Fast Company

Sustainability: The Green Age of Advertising

While reading through The New York Times on Monday, I came across a giant blue ad proclaiming "It took 125 years to use the first trillion barrels of oil. We'll use the next trillion in 30." More blue boxes showed up on subsequent pages with equally dire facts. There was no indication of who placed the ads until finally a few pages later there appeared a full two-page spread for Chevron's new "Power of Human Energy" campaign. Even more blue boxes followed, this time with the Chevron logo and slogans like "We've increased the energy efficiency of our own operations by 27 percent since 1992."

It's a neat advertising trick that the Chevron logo is not in any way associated with the problems of oil consumption, but is part of the solutions. I'm not really sure I fully understand the point of the campaign -- something about people joining together to find the solution to the global energy crisis. There's not really a clear link as to how Chevron fits into that process either.

Apparently Chevron has been running environmental ads for about two years under a different campaign name, although I don't really recall seeing them. I'm much more familiar with GE's Ecomagination ads, which launched at about the same time. GE's out-of-the-box strategy for fixing the world's energy problems: imagination. In some ways it's even more out there than Chevron's idea of "human energy," yet in some ways it makes sense. Clean energy on a massive scale still only exists in our imaginations anyway.

The two companies also take a very different approach in the types of ads they run. Chevron's print ads are full of graphics, maps and charts, bombarding the reader with as much information as possible. In contrast, the latest GE print ads center on a single graphic with text relating to one idea. The Chevron ads are much busier and, in my opinion, more likely to be skipped over when they appear in a magazine or newspaper.

The TV ads of the two companies follow a similar pattern. The Chevron commercial that launched the "Human Energy" campaign clocks in at two and a half minutes -- that's insanely long for a single TV spot. (The other TV ads are a more normal length, however.) It's very intellectual and serious, with a voiceover throughout. The latest GE commercials, on the other hand, are more playful with upbeat music throughout and a voiceover only at the very end. I'm much more likely to remember what happened in GE's commercials than the Chevron ads, although I don't know that I'll recall the message at the end. At the same time, Chevron's serious tone doesn't necessarily make them any more believable. It's hard to see any huge energy conglomerate as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

What do you think of GE and Chevron's green advertising?

My favorite ad, however, is still GE's "Model Miners" commercial. It was apparently taken off the air because the mining community found it offensive, but you can still find it on YouTube:

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