Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: Behind the Ethical Rhetoric

Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: Behind the Ethical Rhetoric

Article excerpt

Supermarkets promoting their CSR policies must ensure that the reality matches their claims.

Marks & Spencer set the green agenda for retailers early last year with the launch of its five-year eco programme, 'Plan A'. Now, Morrisons has become the second major retailer to hitch itself to the environmental bandwagon with its first consumer-facing corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, called 'Today' (Marketing, 14 May).

The Morrisons work is intended to communicate its ethical stance in a 'down-to-earth' way, using everyday examples to illustrate its eco credentials. According to the supermarket's group marketing and communications director, Angus McIver, consumers are keen for retailers to communicate their CSR credentials. 'We have been working on CSR for several years but have never told anyone about it,' he says. 'We needed a vehicle to voice our activity.'

Creating a brand to promote an environmental plan can be a powerful strategy, says Nick Gray, managing director at retail marketing agency Live & Breathe. 'It is effective for retailers to brand their eco programmes as long as consumers demand it,' he adds.

Moreover, the retail industry is better placed than the government to lead the climate-change movement because of its in-store environment, according to Stephen Robertson, director-general of the British Retail Consortium (BRC). 'Not even the government can claim to have such a unique and wide relationship with Britain,' he said, speaking last month at the launch of an industry climate-change pledge aimed at helping the retail industry reduce the environmental impact of its businesses.

However, Nick Murray-Leslie, director of financial markets at Chatsworth Communications, warns that showing off green credentials is not without risk. 'Brands with the most-publicised sustainability campaigns are also thought of as greenwashers,' he says.

Nonetheless, M&S recently retained the 'green crown' in the 2008 Chatsworth FTSE 100 green survey for setting out its targets in Plan A, rather than attempting to boost its credentials through promotional activity that gains maximum coverage but has little substance.

The UK's biggest supermarket, Tesco, has invested heavily in advertising its green attributes but says it has no plans to brand its strategy. 'We will continue to advertise our CSR commitments, but we are not giving the activity a name,' said a spokeswoman for the retailer.

Last year, the supermarket ran TV ads to promote its Green Clubcard scheme, which offers users points in return for buying and using eco friendly products. It is also about to launch an ad campaign to promote its sponsorship of Cancer Research UK's Race for Life, which it is promoting in-store. …

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