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'Green media' is a can of worms // Knewz - interesting idea, stupid name

27 Aug 2019  |  Dominic Mills 
'Green media' is a can of worms // Knewz - interesting idea, stupid name

A carbon neutral marketing plan is a well-meaning but ultimately flawed idea, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: News Corp takes aim at Google and Facebook with a terribly named app

As Extinction Rebellion and fellow climate-change activists galvanise the industry’s collective conscience, momentum builds.

Last week, Ovo Energy has become one of the first brands to plant a flag for the concept of ‘green media’.

You can read a long interview with its recently arrived marketing director, Sarah Booth, here in Marketing Week.

Alternatively, you can take the shorthand version from me, the gist of which is that she wants to make Ovo’s marketing efforts carbon-neutral, starting with media choice.

Woah there. This is potentially a big deal. Ovo itself is a green energy supplier so understandably it needs to be seen to walk the talk. It is also in a competitive set where rival green energy suppliers, like Shell Energy (formerly First Utility) and Octopus are piling into the market. We can assume therefore that its actual and potential customer base cares about this sort of thing, even if for most the concept of green marketing will pass them by.

But such is the prevailing mood that any brand, regardless of sector, will at some point feel the need to burnish/extol its green marketing credentials, so where Ovo is leading others could follow. Why, for example, does Unilever not extend its sustainability mission into marketing?

I confess to being torn on this. Part of me thinks this is a gimmick. Of all the climate-harming activities advertisers undertake, marketing and advertising is pretty low on the list. And greening your marketing is a pretty easy target — low-hanging fruit, to use a tried-and-trusted business analogy — to hit. You look good (and feel good too, an emotion amongst marketers not to be underestimated) but make bugger-all difference in the wider scheme of things.

On the other hand, fighting climate change is such a massive challenge that you have to start somewhere. Millions of individuals or organisations doing small things can collectively make a difference. To borrow from Tesco, ‘Every little helps’, even if it includes, as in Ovo’s case, forgoing something as innocuous as door drops.

So what exactly does an Ovo-style green media plan look like? Gone are door drops and, presumably, direct mail. Print is unclear, although somewhat bizarrely Ovo talks of offsetting earned print coverage. This suggests then that it will drop paid-for print and hope that press coverage will make up for it.

Out go classic paper-and-paste OOH sites in favour of digital OOH powered by renewable energy. But there’s no specific mention of TV or VOD or anything on social.

Hmm. The whole thing is beginning to look vague and half-baked. It is as if Ovo’s marketing team got so excited about the idea they forgot to think about the details.

For example, why is a paper-and-paste OOH site less climate friendly than a digital one? Is it the carbon footprint of print, or the back-lighting, or both? If it’s the back-lighting, why not use renewable energy for that? Thinking about DOOH, assuming a roster of six advertisers on the scroll, does Ovo just insist on renewable power for its share of the scroll?

Then there’s the production cost. A static OOH ad arguably has a lower production cost than a DOOH ad with video. The same goes for anything in print, such as door drops or mail, all of which also use paper that is already recycled and will be again.

See — it’s already complicated, and we haven’t even got to thinking about devices powered by electricity — laptop, radio, TV, phone, tablet — where, from what I can tell, the bulk of Ovo’s media budget is likely to go. Some of those households will be using green energy, but the vast majority won’t.

So how the hell does Ovo deal with that? Or, unlike print and OOH where it can exert some control over energy use by a media owner at the point of production or consumption, does it just not bother with electronic media at the household level? How, for example, could ITV or C4 (or Facebook or Google, for that matter) calculate the carbon footprint of an Ovo campaign on their platforms?

So what we have is something that looks like a good and interesting idea but which, when you unpick it, proves to be a can of worms.

Nevertheless, there is a kernel of possibility amongst the worms. Advertisers could insist (politely request might be more like it) that any media owner who wants their budget should offset any carbon footprint linked to their particular spend.

That will thrill hard-pressed media owners, not to mention making life hell for media buyers.

Gimmick is my considered verdict therefore. This is not as green as it looks. But that won’t stop other marketers from climbing aboard this particular bandwagon.

Interesting idea, stupid kname

Knews that Knews Corp is to launch an industry-wide news aggregation app to take the fight to its twin knemeses, Google and Facebook, seems to have been buried amongst the late-August detritus.

You can read more detail about it here and here. Since the story broke in the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal we can be pretty confident of its provenance.

Let’s get the kname thing out of the way. The app is called Knewz, and it even has a currently dormant domain. The kname feels like it was dreamt up after an all-knight brainstorm fuelled by pizza and possibly other substances. It is, sadly, an invitation to ridicule, but you will be relieved that I’ve bored myself with the joke know (sorry).

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s a bad idea. News Corp has long railed against the way Google and Facebook have eaten publishers' lunches. It’s not just a tribal thing, but a visceral, highly personal battle. All news publishers feel the same, but News Corp’s hostility is the most vocal.

There may also be a political element to this, insofar as people believe the twins favour left-leaning publishers and stories over those from the other end of the spectrum, of which News Corp would be one, as well as those whose content is free over those publishers with a paywall or a subscription offering (News Corp again).

It will also, it says, favour quality and original journalism.

Nevertheless, publishers will welcome any decent alternative to the twins especially if, as the stories suggest, Knewz will not take a cut of any advertising revenues.

What publisher wouldn’t take a zero-risk chance on that? The trick will be finding the readers.

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01 Jul 2020 

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