A few years ago, it seemed like every brand in America -- from Walmart to Clorox to Inuit -- was touting its green virtues. But not all of these companies were living up to their claims; many were guilty of "greenwashing," or paying lip service to environmental issues without adopting green business practices.
These days, all that green talk has been muted by a new buzzword: wellness. And just like with the green movement, marketers are taking advantage of the trend. Between Prudential's financial wellness campaign, Walgreens' previous "be well" salutation, and ABC's "Live Well Network," the word "wellness" is cropping up everywhere.
For those of us (myself included) that work in the marketing industry, the wellness trend is tempting to piggyback on when developing brand campaigns. And, in many cases, it's one that we should capitalize on.
At the same time, greenwashing serves as a cautionary tale. Marketers are at risk for "wellness washing," or marketing that makes misleading or unsubstantiated claims related to wellness.
Here are three ways to avoid it -- and make the most of the wellness movement.
As marketers, our overarching goal is to create authentic connections with people. But when it comes to engaging in conversations that have a more serious tone -- such as environmental concerns or health issues -- we can't play around with embellishment. Every claim that we make must be truly honest.
A misstep by Dole New Zealand demonstrates why: After labeling its bananas with "Ethical Choice" stickers, the company was ousted for using underage workers at its plantations in the Philippines, forcing them to work up to 12 hours a day and paying them less than minimum wage. Consumers were furious and sales quickly diminished.
This kind of behavior has far-ranging implications for brands. According to a 2012 report by Accenture, only 44 percent of consumers say that they trust green claims made by big brands. And a few years ago, advertising faculty at the University of Oregon launched a website, greenwashingindex.com, to police greenwashing among marketers. Its tagline? "Help keep advertising honest."
Clarify your point of view
It might sound obvious, but marketers need to articulate their point of view using language that's clear and easy for consumers to understand. This is especially important when using ambiguous, catch-all terms like "wellness."
If you don't, you may just confuse your customers, as many green campaigns apparently have: According to the Accenture report, only 28 percent of people say they know what terms such as "sustainable," "responsible," "eco-friendly" and "green" really mean.
One brand that has succeeded at breaking down the concept of wellness into simple language is Westin Hotels. Targeting employees and guests, its "Well-Being Movement" is organized into six clear categories, or pillars: Feel Well, Work Well, Move Well, Eat Well, Sleep Well, and Play Well. Each pillar has a related program or partnership with practical benefits. For example, to deliver on the "Move Well" pillar, it developed a partnership with New Balance, making it possible for guests to rent out shoes or clothes so they don't have to skip their workout or pack for it.
Prove that you care
It's easy to say that your company is green or promotes wellness; it's harder to prove it. But by creating programs that supporting customers in an authentic way, you reinforce your messaging while earning your customers' trust.
There are several companies that demonstrate the right way to do this: CVS Health stopped selling cigarettes and created a program to help smokers kick the habit. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association initiated a bike-sharing program to encourage people to become more active. And Wells Fargo coupled its "financial health" promotion with a credit education series and free credit score program that was open to anyone, not just its customers.
These brands stand out not because they've jumped on a trend, but because they've recognized and delivered on their customers' needs. And, perhaps more significantly, they've recognized that they have the ability -- if not the responsibility -- to create something bigger than products or services: They can contribute to the well-being of society.
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