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Green Bubbles Pop, Too

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Note: This is part 3 in a three-part series on green marketing.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel likened historical and political cycles to a pendulum in his famous Hegelian Dialectic. It states (in its quickest form) that things go from one extreme (thesis) to another (antithesis) and settle in the middle (synthesis). Always.

Housing booms, dot-coms, high-tech, bio-med, religious fervor, Republican or Democrat regimes, peace-war—all of it... all the best (and worst) bubbles have, or will, pop on their way back to the center. Perhaps Hegel was thinking more of a guillotine.

In terms of the "Greening of America," it feels like we are currently on the thesis end of the pendulum, with a fair amount more left to go to reach the apex. And then the backward slope begins. The bubble pops at the top.

The Green Bubble will pop too


But there are two popping scenarios:

  1. Green will index within the mainstream and become ubiquitous.
  2. It's a fad and will vanish back to the margins of our society.

Let's look at the landscape:

  • Climate Crisis news is above the fold.
  • Trade media and beat journalists find new angles every day to connect their scope into the green wave.
  • Wal-Mart is changing packaging standards for suppliers, showing end-of-isle favor for greener products.
  • Product manufacturers are changing company brand based on "the greening."
  • Oil companies are marketing their oil with cartoon people filling cartoon cars with cartoon flowers. (Backed by a Flaming Lips-esque cartoon soundtrack.)
  • Coke buys Odwalla, so PepsiCo buys Naked Juice.

If you want to see more examples of culture change, look at language

A new lexicon is being introduced, and the oft-bastardized "eco-" is thrown into the marketing mix as a way to "green-up" products and attract the new market. From EcoMalls to EcoCasinos, it's all lost contextually. Ecomagination is a meaningless term, and it works for that very reason. It's almost Suessean in its meaninglessness. Not to mention that the word "sustainable" is rarely understood, and still overused. But this is all unofficial language.

Official language—the language of sanction—is changing, too. Organic, Fair Trade, Green-E, Energy Star, or LEED certifications mark the packaging of the products we consume... and we consume more of them because of it.

I suppose my ad agency is an example too. While we were blissfully ignorant of the developing market four years ago, we were no doubt part of the developing green zeitgeist as general consumers. We are now certainly witnessing a competitive up-tick of Johnny-Come-Latelys from the larger homogenous ad agencies developing "Green Divisions" or disguising them as "Lifestyle Groups." They did it with their "Interactive Division" just before the dot-com bust, and they are dusting them off again with the Web2.0 race.

But that's market-chasing stuff, not market-shaping change

Ad agencies are supposed to create markets, not run after them. Change brand loyalties, not merely leverage them. But this type of talk immediately sets up a contention. It supposes that companies that are Green for, let's just say, philosophical reasons, are better than those that are only Green for profitability reasons. (They are, by the way.)

Change happens and slow companies chase it. Fast companies make it. Of this we are certain. But what is more interesting for bubble-popping is why change sticks. It seems to stick when it has more than market factors behind it. Culture changes because it must to to survive.

But when the stories start to drop below the fold, when consumers start to care just little bit less, and when Green is no longer a competitive advantage, the "for profit" Greenies will turn and vogue becomes passé. So how can it hold on? Well, as a marketing advantage, it can't.

Return to the paths of likelihood for when the Green Bubble pops

  • Green Fever goes away because it is a trend, a fad. News stories drop off, the chasing arrows shrink smaller on the back of packaging again, people stop bragging that their letterhead is 100% FCS Certified and Acid Free. Some small vestiges will still remain, and progress will have been made. New products were launched and the consumers will be more aware. But the trend died... popped.

  • It sticks. People keep pushing corporations to deeper levels of sustainability. Greenwashers fall on their face because it's an unfulfilled promise, and then they mean it and real change happens. Green becomes ubiquitous. Smaller, plucky green companies struggle to regain any competitive advantage. When everything is green, green means nothing. (The study of green language is already there.)

Either way, as an ad agency specializing in "being green," I'm out of a job. But in the meantime, we have an opportunity to make hay and work toward ubiquity. With the right language, the right positioning, and the right market intelligence, we can position our green companies for what's next.

When the Green Bubble pops, will your brand be intact?


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John Rooks is is president and founder of The SOAP Group (www.thesoapgroup.com). SOAP (Sustainable Organization Advocacy Partners) is a consultant for Fortune 500 companies on issues of environmental and sustainability messaging. John can be reached at jrooks@thesoapgroup.com and at 207.772.0066, ext. 105.

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