Why Does Eco-friendly Coffee Taste Better To Eco-friendly People?

by , Dec 26, 2013, 10:11 AM
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It turns out “green washing” is also green tasting. According to a new study, people who self-identified as environmentalists preferred the taste of coffee labeled “eco-friendly” to the exact same coffee that didn't carry that label.

Notably, this is not just about a preference based on philosophy, but on the actual taste of the coffee. What I was not able to glean from the study was why this is the case. And a million other questions arise. Is a vegan woman sexier to a man who is also vegan? What if she doesn’t tell the guy she’s vegan – without a label or some overt identification of herself as vegan, is she still sexier to him (or her)? If an environmentalist puts in a new high-efficiency home heating system, does the house feel cozier because it actually is cozier, or because the brain of the homeowner just perceives it to be cozier?

What I find interesting is that we humans frown upon lying; we send people to jail for lying; marriages end; kids get scolded; and yet our own brains subconsciously lie to us all the time. If our brains were being truthful, the two cups of coffee, both made from the same beans and brewed the same way (both with the same carbon footprint), would taste the same. But no, the “eco-friendly” labeled stuff is more flavorful.

So, for marketers, the question becomes, “How do I advertise my green product in an honest way to a world of self-deluded liars?” Telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is a good start – and there are examples of companies who manage to pull this off in an authentic way. The good folks at the Honest Tea Company have built the concept of honesty deep into their brand, and have done a great job providing their customers with a depth of information about their sustainability work. Their interactive reports go into great detail on every aspect of their sustainability, social justice and equality efforts – and they practically trip over themselves with qualifiers to prevent the perception of green washing or over-promising. They readily admit, for example, that they are not perfect and never will be.  

The number one takeaway for marketers from the work of companies like Honest Tea is that sustainability shouldn’t be a label stuck on a package. Sustainability should be simply what the company is about, through and through. This, of course, doesn’t alter the fact that consumers of products from these companies are subject to the same self-delusion as those who favored the bogus “eco-friendly” coffee. I strongly suspect that in a taste test, if one bottle of Honest Tea’s beverage carried their label, while the exact same beverage had a Nestle label, people would choose Honest Tea. This is classic branding in action, yes? But if our products are fundamentally driven by a mission, and can walk the walk in every possible way, then we can make our self-delusion morally defensible.

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