Polluter Rally Sponsorship Muddies Verizon’s Environmental Image

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Verizon Wireless has gone to great lengths to tint its brand green. But as Ad Age reports, the mobile communications giant took a big step backwards when it enraged environmentalists by refusing to pull its sponsorship of a West Virginia Friends of America Rally over Labor Day weekend, organized by Massey Energy.

Why would environmentalists be upset? First, Massey Energy uses mountaintop removal, a coal mining process which involves chopping down forests, removing topsoil, and blasting away up to 1,000 feet of ground. [more] Second, Massey CEO Don Blankenship (recently implicated in a Supreme Court ruling against excessive campaign contributions) promised that the rally would teach attendees how environmental extremists destroy jobs. Third, the website for the rally linked to a petition against the Waxman-Markey clean energy legislation, passed earlier this year, which caps greenhouse gas emissions and puts a price on carbon dioxide emissions.

But one brand’s goof can be another’s glory. CREDO Action, activist arm of Verizon’s socially contentious rival CREDO Mobile, made the most of the situation by rallying environmental sympathizers in an online protest campaign, prompting more than 50,000 people to ask Verizon to “pull its support from a Labor Day rally that featured global warming deniers and promoted mountaintop removal mining.”

Rather than salvaging its image by issuing an apology or explanation, Verizon’s VP of Corporate Communications, James Gerace made things worse. Gerace, a board member of the National Association of Manufacturers (a trade group vehemently opposed to emission curbing), fueled environmentalist anger with a quip about CREDO’s political director, Becky Bond:

This is how our response is going over with the activists. Becky once lived in a tree for a while. At least now I know where the emails are coming from.

Is there a branding moral to the Verizon story? Consistency in message and action is critical for brand development. But mistakes happen. Gerace should have defended his brand’s green tint by acknowledging the mistake, explaining it, and drawing attention to Verizon’s efforts towards environmental protection, rather than attacking.

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