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Monday, April 02, 2007

Is Sustainable Marketing Worthwhile? (Part I)

In 2006 David Thorp, Head of Insights at the Chartered Institute of Marketing said,

“Marketers should be at the forefront of this change as the key communicators of the brand and organisational values. In the future, marketing will be as much about changing attitudes and behaviours as it is about increasing market share".

However, there is a conflict in sustainability, which I’ll come to shortly. First let’s look at how sustainability is being pushed by our industry.

The GreenAwards

The 2006 GreenAwards celebrated and rewarded marketing that communicates sustainability through one of these categories:

  • Press advertisement
  • TV advertisement
  • Radio advertisement
  • Outdoor advertisement
  • Online advertisement
  • Direct mail B2C and B2B
  • PR
  • Packaging design

They do have more award categories but it’s clear that, other than for packaging design, the award categories are rewarding the message and the way the message is presented, rather than encouraging marketers themselves to use more sustainable ways of communicating their message.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA)

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has thoughtfully produced an ebook called “Producer Responsibility for Direct Mail and Promotions” and is available for download from their web site.

In addition the DMA has formed a relationship with, co-founded by tennis player Pat Cash and partnered with Reuters. PlanetArk is aimed at increasing the world’s environmental awareness and activity. The relationship with the DMA is to reduce the direct mail sent to landfill in the UK.

The aim here is for people to sign-up to the mailing preference service so that the amount of mail delivered is reduced.

PlanetArk and the DMA issue postcards to publicise the mailing preference message through Citizen’s Advice centres and cafes throughout the UK. They’ve also run adverts in newspapers with the same message.

The Conflict In Sustainability

Interestingly enough in August 2006 The Daily Mail wrote about a postman called Roger Annies who popped a leaflet through his residents letterboxes explaining how they could sign-up with the mailing preference service to avoid “junk mail.”

Unfortunately, whilst at least 70 of his customers sent in a request to stop direct mail, his bosses in The Royal Mail were not impressed and suspended him.

The Royal Mail, and any other postal service, has a vested interest in delivering as much mail as their infrastructure can handle. Otherwise they’re not maximising their revenues.

And this example really highlights the ambiguity of sustainability within marketing.

On the one hand institutions, such as the DMA, are able to suggest grand targets for improving sustainability in marketing. In this case direct mail. And on the other hand companies that are earning revenue from unwanted mail have a profit motive in allowing the status quo to remain.

A book that has been recommended on this subject is Sustainable Marketing: Managerial-ecological Issues.

I will discuss marketing and business areas where sustainability is a problem and what you can do about it in later posts.


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