC after tinting with conventional colorants.”

However, the FTC ruled that since the “vast majority” of the colors offered result in VOC levels above trace amounts in the finished paint, the disclaimer was not sufficient to prevent deception. “Any reasonable consumer who saw the inconspicuous disclosure…would likely be deceived about the VOC content of Dutch Boy Refresh paints,” wrote the FTC in their complaint against the company.

Both companies have agreed to work with the FTC to prevent future deception in their advertising.

What are the lessons here?

First, take Green Guide compliance seriously.

The FTC announced their revised green marketing guidelines two full years ago, giving ample notice to companies that might be affected. Now that the revisions have been officially adopted, the FTC is likely to ramp up enforcement.

Second, green compliance demands that marketers think about the whole picture and put themselves in the shoes of the consumer.

Any analysis of the base paint entering the cans in the factory would uphold the “Zero VOC” claims. However, the end user doesn’t use base paint, they use tinted paint. If you make a claim, be sure it will hold up under real life circumstances.

And third, the FTC doesn’t give points for good intentions.

Sherwin Williams did include a disclosure about possible higher levels of VOC’s in tinted paint. Unfortunately it wasn’t adequate to convince the FTC

Even more than the literal truth of your green marketing claim, the FTC is concerned with how the end user interprets your claim – and whether he or she is adequately informed. When you make a green claim, double check the details. Make sure they’re clear and accurate (again, from the point of view of the consumer in real life situations.) When in doubt, err on the side of over-disclosure.


Want to know more about how you can be Green Guide compliant? Request a complimentary copy of my report, “The FTC Green Guides Made Simple: A Companion Guide for Achieving Green Marketing Compliance.”  It’s a must-have for anyone involved in marketing eco-friendly products or services.  It’s scheduled for release in just a few days, and you can be one of the first to get it! Just contact me and ask for your free copy of the “Green Guides Made Simple.”

FTC Green Guides – Not Just Guidelines Anymore

In my last post, I explained that the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides are not officially law, (although they are backed by Section 5 of the FTC Act, which is.) However, this is not 100% true. Sometimes the Green Guides are law. It just depends what state you’re in.

Recycling symbolIn my last post, I explained that the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides are not officially law, (although they are backed by Section 5 of the FTC Act, which is.)

However, this is not 100% true.  Sometimes the Green Guides are law. It just depends what state you’re in.

As it happens, individual states are starting to hop on the anti-greenwashing bandwagon. And it turns out that the Green Guides provide a very easy way for them to amend state law to prohibit misleading or deceptive environmental marketing claims.

For instance, take a look at this excerpt from California’s Business and Professions Code Section 17580-17581:

17580.5.  (a) It is unlawful for any person to make any untruthful, deceptive, or misleading environmental marketing claim, whether explicit or implied. For the purpose of this section, “environmental marketing claim” shall include any claim contained in the “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims” published by the Federal Trade Commission.

(b) It shall be a defense to any suit or complaint brought underthis section that the person’s environmental marketing claims conform to the standards or are consistent with the examples contained in the “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims” published by the Federal Trade Commission.

Or this one, from Maine’s statues governing waste reduction and recycling:

  A person who labels, advertises or promotes a product in violation of guidelines for the use of environmental marketing claims published by the Federal Trade Commission in 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 260…commits a violation of the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Minnesota’s 2012 statutes also require that marketers conform to the Green Guides “regarding general environmental benefits claims, claims that a product or package is degradable, compostable, recyclable, or contains recycled content, and claims relating to source reduction, refillability, or ozone safety” – but only if the claim is made “in an attempt to influence purchasing decisions by end users of the product.” (This is actually an important distinction. It allows those farther up the supply chain a lot more leeway in their claims.)

Finally, the State of Rhode Island’s Environmental Marketing Act is little more than a wholesale adoption of the Green Guides into state law. Easy, peasy.

So what does it matter, if the Guides are already federally enforceable under Section 5?

Well, attorneys Annie Mullin and Dan Deeb of Schiff Hardin believe “there will be an increase in private party actions because marketers have more ammunition to bring actions against a competitor if the competitor is making a deceptive green claim.”

Not to mention actions brought against companies by concerned private citizens. And state endorsement simply make it that much easier for legal actions to take place.

Just another reason to take the Green Guides seriously.


Want to know more about how you can be Green Guide compliant? Request a complimentary copy of my two-part report, “The FTC Green Guides Made Simple: A Companion Guide for Achieving Green Marketing Compliance.”  It’s a must-have for anyone involved in marketing eco-friendly products or services.  It’s scheduled for release in just a few days, and you can be one of the first to get it! Just contact me and ask for your free copy of the “Green Guides Made Simple.”



photo credit: artbymags via photopin cc