04.23.19

A Marketing Case Study: Earth Day 50 Years Later

KARL R. LAPAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE NIIC


Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

World Earth Day is Monday, April 22. Each year, the world’s largest environmental movement unites people from nearly 200 countries. According to the Earth Day organization, “Earth Day broadens the base of support for environmental programs, rekindles public commitment and builds community activism around the world through a broad range of events and activities.”

While I am not debating the efficacy of this movement or its political underpinnings, I am using this example as a good case study for the power of cause marketing. To understand its success, consider the backdrop of the late 1960s. When anti-war activist John McConnell proposed the day of recognition and action in 1969, Americans were just starting to embrace environmentalism for the first time. It’s no coincidence that a 1971 “Keep America Beautiful” ad took off, which further advanced the ideas behind conservation into the public sphere.

The timing for this movement was fortuitous. With much of the country was divided over the Vietnam War, Americans needed something to bring them together. Earth Day, a non-partisan cause, served that purpose. Republicans, Democrats, city dwellers, rural residents, and the rich and poor alike were drawn to the message. It worked. There was something for everybody.

Earth Day also proved to be convenient for environmental groups to advocate and align with – whether curbing emissions, cleaning up waterways or advocating for less dependence on oil, organizations found that Earth Day fit their ethos—and they capitalized on it.

So, the lesson here? Earth Day resonated with people because it was broad but specific at the same time. The idea behind Earth Day is inspirational and inclusive, and that’s why it has staying power. Earth Day is now a global event each year, and the organization believes that more than a billion people and organizations in 192 countries now take part in various activities.

This now-50 year campaign has stood the test of time because of the way it was created, packaged, and sold. Organization of all types can learn a lesson or two from the Earth Day movement. Key lessons learned:

Evolve with the times. While clean water was and is essential, the original organizers likely did not imagine a time with electric cars.
As the attitudes and needs of consumers change, so should brands. Earth Day has found a way to keep people engaged even as times and technology change.

So regardless of whether your brand is “green” or not, how can you find a way to draw people in to a movement that inspires and is inclusive?

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