Just when we thought we had green marketing all figured out comes this report from The Journal of Consumer Researchthat found consumers are more likely to purchase green products if they think helping the environment is not the intended purpose of a product improvement.
Consumers in the study said that they would be less likely to purchase a product that was intentionally made greener because they believe green products are of lower quality.
Now the studies conducted were done on cleaning products, and the perception of greener products having less cleaning power is well understood. But still. This kind of result impacts both green brands and mainstream brands trying to be greener.
I’m not even sure I buy the study’s author’s admonition:
Companies improving a basic product feature (making something more environmentally friendly …) should either position the improvement as unintended or emphasize that the primary goal is improving the quality of the product.
I think where the problem lies is in defining the target consumer. Deep green consumers and those moving in that direction are certainly interested in increased sustainability. For green consumers, it’s often a choice between two green brands, which, in this case, would make the more sustainable product the one preferred.
If the target is mainstream consumers, then it may be true that greener = less effective in the consumer’s mind. So, this becomes a problem for mainstream brands more than for green brands and I would agree with the author.
Mainstream brands trying to position themselves as sustainable (as opposed to healthier) often suffer from the delusion that the mainstream consumer cares. The pathway toward deep green starts with consumers becoming more health cautious (saving me) before they start worrying about sustainably (saving the planet).
So, I wouldn’t go so far to say that going green can backfire for green brands. For mainstream brands, though, to go green, start by improving the health profile of your products prior to improving how they impact the planet.