Brands and Sustainability: What marketers can do to make the world better
It has been a while since I posted here. Every year November becomes a busy month with plans for the next year being formed and presentations for approvals to the same. After my last post in October 2018, I got really busy. After which, I took my usual December break, to resume back at work in January. So, here I am after a long break.
While I was on break, I was tinkering with the idea of how I can leave less carbon footprint on the planet, how we can reduce, re-use and recycle things. As I delved deeper into things, I realized that doing things personally is a small bit and honestly, quite less. A lot more needs to be done and can be done in our professions as marketers.
I was looking back at all the years of marketing that we have been exposed to, picking out brands and adverts, and all the things that we marketers do to make our brands look appealing to consumers. I find some of these acts pretty irresponsible. We really could have done better for the planet.
But anyway, I would like to believe that its not too late. Through our work we influence so much of consumer behavior that we could still bring major positive changes to the world if we wanted to.
So, I broke down all the areas where marketers have influenced or can influence actions which result in a better, safer world.
Packaging is one of the 4Ps of marketing. It has a huge impact on the success of any brand. It creates the first impression in the minds of consumers. Before any advert can hammer in the core message, a consumer makes decisions without conscious rationale based on looks. Unfortunately, the cost of making our products look good is too high.
In order to make products look better and also have longer lasting shelf lives, we use plastic with high barrier properties. In most cases these are single use materials. Especially with every company looking to unlock the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid, single serve products have become the norm in all developing economies.
In fact, it starts from basic necessities and progresses to the explosive snacking boom due to more disposable incomes and increase in young population.
Can you imagine the tons of plastic waste we are generating? Every year, around 13 million tons of plastic is added to the oceans. That itself is a staggering figure, and we are not even counting the landfills and the garbage on the streets. Most of these is from packaged food products and single use packaging.
Where do we draw the line? How do we continue without having such adverse impacts on the environment? A lot more care needs to be given to the packaging of the product, instead of just looking good, and preserving the product, it needs to extend to protecting the environment too.
I have very few answers, and it would take a lot of focused, determined research to deliver answers to these questions. But meanwhile, what companies could do is to look for alternatives.
Use sustainable materials for Single serve units of your product:
Single serves essentially means consumption within a short span. From the factory to the consumer, usually the journey should end within 6 months for successful products. In fact, it should be even less ideally. So, can we do with more biodegradable materials where we trade off shelf life for sustainability and a better future?
There are some companies offering such technology now, but brands need to put the effort of connecting with them, finding the right fit for the product. Pepsico recently launched its plant based packaging which is claimed to be 100% compostable. You can read the reports here & here. Well, at least its a start. All brands need to do stuff like this.
Reduce wastage in packaging:
Often we splurge in packaging just because it makes the product look better. Having experienced something like this myself during my stint in Kellogg’s, I know the distance that packaging takes us ahead in sales. I am talking about the secondary packaging in boxes.
Most products have 2 packaging layers: primary and secondary. But there are some products, like cereals, toothpastes, soaps, gels, ointments, which use a third layer. Let me elaborate the needs.
The first layer, known as primary packaging, is the material we use to protect the product from adulteration and to preserve it. The second layer is usually the carton where all units are packed and delivered to distributors by the company. It helps store inventory in an organized manner and also protects the primary packaging from getting damaged. Most brands make do with this.
But there are products which insert a layer of packaging between the first 2 layers to make it look good, and sometimes to make packaging more convenient. But come to think of it, this is an unnecessary addition due to the luxury of margins and cheap materials.
Watch this video about toothpaste boxes below to understand what I am trying to say. This guy makes complete sense.
So, next time you are working on the packaging of a product, work on using as less material as possible. Even if you do need a third layer, look at how you can reduce the material. Look at how Carlsberg has started removing its plastic rings around their beer cans to reduce plastic. They have started using glue instead. Isn’t that amazing?
Such things will go a long way in preserving the planet and also leave a positive impact to your P&L for a more profitable margin.
Like I said earlier, I have been trying to reduce wastage as much as possible. This includes waste of food and water, apart from other material possessions. I think water and food are the most critical for us right now, considering the dire situation we would be in, if all fresh water reserves get depleted. Cape Town was in the news last year for the same. Quite the horror, I would say.
Anyway, this is something that I believe brands don’t pay much attention to when they show ads of lavish usage. Brands want to show a desirable life to its consumers, an aspirations filled dream world of lavishness, where only beauty and happiness exists. I realized how we marketers promote wanton wastage often, without realizing.
Watch this Fiama Di wills advert:
It is a 30 seconds ad showing a well off mother wasting the water in the shower around 50% of the duration. Yeah, when you can afford the water bills so easily, whats an extra minute of water flowing without any purpose?
Gone are the days when my middle class mother used to whack me on the back of my head for carelessly spilling water while the water supply hour was on. Well, we did appreciate resources more back then. But not anymore. Watch this Dettol hand wash advert below and tell me are we not promoting wastefulness in our adverts?
If you look carefully, the demo shows the user leaving the tap open while he/she lavishly applies the soap without using the water. And the advert talks about “Aadat yeh achchi hai”, etc., meaning these are good habits.
As a conscious marketer, I would say, not at all. Unilever seems to have realized it and has launched its campaign to save water. We will talk about the Unilever campaign in the next section.
Create awareness with social messages:
People love brands. People respect brands. And they listen when brands speak. Strong brands must understand their responsibilities towards its stakeholders and work towards sustainability. One of the ways of doing this is through attaching themselves to a cause. Not only will the resources attached help, but also will go a long way in spreading awareness.
If you have not yet seen the Unilever campaign #startalittlegood, please do watch and share with others. Its a brilliant campaign.
These are some of the things that came to my mind. There must be a lot more that we can do.
Collectively, marketers have a lot of say in how the world behaves. Brand managers pick up trends and roll them out to the masses. They show to the naive young minds how to be, what to say and what to do. They pave ways for brands to stand out, to be known and to sell. If all marketers devote themselves to the work they do, along with the planet in mind, I believe that brands can make more difference to the cause of sustainability than even those who have dedicated their lives to the cause.
On a personal front, I have started practicing a lot of restraint on my plastic usage. I used to consume 2 bottles of packaged water every day till last year. Now I use this stainless steel water bottle instead. I was lucky Vani found one for me with a wonderful quote that I love. It says, “Stay Focussed, Never Give Up”.
Yeah, I won’t.
So, this year so far, I have already reduced the number of plastic water bottles I have used by 46. Going by this number, in 2019, I will possibly avoid using 600 bottles of plastic as an individual. Imagine how many just 10 of us like-minded individuals would save if we follow the same path.
Life’s good and I look forward to 2019.
Happy new year to all!