100 likes, 857 dislikes. That's the YouTube tally for the Mazda tie-in commercial for Dr. Seuss' The Lorax movie, based on the animated version of the kids' classic environmental-themed book that's hitting cinemas on March 2nd.
The comment "I'm absolutely disgusted with this! The REAL Lorax would never work with the Onceler. Mazda, stop using Dr. Seuss's material, it's only going to make your company look bad and downright stupid" has been voted up 28 times. Another irate comment, "Consider the movie and car both boycotted. WTF were you thinking?" is par for the course.
The shame of it? It all could have been avoided.
Yes, it probably sounded like a no-brainer at the pitch meeting, to engineer a co-branding deal between a fuel-efficient "green" car touting its SkyActiv technology and The Lorax, a movie about nature conservation. But, outside in the real world of consumers' brand perceptions and innate suspicion of "green marketing," it becomes more of a no-brainer to steer clear of hitching a car brand to an eco-movie.
"It's a hybrid," joked Stephen Colbert when he took Mazda to task for its Lorax tie-in, "in that it uses both 'gas' and 'oline.'" The comedian went on to speculate about other possible film tie-ins, like a "Lorax-themed drill for fracking."
Interestingly, while the AP notes "nearly 70 launch partners" for the movie, The Lorax website lists only 11 official partners (and Mazda's not one of them). As expected, most of the official partners are "green," including Seventh Generation cleaning products, Whole Foods, Energy Star, Hilton's Double Tree (get it?!) and the US Forest Service. Other partners include Pottery Barn Kids, Stonyfield yogurt and HP.
Stonyfield has created a "YoKids" Lorax game, while HP's message: "When you print like the Lorax by choosing HP printing products — designed with the environment in mind — you’ll take a step towards making our planet a cleaner and greener place. It's as easy as 1, 2, 3! To show you what we mean, we’ve even printed our website on both sides – click Flip It in the right hand corner!"
HP also promotes its sponsorship of The Lorax with cute clips from the film providing a hook to remind folks that the brand's commitment to the environment has earned it various nods including being named #1 electronics brand on Interbrand's Best Global Green Brands ranking.
The movie's IHOP promotion references another Dr. Seuss kids classic by serving green eggs and ham and giving away a paper strip with seeds for kids to plant.
IHOP's green eggs and ham is hardly new, by the way. In 2008, the chain offered the same dish for its tie-in to Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who. Customers could also order Beezlenut Splas and Who-Cakes, a mountain of sugar-drizzled pancakes based on based on the lesser-known Seuss character Diabeteezus.
It's no secret that brands have seen a shift to "go green" as a successful strategy to change one's brand image. A new University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College survey found that 62 percent of people now believe in global warming, an increase of 7 percent from just six months earlier. That many respondents made this conclusion based on their personal observations of the weather doesn't change the fact that a majority now believe that the environment is going to hell in a proverbial handbasket.
Of all The Lorax movie's brand partners, it's not surprising that the scorn is primarily reserved for the automaker, which presumably did not see this problem coming. Universal has also come under fire for partnering with a car brand. There's even a Change.org petition "asking Mazda and Universal Pictures to remove these dishonest and deceptive advertisements."
It's sobering food for thought as brand's debate how to communicate their commitment to making their business practices and products 'greener' without being perceived as 'greenwashing.' Look to the infamous "Greenwash Guide" (PDF), which warns against "Emphasising one tiny green attribute when everything else is un-green" and "Declaring you are slightly greener than the rest, even if the rest are pretty terrible."
Or as The Lorax book itself asks — "You telling me what the public will buy?"