Brand Marketing And The Anti-Growth Strategy

Thomson DawsonSeptember 30, 20134 min

How much is enough? This is a rather profound question to ask a marketer. After all, marketing is about demand creation – more products, more extensions, more features, more sales and more consumption.

It’s not in the marketer’s job description to be thinking too much about the implications and the effects of ever more growth and consumption. In most organizations, marketers are only rewarded for how well they meet the ever-higher expectation for quarterly guidance numbers. Marketing is about more not less!

Numbers everywhere are swelling — here’s a few you may find interesting:

By 2050, the UN estimates the population of human beings on the little blue marble we call home is estimated to be nearing 10 billion.  (Marketers take note that’s a 30% increase in market size!)

Today more people (roughly 4 billion) are living in the countries that comprise Asia than any and everywhere else on the planet. The population of Beijing alone is roughly 22 million people. Compare that to San Francisco at 3 million people. Getting around in your car in San Francisco is a nightmare; imagine driving one around in Beijing!  More and more people in China’s big cities can now afford to buy and drive cars, and they have the air quality to prove it.

Our GMO based food supply is producing more crop yield all over the world, and in more and more places where crops aren’t supposed to grow, yet at the same time, honey bees, essential for the survival of systems we depend on for our survival, are mysteriously dying. Everything is connected to everything else and it’s no different in business.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. We humans could be short-timers. How much growth and consumption of everything can the ecosystem we all depend on support? How much is enough?

A Brand Marketer’s Dilemma: Answering The Growth Question

Patagonia, marketer of premium price outdoor apparel, is one brand in particular asking itself this very question. And rightly so if they are to walk the talk of their do-no-harm-to-the-environment brand positioning.

Patagonia’s recent communication initiative “The Responsible Economy” suggests the cycle of purchase and discard in our consumerist culture is unsustainable – even for them. Consequently, the brand may come to represent a shift from environmental stewardship positioning to a “no-growth” positioning.

Perhaps this is a way to philosophically reconcile its 27 percent revenue growth rate over the last two years with its ecologically sensitive, environmental steward positioning. Seemingly one is always at the expense of the other. A dynamic tension that makes growth seems like the enemy of good. Patagonia’s leadership is thinking their fortunes may not be sustainable. Then again, the brand featured the above advertising that says, “Don’t buy this Jacket” and sales went up by a third. Is this nothing more than clever and astute marketing strategy?

For a closer look, here’s an excerpt from the Patagonia’s website page entitled “Becoming a Responsible Company”…

We can’t pose Patagonia as the model of a responsible company. We don’t do everything a responsible company can do, nor does anyone else we know. But we can tell you how we came to realize our environmental and social responsibilities, and then began to act on them. Like other things in human life, it began with one step that led to another”.

For this very reason Patagonia has grown to be a very successful and valuable brand with a rabid, loyal customer following all over the world! To its loyal tribe, Patagonia has no substitutes. We all know a category of one brand is as good as it gets for marketers.

When it comes to being a big, moneymaking business, one can naturally become a little cynical about a motive of clever marketing – especially when it may fuel Patagonia’s stated $575 million in revenue in fiscal 2013.

The Paradox Of Success

More products, more growth, more success, more consumption, more and more in a world of decreasing resources creates a disturbing paradox for marketers in consumerist societies.

It’s fascinating to note that green, sustainable recycled goods (even from the likes of Patagonia) will still consume non-renewable material resources to manufacture. How much is enough growth? What are the trade-offs between economic growth and environmental decline?  The answers may not be as simple as curbing growth and making less stuff.

Patagonia’s market leadership and its own provocative introspection into their own contribution to the problem sets a high-minded example for all consumer brands to follow.

If you are a mass consumer brand, like it or not, your enterprise is fully participating in the global industrial economy. And that means your enterprise is consuming ever more energy, water, clean air and other material resources to meet the increased demand of a growing consumer driven global population.

The paradox remains for us to ponder. For the sake of more growth and success, we may be consuming the seeds of our very survival. How much is enough?

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Thomson Dawson


  • John Cameron

    October 6, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    Growth doesn’t necessarily mean the environment is harmed. Having said that the 2nd and 3rd world countries will likely be hard on the environment as they grow their economies.

    It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but in the long run I think we’re collectively smarter than we give ourselves credit for.

  • Matt

    October 7, 2013 at 8:08 am

    I would think marketing people would understand the concept of artificial scarcity. By suppressing technological advances and rallying around the mantra of “finite resources”, those who engage in these activities and messaging gain both market control and social control. They tell us to get used to living in dirt “for the planet” while they laugh all the way to the bank. Go ahead, Patagonia…if you are actually being authentic about the “sustainability” thing. You don’t understand reality, and your brand will suffer.

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