Last week was Earth week. As part of its attempt to celebrate Earth week and attract consumers to its brands, Universal held its annual promotion Green is Universal. On the surface it seems kind of great that a brand is embracing the values of its consumers and trying to make a difference. However, when one digs a little deeper, it turns out to be a nice case of Greenwashing. Last year, the week after the big green promotion, the Today Show held it’s annual Where in the World is Matt Lauer promotion where Matt jets all over the world in an attempt to log a lot of miles and go to strange, exotic places.  Using all that jet fuel isn’t exactly green, is it?

Another example can be found in today’s New York Times. More as more hotels are becoming pet friendly.  Again, it sounds like a great example of how brands are paying attention to the values and desires of their consumers and acting accordingly.  There’s a catch, however, as many of these hotels have placed size restrictions on the pets allowed in the room, meaning that they’re selectively pet friendly.  

There’s a bigger lesson here than not greenwashing or making sure big dogs can get into a hotel. While you could argue that consumers are smarter than ever, it’s as valid and potentially more apt to say that consumers are louder than ever. If your brand makes promises it can’t or doesn’t live up to, consumers have more tools than ever to make their complaints heard. A small number can cause a stir and have it reach national proportions, remember the Motrin/baby wearing ad controversy?

While consumer values-friendly programs are great, they likely warrant a little research to determine a) how far they should reach, and b) how much backlash they could create should a small, yet determined group of consumers find flaws they deem to be serious in the plan. This is a case where half-steps toward consumers’ desires may do more harm than good.