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How to Avoid Green Marketing Myopia

by Jacquelyn A. Ottman  |  
June 19, 2007
  |  19,395 views

In 1994, Philips launched "EarthLight," an energy-efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb with a clumsy shape that was incompatible with most conventional lamps; it had a confusing package—and a $15 price tag compared with 75 cents for the incandescent bulbs. Sales languished.

Smartly, Philips reintroduced the product in 2000 under the name "Marathon," to emphasize the bulb's five-year life. A new design offered the look and versatility of incandescent bulbs. Marketing communications promised $20 in cost savings over the life of the bulb, and an Energy Star seal emblazoned on a redesigned package provided credibility. This new value proposition triggered sales growth of 12% in a flat market.

Philips's experience provides a valuable lesson in how to avoid the common pitfall of "green marketing myopia."

While noble, the environmental positioning of the original EarthLight product appealed to only the deepest green of consumers. Inevitably, mainstream consumers ask, "If I use 'green' products, what's in it for me?" In practice, green appeals aren't likely to attract mainstream consumers unless they also offer a desirable benefit such as cost-savings or improved product performance.

To avoid green marketing myopia, marketers must fulfill consumer needs and interests beyond environmental requirements.


Green Marketing Myopia Defined

Green marketing must satisfy two objectives: Improved environmental quality and customer satisfaction. Misjudging either or overemphasizing the former at the expense of the latter is what can be called "green marketing myopia."

In 1960, Theodore Levitt introduced the concept of "marketing myopia" in a famous Harvard Business Review article that is still studied by business students. In it, he characterized the common pitfall of companies' tunnel focus on "managing products" (i.e., product features, functions, and efficient production) rather than "meeting customers' needs" (i.e., adapting to consumer expectations, anticipating future desires).


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Jacquelyn A. Ottman is president of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., advisers to industry on green marketing and eco-innovation. She is the author of Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation. Contact her via www.greenmarketing.com (info@greenmarketing.com).

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