Precious few companies with sustainable product/service lines have used sports as a platform on which to market their greenness to fans. Fear of consumer backlash could be a reason for the reticence.
Sure, some aspects of those fears could be well founded. But, it says here that the marketing climate, even despite the results of November 8, is more favorable than not for Green Giants (companies with sustainability as a core value and a market cap of at least $1 billion as detailed in the book of the same name by recent GSB interviewee Freya Williams) who are also influential, trend-shapers to market their sustainability bona fides.
Companies like Tesla and Nike.
In case these two Green Giants are not quite ready to advertise a sustainability-focused and/or climate change-fighting message, GreenSportsBlog is here to offer rationale—and even some free creative concepts—to nudge them in the green direction.
BASF and White Wave are two companies with strong sustainability track records who successfully market their greenness through sports. They both get that, in an ever more fragmented media landscape, sports is still the best way to reach a mass audience. And they obviously believe that promoting their greenness through sports will enhance their image and build their business.
But BASF, a global chemical conglomerate that is aggressively shifting to greener processes and products, is mainly in the Business-to-Business (B-to-B) space. White Wave is a small-but-growing, purpose driven food company. Neither are major, Green Giant consumer brands with the ability, spending-wise and image-wise, to use sports to influence a wide swath of the population.
Is it time for Green Giants to build upon what BASF and White Wave have started to market to fans of the New York Giants—and those of many other teams?
Yes, it is.
But what about those consumer backlash fears?
Perhaps the election of climate change skeptic Donald Trump validates the notion that companies should shy away from promoting their greenness as an important feature through sports or any other advertising platform.
But other data from 2016 point in a very different direction:
- Several polls show that up to 70% of Americans think climate change is real (Monmouth University, January), with about half citing human activity as the main cause (Pew, October).
- Concern about climate change was at an 8 year high as of March (Gallup).
- And, post-election, a majority of US adults say stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost (Pew, December).
- More broadly, a global research study sponsored by Green Giant Unilever revealed that 78 percent of US shoppers feel better when they buy sustainably produced products. (Europanel and Flamingo, December)
Our take? The winds seem more at the backs of the Green Giants in terms of marketing their greenness than not. But even if there are some headwinds, GGs like Tesla and Nike have made their reputations in part by going against the grain.
So here are some ways Tesla and Nike can go about using sports to communicate their green bona fides.
Tesla, synonymous with the small but fast-growing electric vehicles (EV) market, is one of the coolest brands of this era. It launched in 2008 with the ultra-high end, ultra-high profile, ultra-hip $110,000 Roadster. That many, including company founder Elon Musk, judged the Roadster to be a technical failure was of little import; Tesla’s ultra cool brand image was born.
The company broadened its potential audience in 2014 by moving down to merely the high end market with the $70,000 Model S sedan, seen by most observers as a clear technical and commercial success. And, by the end of 2017, although Tesla is notoriously late on actual launch dates, its Model 3 is expected for delivery. Expected to be priced at $35,000—while, according to the company, not making any compromise on range and performance—the Model 3 will be Tesla’s first EV offering targeted to a mass audience.
Premarket version of the Tesla Model 3. (Photo credit: Tesla Motors)
To reach that mass audience, Tesla would do well to reach sports audiences.
The Super Bowl is always the most watched television show of any year by a wide margin. The number one rated series in 2016? Sunday Night Football on NBC, despite the NFL’s well publicized ratings drop. The Olympics, Final Four and World Series all easily out-rate most other non-sports shows.
One could imagine the Model 3 being advertised on NFL games, especially since its mass audience (even despite this season’s ratings drop) will be a great fit for the leader in the fast growing/scaling EV market—according to a study by Navigant Research, EV sales are expected to almost triple between 2015 and 2024.
With a $35,000 price point, the Model 3 should also consider the NBA with, compared to the NFL, its hipper, younger, more urban, above-average-but-not-other-worldly income viewer base. If Tesla could get an NBA star or two to drive a Model 3, look out! Add a sprinkle of tennis and/or golf to get higher end viewers who still weren’t able to afford the Roadster and Model S and you have a smart, sports oriented TV plan for the Tesla Model 3.
But we’re not suggesting Tesla only use TV. Upscale millennials will be a key target and many of them have cut the cable cord (ESPN had 99 million subscribers in 2013; that number is down to 89 million in 2016). But, according to Beth Egan, Associate Professor of Advertising at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications, Tesla can reach a good chunk of those cord cutters “where they get sports, via their mobile devices, streaming services, on social media and ‘over-the-(TV set) top’ offerings like Roku and Apple TV.”
This sounds like a great start to a sports-focused media plan for Tesla, except for one tiny problem.
Tesla does not advertise.
Or, at least it hasn’t done so yet.
This can work when you’re a boutique brand, trading on word-of-mouth and Elon Musk’s élan.
But will that ad-free strategy carry the day as Tesla looks to compete with the EVs that are/will soon be on offer from the BMWs, Mercedes Benzes and Acuras of the world, not to mention their internal combustion engine cousins?
Tesla will have to advertise if it’s going to maintain and build its EV leadership status as the category grows and gets more crowded and competitive. Sports will be the perfect venue, both in terms of audience size and demographics, as well as the powerful creative messaging potential.
On the latter point, GSB is happy to provide Tesla with two creative approaches:
- Testimonial: Tesla would sign athletes who drive Model 3s as spokespeople (future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and punt returner Jordan Norwood of the Denver Broncos are among the athletes who drive Model S.) Some will talk about how cool the car is, how well it performs, how it goes from zero to sixty in less than three seconds. Others will talk about how it will help save the planet for their kids—to go from zero to sixty in less than three seconds
- Hate-Love: Find players who are loathed by most fans (think Christian Laettner, Kobe Bryant or Tom Brady). Show scenes of fans expressing their venom. Then show the hated stars with their Model 3s, talking about how the car’s greenness is their gift to their fans and the planet. Voilà, the haters turn into devoted fans.
Per GreenSportsBlog’s interview with Freya Williams, the super-fast Flyknit shoe “cuts waste by 80 percent and makes the shoe 20 percent lighter…it symbolizes the future of sustainable business at scale. “Despite having a strong environmental story to tell, Nike has, to date, chosen not to tell it.
Flyknit by Nike (Photo credit: Nike, Inc.)
Ads for Flyknit have, like most Nike ads over the past 45 years, emphasized performance and a cool look. This makes perfect sense as it is Nike’s business to help people to run faster. One 30 second ad hints at the “natural” aspects of the shoe, but Flyknit’s sustainability/climate change-fighting benefits are not spelled out.
30 second ad for Nike’s Flyknit shoe
Should Nike add a “Just Green It” spot with a climate change message to its Flyknit ad portfolio?
Absolutely, and here’s why.
- Nike can mention Flyknit’s greenness and its strong performance in one 30 second spot. There is enough time (Miller Lite was able to promote “tastes great” and “less filling”) and the two are not mutually exclusive.
- A good chunk of potential Flyknit customers should also be in favor of Nike taking positive environmental action. Data from a 2013 Running USA survey indicates that runners are more highly educated and have higher incomes than the average American. The high education/income cohort, in the main, supports action on climate change. And it’s not a stretch to imagine that the Flyknit target audience is more highly educated and has a higher income than the average runner.
- Nike ads have taken on social issues (e.g. “If You Let Me Play” campaign which promoted the benefits of access to sports for girls)
- Nike has not shied away from controversy (e.g “I’m Not a Role Model” with Charles Barkley).
Taking a stand on climate would break the mold, spark some dialogue about the issue, and generate more sales from sustainability-minded athletes. All of this is perfect for Nike.
What might the ads look like? You know, Wieden + Kennedy and Nike’s other agencies do a phenomenal job. I will leave it to them.