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Tumi's Cheap Shot at Green Marketing

Posted by: Burth Helm on May 6, 2008

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Over at Seth’s Blog, Seth Godin gripes about a Tumi ad, pictured, that never explains why more luggage equals more trees, or acknowledges that manufacturing luggage likely cancels out the trees’ contribution to the environment. He writes:

“The easiest marketing promise to make is to say you’ll do something green if people consume what you sell. That you’ll support one green cause or another. No one is in charge of checking out your story, and my guess is that 90% of the time, it leads to a net negative—more landfill, more carbon, more waste.”

So I put in a call to Tumi. Why does buying Alpha Collection luggage “Help Plant 100,000 Trees”? The short answer: It doesn’t. Tumi donated $100,000 to a non-profit, American Forrest, which plants a tree for every $1 donated, a little while ago. There’s no link to current suitcase sales.

In all fairness, I’m glad Tumi is supporting the environment. Beyond this American Forrest donation, later this summer it also plans to donate 20% of the proceeds from a forthcoming messenger bag to Bicycle for a Day, actor Mathew Modine’s non-profit company.

But this “Go Green, Get Green” claim is cheap and misleading. Yes, one could — and a company representative did — argue that if no one bought anything from Tumi, the company couldn’t make donations like these. Um, OK. But designing a whole promotion around that tenuous truth and slapping it on the front page of the company website is exceedingly tacky.

As consumers grow more skeptical of environmental tie-ins, marketers will have to step it up. Godin, over on his blog, has suggestions. In my opinion, cashing in on Green means eschewing the one-day sale in favor of Patagonia or Method’s method - hewing day-in, day-out to a green brand promise.

Meanwhile, there’s another group of companies that could soon find itself in the hot seat over carbon emissions. That group includes Google. (Searchblog)

Reader Comments

meredith gossland

June 16, 2008 12:08 PM

I am all for truth in advertising and I recognize the problem of "green" lies in marketing...but here I think you picked on the wrong company and with very little reseach I think you could have uncovered the true abusers of "green" marketing! (Like oil companies or USA car manufacturers or supermarkets that sell "organic fruits" that have been shipped in gas guzzeling freighters from thousands of miles away.)
That said I'm glad some one is doing something to follow up on this but a more through investigation might be in order like selecting the top 20 abusers.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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