Modern Marketing Brand Purpose

Why Innocent wants better ‘greenwashing’ governance after ASA ban

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By Hannah Bowler | Journalist

April 28, 2022 | 7 min read

Innocent was the poster brand for ’greenwashing’ earlier this year when it found itself on the wrong side of an ad ban by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Its CMO tells us how this has been the catalyst for internal change while calling for clearer guidance on making sustainability claims.

The ASA called out Coca-Cola-owned drinks brand Innocent for ”misleading” consumers with an animated advert by Mother London. Titled ‘Little Drinks, Big Dreams‘, it featured characters singing a catchy tune about ‘fixing up‘ the world.

Innocent Drinks takes over London's Trafalgar Square

Innocent Drinks takes over London's Trafalgar Square

The ASA ruled that the ad implied “positive environmental impact” from purchasing Innocent‘s products, pointing out that that is ”not the case” due to its products coming in single-use plastic bottles.

The ruling was a blow for the company, which has for years espoused its environmental credentials in advertising work.

Innocent tells The Drum it has no plans to replace its single-use bottles, however, saying plastic remains “the best option“ for its drinks. It claims its plastic bottles are three times lower carbon than glass alternatives and are recyclable.

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The ban has brought about some changes, however, not least for former group marketing director Kirsty Hunter who has taken on an elevated role of chief marketing officer. It is the first time the brand has had a CMO and her remit means its marketing and sustainability teams will come together.

With that change, she wants to see clearer guidelines on ‘greenwashing‘, which she says would stop marketers from being paralyzed by the fear of being called out.

“Without having guidance and governance, it makes it very difficult for brands to make sustainability claims and the last thing we want to do is get into a situation where we take no action at all because we are all too nervous to do anything.”

Hunter calls on brands, NGOs, sustainability experts and the ASA to build a set of guidelines to work within. Guidance from CAP and the ASA does already exist though, the bodies having joint-published advice to advertisers to help them interpret environment-related advertising rules. The Competition Markets Authority also published its Green Claims Codes in September to help marketers comply with the law.

ASA/CAP advertising guidance

The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information.

Absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation. Comparative claims such as "greener" or "friendlier" can be justified.

Marketers must not suggest that their claims are universally accepted if a significant division of informed or scientific opinion exists.

Marketing communications must not mislead consumers about the environmental benefit that a product offers.

In seeming acknowledgment that brands like Innocent were still in the dark about greenwashing, The World Federation of Advertisers issued further guidance earlier this month on how brands can ensure environmental claims featured in their marketing communications are credible for both consumers and regulators.

Despite all this guidance, Hunter argues: “The context is constantly changing and there are different opinions around the [greenwashing] concept.

“Sustainability and climate change are complex topics and the science around them is changing so rapidly. This often means that, from a campaign sign-off to delivery, brands are at risk of pushing outdated information and facing backlash.“

Hunter says the ad ban highlights the need for a consistent set of standards around sustainability marketing, adding: “We are really keen to work with the ASA and also open that conversation up with other brands.”

Being called out for greenwashing doesn’t always have to be a bad thing for brands, according to Hunter. Often, she says, being held accountable can do good as it forces brands and businesses to work harder at substantiating their claims, which in turn makes it easier for consumers to get behind them.

The Big Rewild

Innocent has had to be more vigorous in the development and delivery of its latest environmental pledge, The Big Rewild, which launched this week (April 27). Its new policy commits it to becoming carbon neutral by 2025 by rewilding 2m hectors of land and growing and protecting 300 orchards around the UK.

To mark the start of its rewilding campaign, the brand has launched multiple European activations including installing 6,000 plants, flowers and trees in London’s Trafalgar Square, erecting out-of-home posters that soak up Co2 and reroofing bus shelters with grass and plants. “We want to raise the importance of giving places back to nature and looking after the land,” says Hunter.

For the Trafalgar Square activation, Innocent will also be distributing 3m seeds via plantable seed papers for members of the public to rewild their own areas. It has also netted environmentalist Ray Mears as an ambassador for the campaign.

Marketing and sustainability under one roof

While previous marketers have held similar posts, the brand carved out the new chief marketing role to reflect Hunter’s global remit and the inclusion of its public affairs and ‘Force for Good’ teams. Hunter also has a team of sustainability experts under her and requires her marketing function to have a working knowledge of sustainability and purpose before joining Innocent.

According to Innocent, bringing these departments under one roof gives targets and metrics to its purpose pledges. This thinking follows brands like Mars in introducing purpose measurement practices (senior leaders there are bonused against the delivery of its sustainability initiatives).

Hunter sees her role at Innocent as driving brand purpose and communicating that to consumers. “The job brands have to play is making a complex issue easier for consumers to understand and to take action and inspire greater change,” she says. “There are a lot of big headlines around greenwashing and misinformation making it a very confusing space and it’s our job to make that simpler for consumers.

“What brands are doing from a sustainability point of view is crucial, but the key thing is we are not here to preach. The important thing is what actions we are taking to substantiate our words.”

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