No S***! 4 Tips for Marketing Gross Green Things
By Alison Klein | July 22, 2015
The things that we’re not “supposed” to talk about are laughably dependent on context. Take, for instance, my short stint as a sorority girl during which advisors warned us to avoid conversing about any of the five Bs during recruitment: Bitches (gossip), Boys, ‘Bama (Politics), Bucks (Money) and Booze (Partying).
Happily, I’m no longer confined by Greek letters, but there are still plenty of topics that much of polite society would prefer none of us openly discuss:
- Expiration (Death)
- [Insert your favorite impolite topic here]
As individuals we get to choose for ourselves whether we shun the ‘tions, but those marketing certain sustainable products and practices don’t have that luxury. Below, I’ve broken out four lessons we can learn from the brave souls successfully advocating sustainable practices around the most taboo topics.
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1. You don’t have to get super-scientific with the various “excreta”
NPR knows what’s up – the article “Should We Return The Nutrients In Our Pee Back To The Farm?” makes the question more comfortable and approachable by using the moniker “pee” in place of the sterile, unapproachable “urine” (Sorry, pun intended.).
The article describes the process and possibilities for turning pee into fertilizer, referring to “No. 1 and No. 2” and using another friendly term I’m especially enamored with: “pee-cycling.”
Britain’s Bio Bus uses a similar technique. The side of the bus reads “The GENeco Bio-Bus is powered by your waste for a sustainable future.” The bus is colloquially called the “poo bus,” which is considerably more charming than some alternatives.
I can’t find the words “defecation” or “feces” anywhere on GENeco’s site. Instead, I see information on “food waste recycling” and using “the solid digestate.” All in all, it’s a pretty nice [and not gross] way to talk about shit.
2. But still tell it like it is
While monikers can help make ideas more initially palatable, it’s important to be very upfront – and unafraid – of stating exactly what you do.
One fabulous example of brazen honesty can be found on the FAQ section of the Urban Death Project website. The questions are reflective of what your average Joe actually wants to know when he hears about the project, and the answers are honest and unapologetic.
My favorite of the FAQ questions is probably the pointed What, exactly, is being proposed for the Urban Death Project? and the similarly direct answer:
“The Urban Death Project (UDP) utilizes the process of composting to safely and gently turn our deceased into soil-building material, creating a meaningful, equitable, and ecological urban alternative to existing options for the disposal of the dead. The project is a solution to the overcrowding of city cemeteries, a sustainable method of disposing of our dead, and a new ritual for laying our loved ones to rest.”
This answer gets to the point and “tells it like it is,” but it also adds in reasoning and motivation. It mixes the sustainability message right in with the explanation so that rather than being skeeved out by the suggestion, readers can understand it within its larger context and purpose.
The other questions and answers in the FAQ section are similarly direct. Among them are Is it safe to compost bodies?, Does the process smell bad? and Will the compost created by the Urban Death Project system be used to grow food?. The “Digging Deeper” section even answers the most obvious question: How will you overcome the stigma of ‘dead bodies in my yard’?.
If you click anything on this page, click here to read the answer – the balance of deference, respect and logic is pure artistry.
3. Give people the info they need to confidently adopt new behaviors
Fellow B Corp Lunapads sells “reusable menstrual alternatives to disposable pads and tampons.” Instead of simply serving as a retailer though, the company has amassed and curated valuable information on the products they carry to help potential customers embrace what is, for many, an unfamiliar and rather icky concept.
For each product, the site offers advice on how to choose the best option and a truly robust set of FAQs. They tackle the basics like Why switch? and How much money will I save? They tackle the slightly more taboo questions like What if I have a heavy flow? and they tackle the more obscure questions like Can I use the DivaCup if I have an IUD?.
The site also sells and explains accessory-type products that make the switch to reusable menstrual products more successful. These products include Peri bottles, various carrying cases, cleaning products and Wysi Wipes. Highly informative reviews accompany the product listings and provide additional insight to potential users.
By digging deep on these taboo topics, Lunapads puts customers in a place where they have the know-how to make the switch and the confidence that they can do so without any surprises. (Surprises are bad when it comes to feminine hygiene. Trust me.)
4. Try to accommodate different levels of daring
I first ran across the idea of “family cloth” (another friendly moniker) when I was writing about our Day Without Waste. Essentially, it’s cloth that you use to wipe in the bathroom. And then you wash it. And then you reuse it.
This idea is totally revolting to many. Even though proper cleaning sanitizes the wipes and established techniques mitigate odor, people have a really hard time getting over it. It’s just gross.
I was unable to find family cloth offered commercially except in the aptly named FamilyClothWipes store on Etsy (#BCorp <3!), but input from different eco-advocates teaches us that those marketing gross things should do their best to accommodate different levels of daring.
Some bloggers have recommended that multi-family homes use different colored cloths and receptacles for different family members so that instead of re-using someone else’s sanitized cloth, you’re using your own. That’s definitely less gross.
Others suggest that new users start by using family cloth only for number one and revert to regular toilet paper for number two until they’re more comfortable with the idea. Another way to reduce the yuck factor is to use the cloths in conjunction with a bidet.
By suggesting these alternative approaches, advocates are working with consumers’ existing feelings. They’re acknowledging natural hang ups and working past them instead of dismissing them as unfounded.
Marketers can learn a lot from this approach when they’re trying to sell sustainable products or approaches with a bit of an ick factor. You can’t expect people to take a leap of faith and join you and all your family-cloth-using friends, but by offering different levels of commitment you give people an entryway into the new way of life so they can slowly get past their hang ups. If they never move past phase one, that’s okay too – there are still more people acting more sustainably, so it’s a win.
If you’re still reading, you have a strong stomach! Jokes aside, I hope I’ve given you some useful tactics that you can use when communicating about taboo topics. The more we can encourage consumers to entertain alternative ideas, even around topics we generally don’t discuss, the more ways we can help them live healthier and less wasteful lives.
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