I don’t know what to make of this story How hybrids took over Hollywood which claims that the Toyota Prius is only the hybrid car of choice among A list celebrities because of the actions of the Environmental Media Association.
The well-connected, non-profit organisation claims a global remit to “educate people about environmental issues and inspire them into action” – with a key strategy of using the influence of “the entire entertainment community.”
But the Fortune magazine story has been picked up as showing the “secret” power of the EMA and Toyota’s “marketing machine“. Is this just a good relationship building strategy to raise the profile and understanding of celebrities about the company’s vehicles? Or are celebrities actually so easily bought and influenced?
UK reports were that Toyota was surprised by the popularity of the Prius. My own impression was that celebrities were keen for the positive “green” associations of driving the car. Somehow, the popularity of the Prius with the likes of Leonardo Dicaprio and Julia Roberts seems a little less genuine or credible if it has been manipulated by EMA.
Is that fair? It is not unusual for motor industry PR practitioners to work with celebrities by offering loan vehicles, roadtests, or discount deals. Does anyone actually believe celebrities are really concerned about the environment just because they drive hybrids and carbon offset their extravagant globe-trotting lifestyles?
Undoubtedly public recognition of the Prius has been enhanced by the celebrity links – but it has to stand ultimately on its own environmental and motoring credentials.
Having worked for Toyota myself in the 1990s, I believe the company is committed to its environmental values (with a strategy of a full hybrid fleet by 2020). However, a negative impression is being created by some of the marketing activities, such as the criticised adverts for the Lexus RX400 hybrid.
“Green is green as in the color of money,” said Judy Hu, global executive director of advertising and branding at General Electric. “It is about a business opportunity, and we believe we can increase our revenue behind these Ecomagination products and services.”
When marketing, and presumably many CEOs, simply equate green with gullible and see the environment only in terms of the immediate bottom line, we cannot be surprised when all companies are criticised.
Personally, I believe that true, value-driven, commitment to communicating the environmental credentials and responsibilities of a company – without the usual marketing manipulation and hyperbole – is necessary to avoid a cynical public backlash.