Amazon, Just Say No to Earth Day Marketing

Every holiday or cultural event now is embraced as a marketing opportunity. But brands risk being seen as inauthentic or hypocritical if all they do is talk and don't walk the walk.

Amazon, Just Say No to Earth Day Marketing
  • Near Media conducted three surveys to understand consumer reactions to Amazon Earth Day promotions.
  • People were neutral-to-positive about Earth Day promotions generally, but Amazon's name drew more negative responses.
  • Companies should be more thoughtful about trying to piggyback on national holidays and celebrations or they may risk blowback.  

Amazon should definitely think twice, no three times, about its Earth Day promotions. For that matter, every business should think carefully about all special-event promotions and whether the company values align with the event. If not, the campaign may have the opposite of its intended effect, and be perceived as hypocrisy.

When I recently received an Earth Day email from Amazon, attempting to sell me "more-sustainable products," it just struck me as wrong. How could buying more stuff, that is all too often disposable, be good for the Earth? Even if the product in question is more "sustainable" how could it truly be Earth friendly?

I wondered whether I was a lone cynic who thought Amazon's promotion was more damaging than helpful, more insulting than useful. I wondered how others might react. Would Amazon be seen as a better brand because of its ostensible support for Earth Day? Or would this sort of hypocritical marketing only damage their brand?

To answer these questions, I did what any good marketer would do. Instead of buying stuff, I expended server cycles on asking others what they thought. Between April 27 and May 2nd, Near Media conducted three consumer surveys (n=~500), to understand what people thought about Earth Day promotions in general and Amazon Earth Day promotions in particular.

Survey #1: What Do You Think?

Survey #1 was a single, open-ended question where we showed the ad and asked "When you see ads like this you think... " It allowed users to define their own terms and featured a rough scale so I would have a baseline of general consumer sentiment.

I scored each answer on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being very negative and 5 being very positive. Slightly more than a third of responses were neutral, 39% were favorable and just under 25% had a negative or very negative response.

When you see ads like this you think...

1 = Very Negative, 2 = Negative, 3 = Neutral, 4 = Positive, 5 = Very Positive Responses

Sample responses to the open ended question:

  • Very Positive
    ** Great way to make awareness
    ** Ways to keep Earth clean and a healthy place
    ** This is good for the environment
  • Positive
    ** I'll browse - why not?
    ** Sort of interested
    ** It's ok , I can know what is available on market
  • Neutral
    ** Kinda nutuel (sic) about it.
    ** Nothing
  • Negative
    ** Ugh, not another one!
    ** I dont like ad.
  • Very Negative
    ** Propaganda
    ** That if they made products to last that sustainability would be less of an issue.

Survey #2: Neutral to Positive

Survey #2 asked, "On a scale of 1 to 7, when you see Earth Day ads you think..." Here, 1 was "obnoxious & manipulative," 7  was "good & helpful." The goal was to force users to an extreme if they had any opinion at all, and do so without focusing on Amazon.

On a scale of 1 to 7 when you see Earth Day ads you think...

1 = Obnoxious & manipulative 4= neutral and 7 = Good and Helpful

Almost 28% saw the Earth Day ads as obnoxious and manipulative, 25% were neutral and almost 46% saw them in a positive light. While most folks were either neutral or positive, a meaningful percentage (28%) had a strong negative response to these sorts of Earth Day ads.

Next we threw Amazon more explicitly into the survey mix.

Survey #3: Reacting to 'Amazon'

The goal of survey #3 was to see if Amazon results were more or less negative than the general results.

The survey asked, "When Amazon promotes their products as earth friendly on Earth Day, does that make you more or less likely to shop with them?" This question also used a 1 to 7 point scale, where 1 was "much less likely" and 7 was "much more likely."

When Amazon promotes their products as Earth friendly on Earth Day, does that make you more or less likely to shop with them?

When "Amazon" appears in the question as well as "intention to shop," negatives climb and positives drop. Those "less likely" to shop hits 32.5% and those "more likely" drops to 33.5% -- a statistical draw.

Amazon, Just Say No

It not entirely clear whether the increase in negative responses in survey #3 are due to including Amazon's name or because the question was "softer." Regardless, it's clear that Amazon shouldn't be creating campaigns around Earth Day if it irritates between a quarter and a third of its customers.

Of course, marketing is full of contradictions. Just the act of engaging people's emotions to get them to buy more stuff is fraught with issues. But when a company connects its marketing to important cultural events or holidays, the contradictions become starker and harder for a brand to manage without potential blowback.

This applies to many brands and celebrations beyond Earth Day. All brands should think more carefully about their automatic impulse to piggyback on celebrations from MLK Day to Women's History Month.

Before attempting to leverage some of the more emotionally valenced holidays and celebrations, brands should make sure they're not just talking about the values represented by the holiday or celebration, but embodying those values – and have done so over time. Patagonia is a brand that passes this test with Earth Day.

We live in a culture where excessive consumption is the norm. We also live in a culture where any celebration or event is inevitably turned into a marketing opportunity. But just because marketers can make any celebration into a marketing event doesn't mean they should. Amazon and Earth Day is an example where they should have just said no.