Green Works scraps denial and elitism as marketing strategies


Denial, as the old joke goes, isn’t a river in Egypt. But for years, it’s been the basis of green-product marketing in the face of growing consumer rejection. On Earth Day (April 22), 2013, a major green marketer – Clorox Green Works – announced it was waking up to marketplace reality and abandoning elitist self-righteousness as a marketing strategy.

Painting themselves into a (green) corner

Since its introduction in 2008, with a Sierra Club endorsement they paid $1.3 million for, Clorox has targeted the line of housecleaning products to the environmentally correct.

Instead of being shelved in supermarkets with other household cleaners, it was stocked with natural and organic products.

It also carried a 20 percent price premium over conventional cleaners. This was possibly because, since green-product purchasers are known to have higher education and income, they thought they could get away with it – and possibly because someone had to pay for that 1.3 million spiff to the Sierra Club in return for displaying their logo on the packaging.

That worked, but just for one year.

Though Green Works dollar sales grew by 50 percent, to $53 million, in 2009, by the year ending May 13, 2012, they were down to $32 million, according to Packaged Facts and IRI Group data.

During the same period, Green Works’ share of the shrinking environmentally friendly cleaning product category dropped from 20 to 13 percent.

“We remain in the number-one share position,” Clorox Co. COO Larry Peiros said in a November 3, 2010 conference call, “but we’re declining pretty much along with the category.” And an average 17 percent across-the-board price cut didn’t seem to help; sales of Green Works products dropped as much as 15 percent that year.

“Green Works has fallen a long way since it first launched in 2008,”writes Renee Frojo in the San Francisco Business Times.

With sales topping $100 million, the line was an instant hit when it was first introduced, snatching up more than half the market for natural home cleaning products. But when the recession really hit home, Americans proved to be fickle about their eco-consciousness. Sales for the company quickly fell… Rival brands also took a hit.

Or, as RBC Capital Markets analyst Jason Gere put it, “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.”

Pricing, and placement in the Green Ghetto, were why Green Works products weren’t selling with regular consumers. And the fact that they came from Clorox caused the environmental elitists they were targeting to look down their noses at the brand, which, according to Sanford Bernstein senior analyst Ali Dibadj, “did not appeal to the classic green consumer.”

Climbing down from their high horse

Having failed with the classic green consumer elite, Green Works will now bow to reality and target everyday consumers – whom Rebecca Boston, the brand’s public relations and digital strategist describes as “digitally savvy” mothers, age 18 to 49, “who spend a lot of time online” (instead of with their kids or their jobs?).

Green Works’ new strategy, says brand manager Shekinah Eliassen, is to become “affordable, effective, accessible and approachable.”

If so, it’s a pleasant contrast from traditional green-product marketing, which, GreenBiz Group chairman Joel Makower describes as “largely half-hearted, humorless and uninspired. Green products themselves have been variously underwhelming, overpriced, inconvenient, and unavailable.”

Greenworks is addressing the “overpriced” critique by cutting prices by 20 percent. To make them more convenient and available, they’ll move from supermarkets’ organic-products sections to the household-cleaner section throughout this coming summer.

When the Sierra Club deal expiring in December, they’ll introduce new, bolder packaging, also this summer.

Selling green, not Green Works

Their advertising campaign, which will comprise online videos and Tweets, is an attempt to solve the sales problem by dealing with the “humorless” part.

Specifically, it will solicit jokes from its new target audience – not to show how good Green Works cleaning products are at, uh, cleaning, but to mock their former target audience.

“Green seems to have become a status symbol,” Eliassen rationalizes. “It’s like you have to be 100 percent committed to being green or not green at all – and that’s where a lot of people have been turned off…[Our] message is that green should be for everyone.”

  • To this end, a video campaign, starting in January and shot, appropriately enough, with the San Francisco skyline in the background, shows “three over-the-top ‘green housewives’ shopping for all things local at a farmer’s market and judging each other for drinking out of plastic, wearing leather and buying clothing not made from 100 percent sustainable materials. It ends with a message from Clorox that says consumers don’t have to be ‘extreme, obnoxious or ridiculous’ to be green.” And that’s why they should buy Green Works?
  • A February “Tweethearts” campaign invited consumers to send environmentally correct (i.e., digital instead of paper) Valentine cards by Twitter.
  • In March, a six-second charades game on Vine conveyed the following product message: You don’t have to put on a charade to be green.
  • From April 22 through May 31, a Twitter campaign promises a $1 donation, up to $20,000 maximum, to the Environmental Media Association in return for a joke – supposedly proving “You don’t have to be serious to be green.”
  • In April, May and June, print ads in People and in women’s magazines will be headlined, “You don’t have to be perfect to be green” and “You don’t have to be a trust-fund baby to be green” and will direct readers to a new website.

Of course, this assumes that consumers buy household cleaners to be green, not to be clean. And, Eliassen admits, “there are a lot of barriers for why consumers aren’t buying green.”

The fact that, even with the 20 percent price cut, Green Works cleaners will still cost about 5 percent more than conventional cleaners right next to them on the shelves may be one of them.

Another barrier may be that “People tend to care more about all-natural, organic products going into the body, as opposed to being used on their dishes or clothes,” according to Wendy Nicholson, who follows Clorox for Citi.

But the biggest barrier may be the advertising itself.

For one thing, it’s already drawing online blowback. “While some appear to get it,” Frojo reports, “many others have blasted the video for being insulting to women and nature-conscious consumers, calling it an ill-conceived attempt to win back customers and — above all — not funny.”

That alienates the environmental purists. And, explains EnviroMedia president Kevin Tureff, the campaign’s message – which sells green instead of Green Works – “could advance brand awareness, though it may not translate into sales.”

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