I have a love/hate relationship with the “got milk?” campaign.  The campaign itself is brilliant branding and marketing. It’s become an iconic movement around a basic product. As an advertiser, what more can you ask for?

The campaign sours for me with every hackneyed use of the tagline.

A dentist asks on a billboard around the corner from our office: “got teeth?”

An attorney questions: “got divorce?”

Even ATV dealers take it for a spin: “got sand?”.

It’s certainly admirable to have such a copy-catted call-to-action, but you have to admit, it curdles the original brand in the process.

The approach to most green marketing is becoming unoriginal, too. Clichéd. It’s great that you are doing your part to “reduce your use,” “lessen your carbon footprint”, and be “eco-friendly.”

If you want your story about sustainability to truly stand out, avoid these ten cliches of green marketing…

  1. Resist the urge to put the word “green” in the name of your company or product, unless you’re opening a paint store that only sells shades of green, then it’s relevant.
  2. Green leafy logos are in their autumn. They’re so prevalent, they actually camouflage your brand. Don’t believe me? Google green logo, and tell me which one stands out from the forest of forgettable designs.
  3. Explore unexpected ways to use the recycling logo, like in this Global Water ad.

    The recycling logo is boring unless it is presented in an inventive way.

  4. We get it, we live on planet Earth. You’re saving planet Earth. You don’t need planet Earth in your ad. It’s redundant.
  5. Consumers are smart. They know that being “Green” is a good thing. It’s like smoke-free restaurants, it’s expected. So don’t tell us how green you are. Show us.
  6. Fresh green grass and crisp blue skies are important for our neighborhoods, but they don’t have to inhabit your website unless you’re a solar-powered lawn service.
  7. Anyone can say, “All natural.” But if you don’t mean it, don’t use it. You’re wrecking it for products that are actually natural.
  8. If you have ever said, “We’re a green (insert company, product or service here)” then you’ve committed green fogging which is a term I just made up about diminishing the view of your really important brand attributes by trying to appear concerned about the planet.
  9. Kids and daisies in your ads and on your website are cute, but they don’t sell product. Great products that are affordable, convenient and healthy for you and the planet are what sells.
  10. Hand-drawn typefaces that express “being organic” work with organic consumables, but really nothing else.

One of the best uses of a tree to express a brand attribute.

Other trite visuals to avoid include anything remotely environmental in cupped hands, lightbulbs, clouds, a globe in a water drop, and just about everything related to carbon offsetting. Those are terms for engineers and most consumers, even the really smart ones, don’t know what you’re talking about.

Here’s a PDF of the “Got Green?” presentation including the 18 questions to ask yourself if your brand is suffering from “Gang Green,” the brand-curdling condition of clichéd anonymity that leads to something worse than death: Irrelevance.

Or, checkout the presentation on SlideShare below.

What are clichés in green marketing that you’ve seen?

If you’re looking to feel inspired, check out these 10 sustainable brands that turned their green marketing campaigns into movements.