Green Branding and ‘Sustainability’ – The South African Perspective

2013-05-22 06:26

By Melissa Baird Ogilvyearth Cape Town

South Africa, the famed ‘rainbow nation’ is as socially diverse as its incredible natural biodiversity that acts as a powerful call to action for the tourism industry and for powering a green economy that can contribute tremendously towards sustainable growth of infrastructure (both living and built) and job creation.

The work that Ogilvyearth Cape Town has been involved with to date is highlighting the urgent need for effective communications strategies that can educate and inspire greater acceptance and understanding of just what it means to be “sustainable” and why this is the most important trend of the next century for a business and social stability. It is also vital to demystify this concern from that of being a rabid ‘greenie’ whose only perspective is to protect the environment and not the society that depends on it.

The role of biodiversity is a focus point and our opportunity is to create a brand and communication strategy that will enable the mass of scientific research to be translated into messages that can be understood and acted upon by civil society, the private sector and government.

For example, by creating an effective message about why it is necessary to preserve a wetland at the outset, can reduce the risk of it first being polluted or destroyed and then having to be rehabilitated at great social and environmental cost. The message is mitigation of risk. Make that inspiring and match that to the values of a target market that does not consider the environment as a core consideration or as something that is negotiable against the need for growth and you have a winner of a communication’s plan.

It seems to me that the role of effective ‘sustainability’ communications is looking into the future about what a brand wants to achieve and working backwards on the timeline to see what messages will have the most pertinent impact – now, in order to ensure that vision is realised.

South Africa is a developing nation and job creation and economic growth are paramount for the country as whole. The rising costs of electricity, labour unrest and an estimated 25% of the population living on social grants makes for a highly volatile landscape and one that is not welcoming to ‘green’ messaging because it is considered a luxury to place the environment at the centre of business and developmental policy. And yet what about the brands who are actively involved in developing strategies to manage the changing landscape and who have incredible stories to tell about the transformation achieved as a result of placing environmental and social sustainability at the heart of their business strategy?

From the brands we have engaged with we are seeing massive success that comes as a result of looking at efficiencies they can put in place that reduces costs associated to their business. One car hire company saved millions of litres of water and cut their water bill by 15% per annum. A major retailer saved over R 300 million on their electricity bill and the campaign to reduce energy usage acted as a catalyst for their staff to understand the financial benefits associated with not wasting electricity.

A giant multi-national ran one of the most successful sales promotions ever in South Africa by understanding their target market and the fundamental challenges they have as a result of living on the ‘bread-line’.

The role of ‘green’ is not an issue dedicated to the wealthy of the country that have the most vested interests. The middle sector of the population has the biggest area for growth and therein lies the opportunity for a brand to become a sustainable champion for their own business and offer product and services that act as cohesive contributors to the economic and environmental landscape that ultimately determine its success, or not.

Whilst we are connected to the major thought leaders engaging in this conversation with local and national government as well as some of the country’s top CEO’s,  it is part of our role as communication specialists to uncover the stories that are powerful enough to act as motivators to support behaviour change and create a bridge between brand and customer that turns into a conversation; not just about a brand’s heroic transformation, but about collective engagement in what matters to all of us.

Communication of this nature is new. It is open to major debate about how can we tell stories about what brand x is doing while their supply chain is up to no good. This acts as a call to action for said brand to review their practise and then tell their customers why they have done so or that they have changed.

The role of advertising has been to create demand for products, goods and services for every person. Never before has the role of a communication agency been to ensure that stories are there to elevate the understanding that the world is changing, the business landscape is changing and we can adapt and develop smarter and more resiliently in the face of these factors.

The Ogilvyearth survey – “ How Sussed Are You ? “ began in 2011 and this year’s results offer a clear snapshot view of the upper LSM mind-set towards making ethical choices regarding their goods and services; but as we already know, the gap between intention and action can be as wide as the Grand Canyon. Just how much will a shopper  compromise for the sake of convenience?

South Africa was a late developer in the digital realm and as advertising agencies struggled to come to terms with what that meant for communication strategies, so too is how to integrate sustainability and marketing into one strategy that underpins a brand’s position in the world.

Web sites used to be ‘nice-to- have’ items for businesses and now even the most basic of business offerings has a presence within the digital realm. Working with that analogy one can ask the question, “What will happen to a brand that does not place at the core of its future positioning what it means to be environmentally and socially sustainable?” What stories will we be called on to tell then?


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