Clorox Green Works: What were they thinking?

Are corporations people? I’ll leave that for legal scholars to decide.

Are corporations funny? Uh, almost never.

Today’s evidence comes in a breathtakingly dumb digital ad campaign from Clorox Green Works. It runs the risk of  insulting the consumers of its environmentally-friendly cleaning products while managing to ridicule millions of people who are trying to be more conscious about the social and environmental impacts of the things they buy.

Worse, it’s not even funny.

See for yourself, if you can bear it.

Now, I’ll admit that deep green consumers can be extreme. I’m recalling, right about now, the menu of a 100% organic vegan restaurant called Cafe Gratitude in Santa Cruz where dishes had silly names like “I am Fulfilled” and “I am Open Hearted.” The food turned out to be fantastic.

But Clorox, instead of guiding people through a confusing landscape of sustainability claims, here chooses to caricatures conscious consumers as people who reuse dental floss, who say things like “I can’t believe you’re wearing leather,” who ask irritating questions about the provenance of their fish and who go ga-ga over “local, gluten-free, bio-dynamic, Fair Trade, dolphin-safe, edible” hair conditioner.

I honestly don’t understand what Green Works is trying to do, and reading the press release accompanying this marketing campaign only confused me further.

In the news release, the company says that women “feel more pressure to beautify the Earth than their own bodies.” Call me crazy, but this strikes me as a good thing. We’d all be better off if women (and men) spent more time worrying about the planet than, say, their hair.

But to GreenWorks, this pressure to be green is a problem:

”We believe women are feeling this pressure because somewhere along the line green became a status symbol now everyone has an opinion about how you aren’t doing enough to be eco-friendly.” said Shekinah Eliassen, Green Works brand manager. “With all of the different challenges surrounding green, we believe it’s time to make eco-friendly people friendly again.”

Personally, I wish Clorox and Ms. Eliassen felt a little more pressure to use punctuation. That aside, the company goes on to say:

As the trend of being green grows, issues with green like eco-exclusion are popping up and being discussed by media, bloggers, influencers and consumers. Green Works is taking these issues head on with a new marketing campaign that pokes fun at how ridiculous green has become, in an effort to remind people that every environmental effort counts.

Starting this month, consumers will see digital advertising, interactive elements and a public relations campaign that proclaim “You Don’t Have to be Ridiculous to be Green” and messages aimed at making eco-friendly people friendly again, with the ultimate mission of making green accessible and practical.

And just how are we to accomplish that mission of making green accessible and practical. In an infographic that’s part of the campaign, the company explain:

When did green become so extreme? We applaud simple acts 0f green-ness, like using hard working, plant-based cleaners powered by the Clorox company.

So, if I am following the logic here…. buying a Clorox Green Works products deserve applause, while paying attention to the environmental impact of leather or the benefits of Fair Trade is extreme or ridiculous.

The early reaction on Twitter:

Lest you think I am a humorless environmentalist, I invite you to take just a minute compare Clorox’s marketing with this spot from Unilever, which is trying in a helpful way to change consumer behavior around water use. Few topics are more boring than water conservation, but this commercial for Axe manages to be, yes, funny.

All I can say to Clorox Green Works: What were you thinking?

Comments

  1. I guess that makes the answer to the question below, “No”:
    Can Burt’s Bees Turn Clorox Green? – New York Times

    They still dont get it – and will destroy Burts.

  2. While I agree it could be funnier, and certainly shorter,
    does this mean that CSR and sustainability-minded folks can’t laugh at our own sincerity and trendiness ?

  3. Did they say anything about how they are now “concentrating” the amount of bleach in bottles that will sell for exactly the same price as before? It’s the “less is more” idea, I guess. The GreenWorks campaign is just to take the attention away from that.
    Besides, companies should never mock worthy causes.

  4. This commentary hits the “Marc”! Thanks!

  5. GreenWorks is way too self-consciously green. They should just tell people the product WORKS and make it in a green way as the “natural” way they do business — and more people will buy it than the niche of green consumers.

    This is a classic case of “Green Marketing Myopia” if I ever saw one. Download a paper I wrote here (right margin, scroll down): http://www.greenmarketing.com/consulting/

  6. This is no more demeaning that the many stupid commercial insulting men. It is amazing how many brands sell based on insulting some element of the population. I do wonder whom Clorox was targeting though.

  7. Hi Marc,

    The Green Works “You Don’t Have to ____ to be Green” campaign is based on research that shows consumers are being turned off from green all-together because is starting to feel like a status symbol and something only for the rich in time and resources.

    From the launch of a web site called ecosnobberysucks.com, to Urban Dictionary including a definition for envirolitist, we believe there is a real issue here – and it’s a problem for those making small efforts to be green! They end up feeling that if you care a little, you don’t care enough. They feel that either you’re all-in or you’re not green at all. They ultimately feel excluded from green.

    We care about making sure that everyone feels that every environmental effort counts. One of our efforts in this direction is the launch of our campaign, aimed at alleviating the burdensome pressure that is clouding green – with a little humor. We have posted our manifesto, illustrated examples and videos to remind consumers that you don’t have to be trendy, rich, ridiculous or perfect at punctuation to be green.

    While we may disagree on how we relay the message, I think we can all agree that green should be for everyone.

    Thank you,

    Shekinah Eliassen
    Green Works Brand Manager

    • Marc Gunther says:

      Shekinah, thank you for taking the time to provide insight into the thinking behind the Green Works campaign. I appreciate your willingness to weigh in.

      I agree with you that, yes, we should be encouraging everyone to make small efforts to be green. Better to get started than to do nothing at all. And, yes, green should be for everyone. No one should feel excluded.

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on whether this campaign is an effective way to get those ideas across. I’d like to see Green Works find ways to invite more people to think about their consumption, without ridiculing those who already do.

  8. Shekinah,
    I applaud you, too for getting in on this conversation. I must agree with Marc that it is inappropriate to ridicule consumers who are trying to be green, because that puts your own consumers at risk, in turn.

    The key here, in my view, is to focus on the consumer benefits that GreenWorks delivers — presumably outstanding cleaning in a safer, more pleasant manner. Do read my article on Green Marketing Myopia located at our website, as noted above. I think it will really help you. Happy to talk more as well.

    Best,
    Jacquie Ottman

  9. Having been a tree-hugger since the early 70′s, I’m frankly appalled by the me-too mentality of the current so-called enviromentalist fringe. “Envirolitist” – what a great word. I hope they have Al Gore’s picture posted under that one.

    While I’m not crazy about the commercial either, I do like the idea of getting people to laugh at themselves. Unfortunately these three are not funny, or cute (pretty maybe, but not what you need for the commercial to work), or clever. People want to be able to think of themselves as clever, not stupid or shallow. Faux pas sometimes works, as with the dumb beet dye, but that’s a little too dumb. The fish thing, again, not really hitting the mark. Chugging hair stuff is just gross. You’d have been better off doing a Cheech and Chong knockoff.

    Don’t stop trying. Be more obvious as to what you’re trying to do but less abusive to your audience. Oh, and give me a reason to care why you think your product is clean. I can only imagine what it does when it enters and waste stream.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Not sure if anyone already posted this, but the irony is that Green Works products are anything but, if you are to believe the Environmental Working Group’s tests. Most of their products get Ds and Fs with regard to their “greeness.”

  11. Liz Fixsen says:
  12. If they HAVE to come out with a “green” product line, what does that make the rest of their products? Probably pretty non-green. Wonder what that means… toxic, i.e. should be outlawed? Yes.)I agree with the commenter above that says the greenworks products should just be a product that WORKS and should be considered the normal way things are produced.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Clorox is already pretty green.  How do you feel about Clorox’s new advertising campaign?  I am trying to see the sunny side of the campaign, but I just feel insulted.  After all, I dig that Clorox is trying to reach across the aisle to new and potential green consumers.  I like the thought of, “You don’t have to be rich or be a fanatic to be green.”  But, I feel that Clorox is biting the Eco-friendly hand that feeds it.  The brand consulting firm BBMG recently published research saying brands can no longer rely on “dark green customers,” i.e. hyper-ethical consumers to drive the growth of sustainability.  Now, brands must engage consumers from all over the environmentally-friendly spectrum to make up 30 percent of the market.  I suppose we should see how this new campaign does for Clorox, and if it accomplishes bringing in new customers.  Others disagree.  Marc Gunther says, “What was Clorox Thinking?“ [...]

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