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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

The year 2015: cars and skateboards will no longer be bound by gravity, and all films will be in 3D…so was the 1980’s cinematic vision of the future.

While Hollywood has been making good on its 3D movie promise, the lack of any hover mobile on the market is a bit of a disappointment for those of us who grew up on the Back to the Future films of the 80s. However, while our cars may not be taking to the skies anytime soon, it may be a source of some consolation to fans of flying DeLoreans that over the next few years several major auto makers will be unveiling what they claim will be the future of the automotive industry…

Coming to a dealership near you – Electric Vehicles for the Masses!

Many speculate about how successful these electric vehicles, or EVs, will be outside of the ‘green’ bastions of California, New England and the Pacific Northwest. However, from a PR standpoint there is little doubt that EVs have been extremely successful in generating a great deal of positive media coverage thus far. Over the past five months alone, there have been thousands of articles written about these new cars, and a major driver of this media coverage has been the partnerships that the major automotive companies in the EV game are entering into with the biggest names in technology.

Most recently, there has been a great deal of media attention paid to a potential Google partnership with a major car maker, which will entail integrating the Android operating system with existing onboard telematic technology.

The buzz created by Google’s foray into the automotive industry follows news generated by similar partnerships between other major automotive companies and top tech companies. For example, Microsoft plans to help solve potential problems that these new cars will cause the power grid by working with auto makers to implement its Hohm application into EVs. The technology is expected to prevent an ‘electrical traffic jam’ on our electrical grid by helping owners determine when to most efficiently and affordably recharge EV batteries.

While cars will most likely remain on the ground for some time to come, the automotive industry is working to ensure that EVs will be on the roads of tomorrow by making innovation a priority and by partnering with major tech companies in the process. From a PR perspective, the key takeaway is that these partnerships are major drivers for media coverage and that they are generating buzz among potential buyers.

Looking forward, it wouldn’t be surprising if these types of automotive-tech partnerships do more to make consumers more comfortable with the thought of owning an EV than auto shows or other traditional methods of marketing. What better way to lend some tech-cred to unproven products than to couple them with market leading technology brands?

While we will not have hover mobiles, being able to give voice commands to your electric car and enabling it to communicate with the power grid for the best energy rates via Google and Microsoft technology may be as close as we will get to Robert Zemeckis’ vision of the future without kitting out a DeLorean for time travel.

As a practitioner of green PR and marketing, I spend hours every week walking the fine line between sincere promotion of sustainable corporate ideals and the murky waters of corporate “greenwashing” – the general term to describe the practice of promoting disingenuous information to support the guise of an eco-friendly public image. Accordingly, being accused of greenwashing is a constant concern of mine, apparently for good reason.

In fact, a recent study found that 98 percent of products make claims that are greenwashed. While some may dismiss the label of “greenwashing” as a casualty of green PR and marketing, the damage caused to any organization found guilty of the practice can be severe. Consider just three of the six main greenwashing risks, as outlined by OgilvyEarth’s greenwashing guide:

  • Reputational Damage: Companies that greenwash risk their credibility within their industries and with consumers. Skepticism is a growing trend and ideal in our society, and people don’t hesitate to pick up on and alert others to anything they feel is insincere. Rebounding from a blow to one’s reputation is one of the hardest tasks a company can face.
  • Consumer Alienation: More than 50 percent of climate-savvy consumers believe brands’ sustainability-related claims are embellished or fabricated. With so many other options for eco-friendly products, skeptical buyers will be the first to walk away if they find a reason to believe a company is greenwashing.
  • Leadership Opportunity Cost: There is a $200 billion market in the U.S. for eco-friendly oriented products. Additionally, 38 percent of eco-minded consumers make an effort to purchase goods and services from socially-responsible companies, meaning there is huge potential for failure for businesses that choose to greenwash. But, there is also potential for success among those willing to lead the charge in genuine environmental efforts.

Many organizations, no matter how sincere their reasons for taking on corporate sustainability, run the risk of greenwashing. But to avoid being crowned with this notorious title, be honest about your environmental efforts and communicate your plans for reaching sustainability goals. Celebrate your accomplishments, but don’t embellish them – consumers will see straight through the hype. Take immediate action if concerns arise about your sustainability practices, that way you won’t give anyone a reason to believe you have something to hide. Lastly, always maintain your relationships in the industry and with media – this will only help to fortify your reputation and give you credibility when and where you need it.

Click here to download OgilvyEarth’s From Greenwash To Great: A Guide To Great Green Marketing (without the Greenwash).

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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide