Friday 18 October 2019

John McGee: 'Marketers need to shake free from their tired efforts at woke-washing'

The BWG Foods-owned Londis has embarked on a €500,000 marketing campaign which will see it sponsor the RTÉ TV show, Ireland's Fittest Family, as well as invest in a number of health and well-being initiatives.
The BWG Foods-owned Londis has embarked on a €500,000 marketing campaign which will see it sponsor the RTÉ TV show, Ireland's Fittest Family, as well as invest in a number of health and well-being initiatives.

John McGee

When the Green Party rocked into Dáil Éireann with six TDs after the general election in 2007, there was a sense of euphoria among supporters, hangers-on and that part of the electorate who wanted change. Apart from Ciarán Cuffe, who likened the Green Party's support of Fianna Fáil to a "deal with the devil", most people were quite happy with the prospect of the Greens putting some manners on Bertie Ahern.

Within weeks, magazine supplements and radio chat shows were all patting themselves on the back as they proclaimed that Ireland was now on the cusp of something big, and that the old civil-war politics were dead.

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Almost overnight, new and improved eco-friendly products were on shelves as our new-found enthusiasm for all things green spurred many entrepreneurial types into action. Many firms, however, were jumping on the bandwagon.

Even this author was so enthused about the zeitgeist that he hunted down a guy called John Grant, author of The Green Marketing Manifesto, and a rock star in the green marketing world, for an interview in London.

As the Celtic Tiger sank its greedy fangs into Ireland, however, our enthusiasm appeared to wane, and many of the green products, green business directories and green aspirations went the same way as the Green Party did in 2011, when it lost all six seats.

Not surprisingly, many of the spurious claims of some brands - though not all - that cashed in on the eco-friendly culture were later dismissed for green-washing after their attempts at currying favour with consumers were rumbled. While the world may have moved on, many of the same environmental and social issues have not. In fact, many of them have become worse. But that's never stopped some marketer, or blunted his/her enthusiasm, in latching on to a noble cause or one which, they hope, will endear them toward consumers and drive sales for their organisations.

While green-washing is still part of the marketing lexicon, it has given way to woke-washing, the cynical exploitation of consumers by brands trying to tap into the prevailing culture of the time, generally by aligning with, or hijacking, a cause.

At a time when kids are marching to protest against climate change, when non-profits are highlighting the decline of the Amazon rainforest and the impending extinction of a particular species, or when issues of racism and diversity continue to be a thing in 2019, purpose marketing is everywhere. And not far behind, you can bet there will be a brand looking to hitch its wagon to whatever it is for its own commercial gain.

Several weeks ago, the Mondelez-owned chocolate maker Cadbury invoked the wrath of the Twittersphere when it launched a special-edition bar in India to mark Independence Day.

The Unity Bar was made with milk, and white, dark and blended chocolate, and was created to celebrate diversity.

Within hours of its launch, it was greeted with scorn, as many consumers said it trivialised racism.

"Where were you when Cadbury ended racism?" asked one Twitter user.

Cadbury and the agency it worked with, Ogilvy India, clearly didn't anticipate the backlash.

Nor did Marks & Spencer when it launched a Rainbow Sandwich which contained lettuce, guacamole, bacon and tomato (LGBT) to celebrate Pride Week in the UK.

Or Pepsi in launching its now-infamous multi-million-dollar ad featuring Kendall Jenner holding a bottle of the black stuff up to the faces of cops in their riot gear.

It probably thought it had created the ad of the decade until it was heavily criticised by numerous lobby groups and anti-racist organisations.

And what about Gillette's recent campaign, inspired by the #MeToo movement, to challenge toxic masculinity?

Or the Co-op's launch of a gender-neutral gingerbread person at its UK stores and its subsequent competition to name it? Unfortunately, the list goes on.

While purpose-based marketing can be a good thing if managed properly and with a genuine moral and altruistic conviction, there are many hidden dangers.

Woke-washing simply doesn't work. Brands that engage in it run the risk of alienating consumers and, unwittingly, infecting other brands that have more legitimate claims to purpose-based marketing.

Unfortunately, there's a lot more of it to come.

LONDIS CATCHES THE FITNESS BUG

The BWG Foods-owned Londis has embarked on a €500,000 marketing campaign which will see it sponsor the RTÉ TV show, Ireland's Fittest Family, as well as invest in a number of health and well-being initiatives.

Now entering its seventh season, the sponsorship was brokered by Core Sponsorship and Zenith Ireland, and the first episode will air on Sunday, October 27. The show will be presented by Mairead Ronan.

AN POST’S HUMAN CAMPAIGN

Following its recent rebrand, An Post Insurance has launched a new campaign, with a series of TV ads that will run across RTÉ, Virgin Media TV and Sky, as well as a number of video-on-demand channels. Called 'Human About Insurance', the campaign was created by JWT Folk.

It aims to empathise with the frustrations that many drivers and homeowners experience with their current insurance providers.

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