Red Over Green

5 10 2010

There are companies for whom being green is a way of life. It’s never a question of paper or plastic, but rather something can be reused. Nothing artificial. Price is not the issue; it’s all about the environment.

And then there are companies who put on the green mask as a charade, window dressing intended to convey a message without necessarily believing it. Put the recycling dumpsters out front because it looks good, but keep on selling all the same old polluting stuff. Certain customers will wax poetic over the green hue, even if it is all smoke and mirrors (all-natural and organic, of course.

And then there are companies who manage to get caught in the crossfire. We’re not sure if their efforts were sincere or disingenuous, but regardless, their green sheen takes on the reddish tinge of embarrassment.

Like Sun Chips and their compostable bag. Turns out the earth-friendly bag was about as noisy as a Boeing 757 on take-off.

Never mind the fact that the bag will biodegrade. Apparently noise is more offensive to the sonic environment than is a foil-lined bag. The solution: Pull the bag from the market.

Frito-Lay swears they are working on a quieter bag, but the cynic in me says they are going to walk away from this debacle with a who-gives-a-rip attitude. Heck, the cacophonous bags even spawned Facebook groups deriding the packaging. I suppose sneaking a few nibbles during class or a movie is more important anyway than one more bag in the landfill. The consumers have spoken loudly and clearly (just like the bags themselves), so Frito-Lay can confidently leave the green party.

I hope they don’t, but given the amount of packaging this company sends to the landfill each year, I cannot help but think the Sun Chips test was more about look than it was about feel. They have been quick to attribute the 11% decline in sales to this packaging alone, so the only natural thing to do was kill it. Right?

Wrong. If anything, all of the publicity surrounding the noisy bags could actually drive customers to their product. This would have been a golden opportunity for Frito-Lay, regardless of their true environmental stance, to milk these bags and position them in a very positive way. Instead, they retreated and withdrew. Furthermore, to attribute a sales decline to a few extra decibels of crinkling shows a lack of business savvy. The product itself did not change; it is the taste, texture and value that drive consumers. The volume of the packaging did not detract from the actual consumption.

Sure, it may have alerted a few more people…but what better way to establish a signature sound anyway?

Call me old school, but I happen to think that, unless your product is sadly associated with death and dying, there is no such thing as bad PR. It’s up to the company to turn that PR on its side and leverage it to financial advantage.

Frito-Lay has blown a great opportunity here, not just for their own bottom line, but Earth’s as well. To give up so easily speaks louder than the bag they just ditched.

Dr “The Chips Are Down” Gerlich

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