The amount of green in eco-friendly programming is growing, and even networks whose stock in trade is irreverence are trying to do well by doing good.
Comedy Central has signed Honda as a sponsor of its “Address the Mess” public service campaign. The automaker’s vehicles will be featured in spots showing young people what they can do to clean up the environment.
“I think we’re differentiating ourselves with this program,” said Kelleigh Dulany, VP for public responsibility at Comedy Central. “You can have a sense of humor about it, you can be in people’s face about it, because that’s not what people have been doing up until now.”
With the environment becoming a bigger issue to consumers—and businesses trying to court them—television networks are creating more green programming and campaigns.
“I think there is an appetite for consumers that want to understand how they can participate and be part of solving global warming and helping to do our part,” said Jen Neal, managing partner for media agency PHD East.
Advertisers are well aware of that growing appetite.
“We’ve been getting asked a lot about this type of programming and the opportunities it presents,” Ms. Neal said.
Networks are rushing to respond.
NBC last week said its “The More You know” campaign will feature a commitment to environmental awareness and the network is seeking sponsors for that effort. Last November, NBC generated $10 million in ad sales from marketers including Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Home Depot and Wal-Mart with its “Green Is Universal” week of environmentally themed programming.
Scripps Networks’ HGTV has been integrating green themes into new and existing shows, including a Green Home Giveaway special in the spring. The network’s research found that 86% of people surveyed already participate in at least one green activity.
Discovery Communications is going a step farther, betting viewer and advertiser interest in green programming will last long enough to support a whole cable channel, Planet Green.
Last week, Planet Green said it will air a daily show featuring former Food Network fixture Emeril Lagasse cooking with fresh and organic ingredients. The show will be shot inside Whole Food Markets stores; the retailer is a production partner on the show, providing promotion as well as locations.
Planet Green plans to launch in June with a lineup of hundreds of hours of new, original eco-lifestyle programming.
“It really is a new genre of TV we feel like we’re creating with this channel,” said Eileen O’Neill, president and general manager of Planet Green.
The channel’s programming will be largely personality-driven, featuring celebrities like Tom Bergeron, host of one series, and Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s executive producing a series on rebuilding a Kansas town destroyed by a tornado.
“Our research and our experience tells us the content needs to be very relevant” to people with an interest in being more green, Ms. O’Neill said.
Walking the line between sincerely entertaining and drily preachy will be key for programmers
slotting green programs.
“I think the best type of programming out there will be the programming that brings it to life in an entertaining way,” said Ms. Neal, whose agency buys media for Discovery.
Environmental programming offers advertisers a chance to target audiences who engage with a message that lets them participate in a movement, she said.
George Newi, senior group director at Initiative, the media agency that handles Home Depot among others, said businesses are stepping up their green marketing because a broad spectrum of consumers are interested.
“I think green is here to stay,” he said. “It’s a matter of how it gets worked into the overall offering.”
The growing array of green programming gives marketers more opportunity to spread their own messages as well.
“The real opportunity is the synergy between the brand message and the entertainment program,” Mr. Newi said.
But there are pitfalls to jumping on the green bandwagon.
“If a client’s eco-efforts are real and substantive, the viewers will take that away from the association with the program,” Mr. Newi said. “Conversely, if the client is in the program just because it’s cool to be green, the viewer will realize that as well.”
Comedy Central is counting on advertisers’ support to help expand its eco-message, Ms. Dulany said.
For a car maker like Honda, Address the Mess is a way “to connect to an informed consumer who is thinking about changes in their lifestyle, and one of them could quite feasibly be a hybrid vehicle,” she said.
Barbara Ponce, manager of corporate and diversity advertising for Honda, said the automaker, which is introducing a model using a fuel cell, likes the way Comedy Central is approaching the issue.
“It’s not preaching. It’s a very real-world approach,” she said.
She declined to say how much Honda was spending on “Address the Mess,” but said the funds come from a different budget than model advertising already booked on the channel.
As part of its sponsorship deal, the network is creating a series of humorous public service announcements that will carry the Honda logo and feature Honda visuals.
One spot might focus on recycling autos. Another might show Honda drivers recycling their old electronic equipment.
While the public service announcements will run on air, “Address the Mess” will have more activity online.
“Where we have been focusing our time and attention—and frankly I think it’s also relevant to our audiences—is we’re looking at Web content,” said Ms. Dulany. “I would like to see us go to user-generated content. I think it’s ripe for it. I think the message is it’s a great place to be fun and original.”