Reaching Today’s Consumer in a Forest of GreenRelevant topics Archive, Advertising
Media in every form bombards us constantly with messages promoting green, environmentally responsible products that consumer goods companies want us to buy. Many of those products have a sticker price significantly higher than traditional, less eco-friendly brands and products. Exactly how much of a premium are today’s consumers willing to pay in order to live their values as responsible earth inhabitants, and how do producers approach them with an attractive marketing message? In short, how do our products avoid fading into the trees in a sea of green products?
Trends in consumer behaviour
Recent trends in consumer behavior have identified two major thought shifts that have prompted product manufacturers to change their marketing strategies. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a demonstrated role in raising consumer awareness on the impact of their purchasing choices on the environment, which resulted in a growing and measurable behavior change in their buying decisions. It was also proven that consumers are willing to pay a premium price for products they perceive as being more environmentally friendly than other competing brands available to them.
In response to changing consumer attitudes about choosing products perceived to be eco-friendly, corporations have sought to design product packaging that reflects a high degree of environmental consciousness and responsible practices.
Embodied versus referential meaning
What kinds of cues can grab the attention of consumers when making buying decisions? There are two kinds of meanings to take into account when analysing the effects of message cues: embodied meaning and referential meaning. Embodied meaning is inherent to a message, like using the color red or images of heat and fire to produce immediate associations. Referential meaning is more subtle, using an image or color to recall associated feelings, like playful childish pursuits or sentimental scenes. Studies show that color and images can play significant roles in how a product is perceived by a consumer, and how their buying decisions are stimulated or repelled by that perception.
color and imagery
To address how consumers perceive the eco-friendliness of a product or company, studies were conducted to determine how the use of color and imagery impacted those perceptions. The next step, of course, would be to determine their willingness to buy the product and how much of a premium they were willing to pay for a more earth-friendly brand. The study results were fascinating.
Consumer studies were conducted among two test groups: students and random marketplace shoppers. The test groups had a study population with diverse representation for race and gender. Two main reactions were studied - the impact on label coloring, and the presence or absence of natural images to accompany the product image on labeling.
White is better than green
The first part of the study examined the use of the color green versus the color white on household cleaner product labels. The beginning assumption was that consumers would associate the color green with environmental friendliness and thus be drawn to purchase that brand. It was also assumed that participants would be willing to pay a premium for those green labelled products to support environmental responsibility.
The results were surprising. In both test groups, study participants consistently said they would be willing to pay a significantly higher premium for products bearing a white label, while only willing to pay a smaller premium or even a lower than average price for green labeled goods.
Why the unexpected result? Further research showed that large white spaces in labeling and advertising help focus consumer attention on the message, and evoke a product image that is associated with quality, sophistication, and a calm, minimalistic presentation. When we think of advertisements for premium prestige products like luxury automobiles, for instance, this kind of clean, simple imagery is a common theme and seems to validate this concept. Conversely, the use of the color green in product labeling and promotional images tended to distract from the message and branding of the products offered, and thus made them less desirable to participants. It seems counter intuitive, but the study clearly demonstrates that while consumers willingly seek “green” products for their own use, they want to be presented with a clean and classic message, undistracted by cluttered images and confusing color schemes.
What about natural imagery?
The second study element was measuring the impact of including or excluding natural imagery in packaging and messaging for environmentally friendly products. Again, study findings were contrary to the initial assumption that such images would positively impact consumer buying behavior and premium price willingness. In fact, while natural images did promote positive reactions to packaging aesthetics, they had virtually no impact on willingness to pay a premium price for eco-friendly goods. The clear conclusion is that nature based images have a place in marketing to earth-conscious consumers, but shouldn’t be relied upon to deeply impact their buying behavior or willingness to pay a premium price to practice their values in the marketplace.
What do these studies tell us as neuromarketing practitioners? Quite simply, we need to question our assumptions before diving into a marketing approach which may fail because of them. A message about “going green” doesn’t need to be presented in a green medium when a simpler, less distracting label or image background delivers the message better. A natural product shouldn’t rely on images of flowers or other natural scenes to cement their place as a healthy and responsible product. A minimal and memorable simple image is far more effective than clutter when seeking a positive consumer response to our eco-friendly products.
- Green isn’t always the best option for eco-friendly products. The color green did not lead to consumers wanting to pay a premium.
- Instead, think of the associations you want to activate with your product. The color white could focus consumer attention and activate associations of high-quality which leads to consumers willing to pay a premium for these products.
- Natural imagery might evoke positive reactions to package aesthetics, but does not have an effect on willingness to pay a premium price for the eco-friendly product. As such, natural imagery is not perceived as a signal for the degree to which a product is environmentally friendly.
Brainwashing that has gone green
There has been an increasing amount of warnings about climate change and its rash consequences in the media. For some, attempts to preserve the Earth for the future generations became a cool trend. As a result of this, all sorts of green products have been filling the shelves.
But what makes a green product? Does a green can make a soft drink environmentally-friendly? Can we call a regular shampoo a green product by adding one natural ingredient? Such a practice of highlighting only a few green attributes is called greenwashing.