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business models, strategies and technologies

Rethinking perceptions of green

Green went from positive to propaganda pariah – “fashion of the month” usually shoots itself in the corporate foot

Redefining green as blue

For many years now, communication and marketing efforts have mindlessly enrolled the colour green for service as a symbol of environmental awareness and responsibility. So much so that it’s become a cliché, with its own derogative moniker – greenwash. The word and its symbolic meaning have become devalued by over-use and mis-use.
I can’t help thinking that the currently much-maligned Volkswagen long ago begat a stroke of near-genius in this context. They were able to capitalise on the entire positive intellectual capital associated with a “green” approach to technology – and the internal combustion engine, in particular – by simply redefining green as blue. And then effectively “patenting” the colour and its concrete, positive associations with the aid of the long-running Volkswagen “Think Blue” campaign (or mindset – whichever you consider more credible), its multiple BlueMotion technologies and the use of the word blue in numerous product contexts. “Think Blue, for a more efficient driving future,” in Wolfsburg-speak.
Volkswagen has thus defined green as blue, and made it Volkswagen’s proprietary colour. This seems a pretty clever marketing/PR move that effectively pulls the rug out from under the wheels of all the companies left floundering in the backwash of their lemming-like jumping onto the green bandwagon.

From cars to helicopters

According to Volkswagen, the “Think Blue” campaign is a natural evolution of the classic “Think Small” slogan, which the company used to launch the iconic Beetle in the US in 1959, and thus to successfully break the stranglehold of traditional American gas-guzzlers.
It’s interesting to note that Eurocopter (now re-badged as Airbus Helicopters) is following a similar colour path, with the Blue Edge™ double-swept rotor blade platform. Here, too, second-generation environmental responsibility is being equated with the colour blue. Perhaps one more indication that non-authentic green has outlived its useful shelf life.

Fashion goes out of fashion

This whole situation is also indicative of the inherent weakness of basing a strategy/profile on a “fashion-based” signal colour. How many companies have unimaginatively – perhaps even desperately – rolled the catch-all “green” word into their company name, or as integral part of their product nomenclature, only to find it can now become more of a millstone round their necks than a long-term marketing advantage?
OK, Coca-Cola has red, but we can’t all be corporate giants. It’s better to communicate what makes one’s own particular products environmentally OK than to adopt cheap camouflage whose terms and effectiveness are beyond our control.
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