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Marketing and Comms
Les Bêtises et Les Vaches:
Two French Brands Use Humor To Engage Consumers in Sustainability

French consumers want to know more about where their products come from to make more sustainable choices. Besides, trust in business is higher when brands take action for sustainability, demonstrate their achievements and communicate well.

French consumers want to know more about where their products come from to make more sustainable choices. Besides, trust in business is higher when brands take action for sustainability, demonstrate their achievements and communicate well. Here are two great examples from France of brands doing just that: Camif (home furniture retailer) and Stonyfield France (organic yogurt brand nicknamed “The Two Cows”).

Camif — Don’t be preachy

“Our position is to provide transparent information to consumers,” explains Anne Breuille, Camif’s marketing manager. This is reflected through an interactive map named “consum’localization” and video testimonials of French suppliers on the brand's website.

The manufacturers’ map was established in June 2012: “It locates all of our French suppliers. If the consumer wants to choose a product based on its geographical origin, the information is available.” The vast majority of the products offered are manufactured in France. Thus, it’s possible for the consumer to include geographical origin (local or national) in his search for a product and favor local economy and reduced greenhouse-gas emissions. This is an interesting innovation for a retail website of this size.

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Moreover, videos posted on the website allow consumers to look behind the scenes of French manufacturing. “The goal is to enable our suppliers to enhance their approach to local manufacturing, quality approach, sustainability engagements related to a single product or their overall business,” Breuille says. This initiative recreates the link between consumers and manufacturers and this is all the more important when the purchase is made via the Internet. “Camif is the only brand to do this. Our suppliers are very proud to show their commitment. And it’s very well received by our consumers, too.”

Camif’s commitment to transparent information was relayed through a press advertising campaign between October 2012 and February 2013. The idea was to highlight the contrast between an average product, most probably manufactured in a faraway country, and a product selected by Camif, made in France by an industry with a strong commitment to quality and/or sustainability. For example, one of the ads reads: “A bed sheet which takes 8,232 km to get home is a stupid thing. A bed sheet which comes from Cambrai is not even a silly thing” and, written in small: “If you want more good reasons to buy this bed sheet, know that you’ll support a French company established in Cambrai for over 50 years that received in 2009 the label named “Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant.” This label rewards the French companies that excel in traditional and industrial know-how.

Breuille explains: “The goal is to provide objective information, without taking ourselves seriously, without being preachy.” In the previous example, It’s a simple pun: “Les bêtises (silly thing) de Cambrai” is the name of a candy from the city of Cambrai. “The campaign has been well-received from our partners and suppliers. They were surprised and pleased to see that we could communicate this way. Camif is a growing success story, the figures are looking good. This campaign certainly played a part,” concludes Breuille.

Stonyfield France — Be educational and playful

According to general manager Daniel Tirat, Stonyfield France’s mission is “to move society towards another food system, towards more sense and pleasure.” Its aim is twofold: make a business success and generate new food practices.

Animal welfare is one of the sustainability challenges facing Stonyfield. They are partnering with Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), an organization campaigning to end cruel factory farming. “We spent a year and a half to build specifications (with eight criteria, easy to explain to consumers) and to put in place on-farm welfare audits.” The aim is both to encourage initiatives that help farmers improve their animals’ well-being and to educate French consumers on this issue.

In 2012, the brand launched an advertising campaign about animal welfare, featuring two characters, now well known in France: Clever (a serious cow, in charge of educating consumers about organic farming and the environment) and Chatterbox (a more frivolous cow, which rarely misses an opportunity to make a joke). “For your eggs, you prefer them from happy outdoor chickens. And for your yoghurts, do you mind about dairy cattle welfare? We, The Two Cows, let the herd out as soon as the weather is good, because we think it is better for our cows, better for our milk, and probably also for our yoghurts.” This topic is rarely addressed in advertising. Comparing dairy cattle with laying hen welfare is pretty relevant in France as more and more consumers are paying attention to the welfare of laying hens.

Tirat explains, “Pedagogy is one of the pillars of the brand: We must be able to explain whatever initiative we undertake. Not too soon, only when we’re ready. We don’t have to be ashamed about our engagements. Consumers can understand that it’s not perfect, as it is in their everyday lives. But they will not forgive a dishonest brand.”

In terms of communication strategy, since its creation in 2006, the brand decided to put all the marketing tools at the service of its mission: “bring consumers to organic yoghurts in being educational and playful instead of austere and moralistic.” Seven years later, The Two Cows is a successful brand. “The results are highly positive: + 30% growth in 2011, 20% in 2012.”

These two examples show that brands can distinguish themselves from their competitors and attract consumers, in meeting their expectations and awareness, by communicating relevant and proved commitments to sustainability. The touch of humor is useful to avoid guilt and to install an emotional complicity between the brands and their customers.