Will the credit crunch kill off organics? How will other ethical brands fair in a recession?

Recession or no recession, greening up your marketing is still hot on the agenda of most businesses. Marketing magazine (front cover last week) may be predicting organics will be suffering as a consequence of overpricing in a price sensitive market but everything else ethical could actually thrive in a recession.

This may sound like an idea that swims against the tide but when things get tighter community values increase, caring for others becomes more important. Hard times brings us together, Government based research has shown that community is high on our agenda of wants. Charity giving is far more common within poorer communities than rich ones. And many ethical brands are people based – fair trade being the prime one.

I don’t disagree that organics, having taken the position of being overpriced, could be a victim of the recession but even when times are tight people still care. I believe that environmental brands will continue to thrive, though slower, because recession or no recession there’s too much media force forcing social change. A majority thought politicians and corporations should be responsible for sorting out environmental issues.

Leaving people to help people.

The Ethical Price Index, a national survey into how much extra people will pay for ethical goods, is soon to be released. It makes for fascinating reading, and even given the credit crunch, shows that people are prepared to pay more for most ethical value based products and brands.

Prior to a recent debate I was chairing, ‘People vs Planet, a survey of almost 400 people was conducted to see if people had a preference.

When confronted with a choice, the vast majority – 2/3rds – picked people first. Also revealing, 2/3rds don’t trust green ads but only 1/3 distrust green claims on packaging. However, overall there’s a strong drift towards ethical consumerism and people like to embrace new eco ideas.

The latest to catch my attention (even before Treehugger got it) are Green Rewards. A great yet simple loyalty programme and a brilliant idea – reward your customers for buying the right things and then with the points they can trade them in for eco products, services and experiences. Or even donate them to a charity.

Why hasn’t anyone thought of it before?

It’s already been signed up by a number of retailers, including Abel & Cole, and seems a simple way for them to show just how committed they are to ethical issues. Further more, by using a simple incentive scheme people are encouraged to change buying behaviour, as psychologists will tell you, you need to change cognitive behaviour before you get mind change.

As a regular speaker at marketing events on creativity and more recently ethical marketing I have to say “told you so” to Richmond Events (who run the Oriana marketing seminars).

Most of us have probably been on the Oriana – though now it’s the Aurora (bigger, better boat) and every year they survey clients to establish top issues. No surprise this year that one is green & ethical marketing. What marketers want is to navigate this complicated area and avoid the greenwash. Their research panel revealed that over half support buying local and the majority thought climate change was one of the most important environmental issues of today.

Mark Price of Waitrose is the keynote speaker at this year’s Marketing Forum and talking on educating children about the values of quality food.

Waitrose have been busy behind the scenes working with schools and have sent education packs to almost half of all secondary schools in the UK in the battle against poor diet. It’s shocking that that many children think eggs come from cows and 90% have no idea what animal ham comes from.

Last year I had a great time mixing with agencies and clients, then I was doing a series of creative workshops.

This year I’m going back in September to talk on ethical marketing and the new consumer and with an impressive list of top brands present, let’s hope we see less greenwash and more honesty ethical marketing as a result.

The DMA will also have a presence on board, no doubt the number one question will be about the government’s targets on reducing landfill – 55% of direct mail has to be recycled by the end of 2009. Seems a bit unbalanced to me that while the newspaper industry’s target is based on recycled paper content, the marketing industry is just about percentage of paper that ends up in landfill. While DM is an easy target, it really only accounts for less than 2% of household rubbish, packaging and even clothes are a more serious problem.

By contrast the newspaper industry accounts for 11% of landfill. But then I guess politicians don’t want to upset Fleet Street too much.

And finally, discovered on the Green Rewards site, is a great animation from Free Range Studios running on Green TV called the Meatrix. It’s fun anti-factory farming piece of propaganda, best not watched while you’re eating a burger. Also check out Story of Stuff, a fascinating and alarming look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns with a flavour of The Corporation (but a lot shorter).

  • Mark Griffiths

    Most of us have been on the Oriana, eh? What, all 55 million of us?