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Clorox's Green Works Finds New Voice and Attitude to Combat Greenwashing

Posted by Sheila Shayon on May 2, 2013 03:36 PM

As Kermit the Frog taught an entire generation, “It's not easy being green.”

Clorox’s Green Works is a case study in the steep learning curve of green branding. The line of environmentally friendly housecleaning products launched in 2008 with an endorsement from the Sierra Club, which helped boost its market penetration and credibility. 

That $1.3 million contract ends in December and the brand chose Earth Day to announce a strategic marketing revamp, including a new tone of voice (embodied by its new manifesto, posted on Facebook and its website) and the removal of the Sierra Club logo from all Green Works packaging, a clear sign of the times as green cleaning products have been forced to reduce their premium prices and re-position the sell to deflect declining sales.

“When Green Works was first launched, it came out of the gate with a lot of investment by Clorox,” Jason Gere, RBC Capital Markets analyst told the New York Times. “Initially it started to do well, but then the macroeconomic environment took over. Clorox realized that in this consumer-led recession, having products even as environmentally friendly as Green Works’ are, but charging a 20 percent-plus premium to conventional cleaners, was not working.”

So last year, Green Works refocused its marketing to target “digitally savvy” mothers “who spend a lot of time online,” said Rebecca Boston, Green Works’ public relations and digital strategist in the Times. “That’s where we needed to reach them.” Green Works’ brand manager, Shekinah Eliassen, added that the new strategy is to position its products as “affordable, effective, accessible and approachable.”

The brand brought on Alberta-based Critical Mass, an Omnicom agency, with a projected budget spend of $10 million through mid-2014, and a flurry of social media alchemy began around the anti-"holier than thou" theme of "you don't have to ____ to be green."

In January, a new Green Works website launched along with a YouTube web video series, “Green Housewives,” parodying people who wear environmental correct-ness as a status symbol. The brand's take on marketing its products—pretty much poking fun at the green movement—while surprising, sets it apart from competitors and gives off a more approachable (and affordable) vibe.

The campaign continued through February with a “Tweethearts” campaign and a six-second game of charades on Vine for St. Patrick’s Day, with the message, “You don’t have to put on a charade to be green.”

Debunking the idea that environmental causes are humorless, a "Giggling for Charity" campaign that launched on Earth Day is asking Twitter users to share a joke. For every tweet through the end of May, Green Works will donate a dollar (up to $20,000) to the Environmental Media Association’s school gardens project.The campaign tagline: “You don’t have to be serious to be green.” The campaign continues on the brand's Facebook page, where it posts funny memes and lets you know that, "You don't have to wear hemp underwear to be green."

While Green Works seems to have found its niche and its voice, other brands continue to struggle to engage consumers with sustainability and recycling. A handful of US companies and brands including General Mills, Kellogg's, Microsoft, REI and Clorox, too, have joined the How2Recycle labeling system. "Consumers are faced with a confusing landscape of material and recycling messages that are often inconsistent or misleading,” said Anne Bedarf, who led development of the label for How2Recycle.

A recent survey by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition found that a high percentage of consumers have changed their behavior due to the labeling. "Consumers understand the concept of recycling but are frequently confused on what packages can or can't be recycled. They want the process to be easier and we think the recovery label does just that," said Gwen Lorio, who develops sustainable packaging for Clorox.

Beginning next month, "How2Recycle" labels will be affixed to four Clorox products: Fresh Step and Scoop Away kitty litter cartons, Green Works laundry detergent and dishwashing liquid and Oxi stain remover.

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