Monday, April 14, 2008

Half-baked goodness?

I saw a new TV spot for SunChips yesterday. It has the look of one of those corporate, earth-friendly ads, the kind we’ve seen from Chevron, GE, Subaru and others. The spot ends with the voiceover, “Now SunChips from California are made with solar energy.”

My first reaction was positive. Of course SunChips should be made using solar energy! It’s totally right for them, completely on-brand. Nicely done.

Then I did some investigating.

Watching the TV spot again, via the SunChips website, I caught that voiceover. “Now SunChips from California are made with solar energy.” What’s with the “from California” part?

One of the print ads is a bit more specific. “As of April 22nd, one of our plants is using solar energy to help make SunChips snacks.” Ah, so one plant is using solar energy. Out of how many plants?

The website offers this additional detail:

“Have you ever had an idea that seemed like such a good idea, such a bright idea, that you couldn't believe you hadn't thought of it before? For us, that idea was using solar power. Seems obvious, doesn't it? We make SunChips® snacks, after all. So we've started using solar energy instead of fossil fuel to help make SunChips® in our plant in Modesto, California. And although Modesto is only one of the eight plants we use to make SunChips® snacks, for us it's a small step in the right direction.”

OK, so one plant out of eight. My guess is “from California” is a mandate from the legal department, a reference to the Modesto plant.

My problem with all of this is that I get the sense SunChips is trying to get more credit than they deserve.** No, that’s not right either. It’s that this advertising claims more than is necessary. I agree that it’s a small step in the right direction for them to use green energy in manufacturing their product. But why make a vaguely inflated claim about it? (Or in the case of that print ad, tout a claim and then diminish it one line of copy later.)

It’s a real disappointment when the more you learn more about something, the less you like it. And this is exactly the sort of thing that leads consumers to distrust advertisers.

What would have saved this for me is a statement about plans for further employment of eco-friendly energy sources, something like “We’re committed to being 70% fossil-fuel-free by 2010.”

More companies should employ green energy. We’ve pretty much all come to accept this as fact. Perhaps years from now, we’ll look back and see SunChips as one that helped lead the charge.

Unfortunately, I now see them as a brand that’s promising big and delivering comparably little—but the problem isn’t in what they’ve delivered, but in what they’ve promised.

* According to a New York Times article from last month, the solar farm at the Modesto plant provides “up to 75 percent of the energy needed to produce the product.”

** Thankfully, while there are numerous examples of advertisers that spent more telling the public about their noble activities than was spent on the activities themselves, this does not seem to be the case with SunChips, whose financial outlay for the solar farm exceeds their campaign spend.

See the SunChips ad campaign elements here and here, and possibly here (note the accusations of fakery in the comments section).


Anonymous said...

Give 'em some credit man... I like my sunchips.

Mark Hall said...

And you should, Anonymous.

I think SunChips’ move to “greener” production processes is great, and I applaud them for it. But in order for me to buy that it’s a “small step” toward something better, they need to be clear about what this “something better” vision is.

I failed to mention that, as a part of PepsiCo’s larger initiative, SunChips purchases renewable energy certificates to match 100% of the electricity required for their U.S. production. (Electricity being one of several energy sources used to produce SunChips.)

So their eco-efforts are impressive, but if our takeaway from the TV spot is “SunChips are earth-friendly because they’re made with [100%] solar energy,” we’re misinformed. And the spot itself has led to that misinformation.

I’m simply saying they’re being careless and implying more than they should, given the facts. And it’s unfortunate because the facts tell a very nice story.

Thanks for the comment!

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