From Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications VOL. 3 NO. 2
Corporate Use of Environmental Marketplace Advocacy: A Case Study of GE's 'Ecomagination' Campaign
IV. Recognizing Marketplace Advocacy
Marketplace advocacy is a controversial communications tool. It is beneficial to a corporation because it can successfully protect a company's image while changing the political and public atmosphere surrounding an issue. It is important, however, for stakeholders to be able to perceive a marketplace advocacy campaign because of the campaign's great persuasion ability. A study completed in 1996 on consumer's understanding of advocacy advertising found that the audience's understanding of an advocacy message was based on three perceptions, which included the individual's perception of the organization, the issue, and self (Haley, 1996). If the organization was recognizable, likable, and understood, then the viewer would be more likely to support the advocacy message. Also if the message personally related to the viewer, then it would be easily accepted. Lastly, if the issue was of importance to the viewer, then it was likely to be understood and contemplated by the viewer.
In the GE case study and through other corporations' uses of environmental marketplace advocacy, it is important to assess how environmentally-minded people will react to the campaign. Research has shown that a viewer's reaction to an environmentally-oriented message is drastically different between those who have an ecological-centered consciousness and those who are more anthropocentric (Cantrill & Chimovitz, 1993). Viewers who have more environmental concern are less susceptible to persuasion by environmental marketplace advocacy campaigns. These viewers are also likely to base their opinion of a corporation on the transparency and environmental concern they see being displayed by the corporation (Miller, 2012).
The ability to recognize environmental marketplace advocacy is a positive aspect for pro-environmental advocacy groups (Miller, 2012). In the case of GE, however, research showed that the corporation is both commended for its dedication to inventing new clean technologies and criticized for its continued investment in coal power plants and other nonrenewable energy sources. Personal preference and opinion may be the leading factor in an individual's choice of whether or not to support the corporation. The ability to discern marketplace advocacy is beneficial for individuals because they can learn not to take campaigns at face value, but to first research the company's motives and determine if the corporation is trying to cover up a larger issue.
Marketplace advocacy is a form of issue advocacy where corporations implement a campaign to impact the public's opinion and the political environment surrounding a specific topic or issue (Miller, 2012). Marketplace advocacy is unique because it involves an integrated approach by management to implement the campaign in every aspect of the corporation. Since marketplace advocacy is so powerful, the campaigns can be used for "good" or "bad" (Garfield, 2007). "Good" campaigns can be considered as transparent and implemented for the better wellbeing of the target audience. "Bad" campaigns are manipulative and cause the target audience to support a cause or idea that they are not fully educated on and that actually may worsen their well-being. Detailed research is needed on each individual marketplace advocacy campaign to understand if it is a "good" or "bad" campaign.
Through a case study of GE's "Ecomagination" campaign, one can perceive the tactics and dedication needed for a successful marketplace advocacy campaign. The campaign must be thoroughly implemented in all parts of the corporation and the public must be kept informed. GE's "Ecomagination 2010 Annual Report" stated that the public was kept engaged through the website, annual report, citizenship report and collaborative opportunities in communities. GE has also invested a large amount of resources in creation and distribution of print, online and televised advertisements, while also keeping the public engaged through social media. Every aspect of GE's "Ecomagination" campaign fits the criteria of a marketplace advocacy campaign.
GE is an interesting example of environmental marketplace advocacy, and the case study should be used as a model for other corporation's environmentally focused campaigns. It is important for the public to understand marketplace advocacy because of its successful persuasion techniques and its likelihood of covering a concern or serious issue. This is especially relevant to environmental issues because environmentdegrading companies commonly sponsor marketplace advocacy campaigns (Miller, 2010). Individuals should be aware of advocacy tactics and look for transparency in the messages.
Marketplace advocacy is an incredible communications and business strategy. It discovers an issue and forms a full campaign around the issue in order to alter the public's opinion and political environment. It penetrates deeply into a corporation's core so that all involved understand the importance of the campaign and can speak on its behalf. As an outcome, marketplace advocacy can allow corporations to change their business strategies in order to turn the political environment in their favor, increase revenue, protect their market and form a positive brand image. It is the corporation's final decision on whether to use this strategic tool for "good" or "bad."
The author would like to thank Professor Barbara Miller at Elon University for her inspiration and advice. The author is also thankful to Professor Vic Costello of Elon University for his supervision and help in revising this article for publication.
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