coca cola plastic litter

A growing list of brands – Persil, Innocent Drinks, Oatly, H&M, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, VW and BP – have been on the sharp end of new legislation designed to tackle disingenuous ‘green’ advertising and communication campaigns. The move by the ASA and competition watchdog CMA followed investigations last year that discovered 40% of green claims made online could be misleading.

It means brands must think twice before describing themselves as planet or eco-friendly. The Persil ban in August, which saw the brand rapped for its ‘kinder to the planet’ phrasing, goes to show the danger of broad terms. 

At the same time, fmcg brands are desperate to portray themselves in a more positive light as they seek to tap into a growing shift in consumer values. Research from Hall & Partners’ inaugural Conscious Brand 100 Index revealed brands that are perceived as being eco-friendly, sustainable and genuinely conscientious are more likely to deliver stronger business performance and be considered by consumers.

It can be hard to get the messaging right when consumer attitudes and values are shifting. Our research finds three quarters (77%) of UK consumers simply don’t understand what brands mean when they talk about sustainability. Furthermore, when asked about how genuine they thought brands were, 81% said they didn’t trust them when talking about sustainability and environmental goals, while only 4% said they ‘completely trusted them’.

The challenge facing fmcg brands is how to effectively communicate their green credentials in a way that is perceived by consumers to be genuine and authentic. Being seen to be sustainable is an important part of this. The trouble is, it can often mean different things to different people.

Sustainability is a complicated and far-reaching concept for brands to align themselves with, and one that most people tend to associate solely with environmental issues. That so many have fallen foul of the ASA’s new rules shows brands are clearly struggling to get it right.

As consumers place greater emphasis on values such as social equality, authentic activism, diversity and inclusivity, we need to look at the bigger picture – one that shows how brands are becoming increasingly aware of their wider environment, while meeting consumer needs.

Providing the right research tools for fmcg brands to thoroughly test and measure their creative campaigns will help ensure they deliver the right message, to the right people at the right time. Brands need to work out their distinctive offer in a way that allows it to be perceived by consumers as being authentic, rather than exaggerated or misleading.

Such research should be carried out through a multi-dimensional conscious lens that doesn’t rely on singular measures, such as sustainability goals, but instead encompasses a greater far-reaching view of how brands need to operate in the modern world – both on a personal and planetary level.

Brands need to be kinder to themselves by staying true to their brand values. A clear strategy that combines specific sustainability goals with insights obtained from wider research will keep them clean.

Advertising campaigns that do this, and are measurable and consistent, are more likely to be perceived as being real and avoid being labelled as ‘greenwashing’.