Corona Phonies: We See Through Your Greenwashing
Corona have long enticed us with unspoilt paradises shared with good looking friends and a slice of lime. From where you’d rather be, they’d entreat, and we’d comply; we would rather be there. As a branding exercise their message was beyond compare.
As environmental degradation becomes increasingly difficult to ignore, and the paradises that their brands have piggybacked off come under threat from overconsumption and the disposable packaging it spawns, Corona have now moved into “protecting paradise”, into saving these idyllic locales from the scourge of oceanic plastic (and glass, one would assume). Their latest foray to protect paradise in Australia was to take a gaggle of photogenic and conservation-minded influencers into the Whitsundays to perform a beach cleanup and spread awareness of the issues oceans face and how communities can rectify the situation around the country.
The result was a hyper-branded bout of beachcombing featuring Corona emblazoned hessian sacks bulging with flotsam, Corona tees tied into knots above midriffs and crown-logo towels slung across angular torsos. The influencers arrived on the beach that they’d save via a flurry of domestic flights and speedboats, even taking the time to enjoy a joy flight over the bleaching reef, broken up by a Corona-fuelled soiree overlooking the paradise they were there to rescue.
It was how the beautiful people save the world – in comfort, looking gorgeous, and instantly curated to share with the hordes that follow their every, personal-brand aligned, move.
This isn’t Corona’s first philanthropic effort, but this one irked. Sure, what they were doing was positive, but this was obviously a branding exercise, a branding exercise conceptualised to endear the beer brand to more woke consumers. Thing is, if they want to fool us into upending more Coronas, surely flying a phalanx of influencers into a photogenic paradise for some branding opportunities isn’t the best tactic.
Corona and Parley, an organisation that seeks to find a solution to oceanic pollution through “harnessing the imaginative side of human culture – the arts” (lol) are on a mission to “clean one million square metres of Australian coastline in 2020”. This is a respectable goal and not one to be baulked at, with the conservation conveniently serving the purpose of greenwashing the Corona brand and thereby appealing to a generation of consumers who are increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of their consuming.
Greenwashing, for the uninitiated, is the practice where brands realise that their environmental impact is going to be detrimental to sales, so they pay marketing and PR agencies to paint a picture of them being more environmentally sound than they actually are. At its most insidious, it’s ExxonMobile claiming to be reducing greenhouse gases while they’re actually increasing, or Norwegian state oil giant Equinor claiming to be on track towards becoming a renewable energy champion, while doggedly fighting to drill for oil in the pristine and wild Great Australian Bight.
Greenwashing for beer brands usually includes initiatives to work towards recyclable packaging, using renewable energy in their production methods (Carlton United Breweries (CUB), Corona’s parent company, seek to achieve both by 2025), all the while seeking to increase on the 567 million hectolitres of beer (that’s 56.7 billion litres, or a little more than 170 billion bottles of beer – a slab a year for every single man, woman and child currently living on earth) sold every year by Carlton’s parent company, AB InBev, the world’s largest beer company.
Corona is one of CUB’s marquee brands – responsible for 6% of all Australian beer consumption, according to AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito in 2018 – and their greenwashing seeks to increase their market share by appealing to new generations of environmentally conscious, but increasingly alcohol shy, consumers. They do this by pandering to young people’s insistence to consume more ethically, to offset their contribution to landfill. It’s a sleight of hand, a case of, Don’t look at the sheer volume of unnecessary waste that we’re putting into the world every year – not to mention the negative health impacts – but instead look at us helping you clean the oceans.
This tactic isn’t new, and is effective, with “Corona seeing continued volume growth underpinned by stronger brand health metrics” in 2019, due in no short part to these initiatives. Combine their environmental efforts with their incomparably brilliant pairing of the brand with delightful moments spent with friends and lime in paradise, From Where You’d Rather Be, and you have a devilishly marvellous marketing strategy within the current zeitgeist.
Corona’s pledge to clean a million square metres of Aussie beach, or to get you to do it for them, has to be compared to their contribution to waste in Australia. The brand that accounts for “10% of Carlton & United Breweries volume, 14% of their operating profit and sells just under 1 million hectoliters of beer in Australia” (that’s 300 million bottles and cans, or thereabouts). The amount of coastline that they seek to clean is admirable, but their market share and the waste it produces is truly staggering, and for a brand that is built on aligning with paradise, deflection away from their polluting impact is necessary to continue brand growth.
This isn’t a campaign to consume less, but to increase consumption while doing the bare minimum to rectify the impact after the fact. Far from being better than doing nothing, an argument that will be routinely levelled at criticism of their efforts, this type of greenwashing actively undermines genuine efforts to reduce unnecessary consumption, to be conscious about our footprint and use less. Conversely, they want you to use more, so long as that more is best served with a wedge of lime screwed down its neck.
These campaigns also shift environmental responsibility from the corporations to the community, which is on page one of the Let’s Keep Polluting Until The Plebs Cotton On playbook. This ignores the reality that the beer and beverage industry has been profiteering off flooding the market with biodegradation resistant packaging that remains in the environment forever, without offering consumers a more ecologically sound alternative.
New South Wales alone creates half a million tonnes of glass waste annuallly, of which only slight more than half is recycled – with most being stockpiled instead of being converted into new bottles of delicious Corona. This is because creating new bottles is cheaper than recycling used ones and, this can’t be stressed enough, these savings aren’t passed onto the consumer, but to shareholders. AB InBev turned a profit of around 6.8 billion USD in 2018. Taking a hit on that total presents a fair bit of wiggle room for Corona’s greenwashing efforts to become more than mere lip service.
But can we expect brands to be honest, to continue to sell as much as possible, polluting along the way, and to do so unashamedly while letting the market decide their fate? The result would be devastating for these brands, and so they are going to fight to increase their market share in a world that is increasingly insisting that they do better. Greenwashing is inevitable in late-stage capitalism, but if brands like Corona are going to do it, then it’s up to us to insist that they be better at it. To make actual change rather than piss on our faces and tell us that it’s raining – and that it’s our responsibility to wipe it off.
What stinks about this latest foray into beach stewardship is just how indulgent it was. Fly them in, fly them around, rip around the archipelago in speedboats and then lament the reef’s crinkling under warming sea waters, a result of wanton and frivolous travel and the excess CO2 it creates. Not to mention that having “influencers” there to raise awareness of ocean pollution to Corona consumers in 2020 reflects an intolerable level of arrogance, the bigotry of low expectations.
You don’t think that 18-to-35-year-olds s in Australia aren’t already aware enough of this particular problem at a point in time when kindergarten-aged kids complain about sea turtles with straws in their noses? Why would you need to fly some beautiful people and C-grade celebrities into paradise to let us know about a pollution problem when back-to-back storms have delivered tonnes of trash onto the beaches that form our shared backyard up and down Australia’s East Coast?
The effectiveness of social media awareness campaigns is an idea instigated and perpetuated by the marketing agencies and influencers who are best positioned to profit from it. We’re not morons; we don’t need people better looking than us to tell us there’s a problem. And to see them enjoying joy flights over a bleaching reef, sipping Coronas in paradise, and then be fed a feed of product placement is spectacularly out of touch for a brand that has for so long been so effective in inspiring consumers. That this campaign went through marketing agencies and departments and wasn’t once questioned as being perhaps a little excessive and out of touch is incredible.
Don’t use the reef in your promotions while flying people to and around it; instead, do what you can from your end to slow climate change and ocean warming. Don’t send hot wannabe celebrities to paradise to scoop up a couple of kilos of long lost left thongs and other assorted plastics, but use that money to instigate clean-ups in our backyards, carbon-neutral clean-ups – or better yet clean up your production, and do so by taking a hit to your profits.
Allocate budget away from these glamorous and “brand-aligned” projects and instead put the money into really doing something. To fight for a bottle return fee to encourage 100% recycling rates for the glass bottles they want to flood the market with, and then to take a hit to profits and actually use the recycled bottles rather than let them pile up in landfill. And why not share your partnerships with hot idiots and surfy types, as well as working with people in the field who are trying to come up with far-reaching, long-lasting solutions?
Pete Ceglinski, CEO at Seabins, an initiative set up to suck trash from the sea 24 hours a day, hashtag free, without flying social media celebrities into paradise, says, “Seabin Projects focus is on practical clean up solutions combined with Education and awareness. We don’t focus on the surf scene, as attractive as it is. We focus on people and communities that have no connection to the ocean. Our reasoning is why preach to the converted.”
The corporations created these problems by not providing the consumer with reasonably priced alternatives that fit in line with the environmental ethics that we’d like to purchase with. If you’re going to sell us the dream of enjoying your product in unspoilt paradises, then provide us with the tools as consumers to do so. Anything less is a waste of your time and resources at best, and at worst wilful negligence towards a catastrophically worsening ocean environment.
The tide is against you, Corona, it’s time to be better. Be who we’d rather you be.
Cover via Business Wire