green shopping cart with plant

Consumers concerned with issues like sustainability, product reliability, truth in advertising and product labeling have a fight on their hands — advertisers are spending again. According to a recent report by The WorldWatch Institute, global ad expenditures rose 3.3% in 2012 to $497.3 billion. U.S. ad expenditures comprise a robust one-third of the global total – though the Asia Pacific region shows has ad growth rate almost 4% higher than the U.S.. The WorldWatch report also contains troubling info regarding the proliferation of advertising targeting children (ads in schools and on school supplies) and the negative impact ads can have on children’s self-image and dietary habits.

Ads still work
One “anti-consumer” ad campaign that worked was the effort to defeat California’s Prop 37, an initiative that would have required food companies to identify and label products made with GMOs, (genetically modified organisms). The proposition’s narrow defeat (53% to 47%) was heavily impacted by the $45 million ad campaign funded by a coalition that included GMO heavyweights Monsanto and Hershey’s, designed to mislead consumers into voting against their own self-interest. If a simple consumer-friendly labeling guideline like Prop 37 can be defeated in a “green” state like California such initiatives will be tough to implement elsewhere.

Pride and prejudice – or can I have that fried?
Side dish: another volley in the national food fight saw the state of Mississippi (the nation’s “fattest state”) pass an ‘anti-Bloomberg’ law prohibiting municipalities from instituting their own dietary guidelines.

New FTC labeling guidelines
On a somewhat more positive note — the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has instituted some revised green guidelines to discourage advertisers and manufacturers from using deceptive practices – including the use of vague, unsubstantiated, general terms like all-natural, green and eco-friendly – and has instituted stronger guidelines for the use of specific, measurable terms like “biodegradable” and “recyclable”. Marketers will still stretch the truth, but at least there’s now some accountability.

Look out for the hidden message
With traditional ad delivery systems like TV commercials, billboards and print ads appearing to be losing some impact, marketers are now shifting their focus to the web. More and more ad dollars are being spent on  both banner ads and subtle contextual messaging on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and on (and in) blogs like this one. Additional subliminal ad delivery systems include product placement, celebrity endorsements via swag and gift bag, and event sponsorships.

With all this marketing and advertising going on it’s a wonder we can avoid buying something every time we go out the door. Consumers concerned with preserving the earth, consuming less, and making wise purchasing decisions are still pretty much on their own. May due diligence and good common sense prevail.