Marketing messages are everywhere, whether you’re aware of them or not. A few of my favorites.
“Because You’re Worth It,” L’Oreal. I deserve a new lipstick.
“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” Pantene. Go ahead, be jealous.
“The Power of She,” Athleta. I want to be powerful.
“It Keeps Going, and Going, and Going...” Energizer. That one makes me think of something other than batteries, but you get the point.
It Starts With A Feeling
A good slogan gets your inner storyteller going. That inner storyteller, whether conscious or not, can wrap our feelings in a cozy blanket (or guard them with daggers.) It’s not about the thing; it’s about the feeling.
Certain foods will hit us deep in the feels. I make my grandmother's chocolate cookies every Christmas. When I make them, my inner story is all tangled up in them, “When I was little my grandmother made these cookies. When I eat them, I think of her and how much she loved me.”
Chocolate Christmas cookies = love.
The thing conveys the feeling. The story makes the connection. That’s why the cookies need to be my grandmother's homemade chocolate cookies. Not Oreos. Oreos don’t make me feel loved. But if you have an inner story about Oreos and how you used to dunk them in milk with your dad every Saturday afternoon, then Oreos might equal love for you. Everyone has a storyline. Marketers know this, and they want to connect with yours.
People Like Us
Marketing guru Seth Godin has an essay called “People Like Us Do Things Like This” [note] People like us (do things like this,) Seth Godin, 2017, https://seths.blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2017-people-like-us.pdf [/note] to explain who we listen to, what we buy, and why.
“We don’t make decisions in a vacuum, we base them on our perception of our cohort. So we buy a $700 baby stroller because we’re smart (or we don’t, because it’s stupid),” Godin writes. “Kim Kardashian might not know you exist, but if you define “people like us” as the group that she’s part of, then your decisions will be influenced by your perception of who you are and who she is and your invented connection. (Because it’s all invented.) All our decisions are invented. We’re not doing math. We’re making complicated decisions about how we treat people, about events in the future, about production and consumption. And all of our stories and identities are merely invented.”
Stories frame your beliefs. An example, “I shop at Wholefoods because I’m health conscious, and healthy people shop at Wholefoods.” Or, “I don’t shop at Wholefoods because I’m frugal and people like me shop at Safeway.”
The best brands know this. Coca-Cola Company doesn’t just sell Coke, because no matter how much money they spend on marketing, people like me don’t drink soda. Why not? It doesn’t fit my storyline about being health conscious. That’s why Coca-Cola also sells Smart Water, Zico coconut water and Honest Tea. Those products fit with my version of me. Coca-Cola Company can’t convince me to drink Coke, but coconut water might fit my storyline.
A good brand doesn’t change what you believe. It reinforces it. Which brings me to green brands and my dilemma.
A whole lot of brands claim to be “green” or “all natural.” But I can’t write about green brands without also writing about greenwashing. Google defines greenwashing as, “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.”
The Fear of Being Bamboozled
I believe it’s a big reason people don’t buy environmentally friendly products. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being fooled. Myself included. Which is why my philosophy has always been “trust but verify.” It’s part of why I started EarthyB. So I can help you find better products.
I like proof, certifications, pledges, and data, so I research. Big companies like H&M are rated by organizations like Greenpeace. The Environmental Working Group rates personal care products. I look for Sustainable Forestry Initiative certified paper products and B Corporations. But there’s no way for me to know if a company is truly sustainable.
No company is perfect. Honest Company comes to mind. In a world full of scammers I want to buy from an honest company. Are their products be perfect? Nope. The Honest Company has been sued several times. Co-Founder Jessica Alba has admitted to making mistakes.[note]Sarah Berger, "Jessica Alba felt 'so alone' in the early days of her company," CNBC, February 6, 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/06/jessica-alba-felt-so-alone-while-building-the-honest-company.html , accessed October 12, 2018[/note] But I still want Honest Company to succeed. I want to believe Jessica Alba is one of my people because the brand she created speaks to me. Which is why despite its imperfection, I still throw the Honest Company conditioner into my cart when I’m at the drug store.
Why Buy Earthy?
When I look at the brands I buy from; the fundamental question comes down to “does this brand fit with my storyline?” The one I tell myself about valuing nature, health and honesty. But the companies we buy from genuinly need to deliver on their promises and there are plenty of companies who already do. They're not greenwashing. So here’s the thing. When Coke realized they could only sell Coke to so many people, they didn’t sink more money into trying to convince more people to buy Coke. They changed what they offer to fit the non-Coke drinking storyline. Companies want to give you what you want. They want you to feel good about what you buy. So changing the world might be as simple as changing your mind.