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BW Businessworld

Ferraris For Polar Bears

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Earlier this year Nissan came forth with its ad campaign for 'Leaf' - its electric car- that had a polar bear travelling all the way from melting arctic ice shelves to hug a Nissan Leaf owner as if thanking him for making a smart choice. (On a lighter note if polar bears ever wanted to buy cars, Leaf would be their Ferraris!) The ad quickly went viral and also landed up an Emmy awards nomination for the best outstanding ad. The youtube version of the ad has over 1.5 million views till day. To get some perspective of what that figure means consider the fact that Nike's 'write the future' ad released for the world cup 2010 considered as among the some of the most watched ads in 2010 has clocked 1.2 million views.

The trend of building sustainability into your ad campaigns is a trend that is growing by the day. Last month Coca Cola upped the ante by releasing its own polar bear campaign. Under the campaign Coca Cola will release 1.4 billion bottles in white with polar bears on them. The campaign aims to raise $3 million fund for conservation of the arctic refuge of polar bears.  In over a hundred years of its history, the company has religiously stuck to its colour theme of red. In that context, besides of course the numbers involved, the white color scheme of the cans for this campaign does make it special. But it also gives clues of times to come. I may for an instance disregard that the utterances of Coke's CEO Muhtar Kent that sustainability is the most crucial challenge of this century but what does not goes amiss is that a company like Coca Cola wouldn't have put so much into this campaign if it did not make business sense for them.

Sustainability is slowly building itself into the brand architecture of consumers. Perhaps to explain it, the example of coke is best. The manufacturing cost of carbonated water is perhaps less than one fifth the price you pay for it and yet the world over, millions of people day after day pay that price, happily. And that's the power of brand. It goes beyond the obvious utilities of things we buy. It appeals to an individual somewhere deeper in his mind. And that's exactly the place sustainability as thought will ultimately seep in. But unlike expectations from many quarters that will not happen overnight.
The trend of brands creatively engaging their consumers over sustainability message is not a new. It is something that has been happening for quite some time now. Wayback in early 2007, (yes that's really way back in the history of sustainability) I can recall the creative advertisements from Italian brand Diesel that displayed models against popular landmarks under a flooded or desertified situation with a tagline, 'Global Warming ready'.

Campaigns like that have been common in last many years, although increasing in intensity and frequency. Yet what has not been seen till now is a very dramatic outcome by any of these adverts. Consumers aren't yet rushing in hoards to stock eco-friendly products. Right now it is just the process of the sustainability thought seeping in. In one of my earlier conversations with an official of a renowned global consumer research company operating in India, I was told that 'green' as a component of consumer choice is now beginning to appear in their consumer data from India.
People are aware like never before of the importance of sustainability. But there are various levels of awareness. To know that chemicals are bad for your body is one thing but to know how exactly those chemicals may be finding their way into you is another thing. This kind of an awareness of the complete picture will take time to seep in and even more time to seep in deeper. But when it does, as it will eventually, it will change the way we see brands, forever.

Although this stretched out process is not deterring the companies around the world to give up on sustainability in their marketing campaign. Instead what is being seen is that some of the best companies are continuing their efforts to slowly integrate sustainability in their brand architecture, not as a temporary element but as a long term attribute, just at the pace at which the consumers are changing. For instance the Brian Dunn, CEO of Best Buy, A global giant in electronic goods, would like to tell you that while consumers may not be asking for responsible disposal of e- waste right now but in three years from now they will start to do that. Therefore Best Buy is taking steps to get ready for the process right now and he cautions that other retailers can "ignore this at their own peril".

Respected brands are building sustainability ever deeply into the fabric (literally at times!)of their communication to consumers taking it beyond just the adverts. Like Levi's latest effort to add guidelines for sustainable washing of their jeans along with other washing guidelines or Ford which has tied up with a media platform to engage consumers towards choosing more fuel efficient cars reiterates the point.

As Leroy Stick, creator of BP Global PR will tell you "the best way of getting people to respect your brand is to have a respectable brand". Sustainability- if global pundits are to be believed- will become the focal point of this century, It will be difficult for brands to appear respectable or responsible without convincing the people about their sustainability ethos. And Brands and what they stand for are not built overnight. Brands have to work hard in building themselves over time with a continuous focus on future. Which is why don't be surprised if you see major brands around the world going gaga over sustainability in times to come because that's the shape (May be even colour as in the case of Coke!) of things to come.

Yash Saxena is a sustainability consultant with Emergent Ventures, a climate change mitigating consultancy. He also works on innovation evangelism with Techpedia