Do Consumers Really Care About Socially Conscious Marketing?

There is a growing body of research that says consumers care about their world and the impact businesses have on it. According to a Sogeti Cap Gemini study, “79% of consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness, or environmental impact.”

Specifically about the environment: An IBM study reveals that “Nearly six in 10 consumers surveyed are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact. Over 70 percent would pay a premium of 35 percent, on average, for brands that are sustainable and environmentally responsible.”

Consumers are also socially “woke” about how brands and businesses behave. Deloitte found that “62% of customers said that they are more likely to spend with companies who have taken extra steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees during lockdown.”

Yet another IBM study in partnership with the National Retail Federation found that “one-third of global consumers—from Gen Z to baby boomers (ages 18 to 73)—would abandon even their favorite brand if it doesn’t align with their personal values. They will pay more, and even change their buying habits, for brands that do.”



That’s a lot of business at risk.

Amazon has had to launch Frustration-Free Packaging in response to anti-plastic and anti-waste groups. And its trucks will become electric.

P&G has formulated its plans under the “Ambition 2030” umbrella. The plan includes packaging that is 100% recyclable or reusable for brands such as Always, Dawn, Fairy, Febreze, Head & Shoulders, Pantene, Pampers, and Tide. The P&G manufacturing sites will cut greenhouse gas emissions in half and will purchase enough renewable electricity to power 100% of their plants. They also aim to stem the flow of plastic into the world’s oceans, protect forests, expand recycling solutions, and protect water in priority basins around the world.

The Albarda household is on-trend as well. We’re driving electric now, we get our environmentally sustainable washer and dishwasher pods from Dropps (never mind that they are home-delivered from Illinois), and we complain to Walmart when its grocery delivery service wraps each item in a separate plastic bag.

So clearly it is a thing. But -- is it really?

My take is that it is probably mostly a “marketing thing.”  Many companies have dealt with negative press about something that drew consumer ire or outrage. We have protested the alleged hostile work environment in Amazon’s warehouses. We have threatened to never pull into a BP or Exxon gas station ever again when they pollute. The list goes on and on. Except we have not changed our consumption habits one bit.

If we are honest, we must conclude that what we say and how we live are two very different things (as they always are). Even if we are really concerned about the environment, we still love the convenience of the Amazon, FedEx and UPS truck fleet delivering our meals in a box, our (plastic) matcha pods or razor blades.

I do not doubt for a minute that P&G and all other companies benefit from the marketing stories around socially conscious issues. But I have yet to see that consumers are really prepared to “pay more, and even change their buying habits” if brands are not part of this trend. Consumers are lazy creatures of habit. We like the idea of social consciousness, but we are not always prepared to accommodate to the realities of it.

3 comments about "Do Consumers Really Care About Socially Conscious Marketing?".
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  1. PJ Lehrer from NYU, March 8, 2021 at 1:16 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more.  Even my Gen Z/Millennial students admit the convenience of Amazon tops their concern about causes.  More here...

  2. Jim Meskauskas from Media Darwin, Inc., March 8, 2021 at 4:03 p.m.

    I agree with your conclusion.  Like privacy: everyone cares about it until you offer them free shipping.  Geoff Ramsey, Chairman and Founder of eMarketer gave a presentation last year that showed while 84% of consumers surveyed were very concerned or somewhat concerned about Facebook's use of their data, only 8% said they'd stop using Facebook.  This piece highlights what has always been the limitations of survey data: people say one thing but do another.

  3. Robert Rose from AIM Tell-A-Vision, March 8, 2021 at 10:09 p.m.

    I couldn't agree less. Over the past few months, I've changed how I've purchased dental floss, shampoo, liquid hand soap, and laundry detergent to avoid plastic packaging. These are small purchases for sure, but merely selecting these products, it's awakened a new awareness about how much plastic is in my life and how I want to eliminate even more. Especially given 90% of plastic is NOT recycled. How did I get turned on to these new environmentally friendly products? Yes, good old fashioned marketing. 

    More Americans in particular (who make up just 5% of the world's population but consume over 20% of its energy and create 40% of its garbage) realize that we can NOT continue on the same track and expect different results.

    You can call it a "marketing thing" if you like, but it's more a "survival thing." We can't handle 10 billion people on this planet if an entitled 300 million pretend the entire world is their playground for diversion and consumption. Young people realize their future demands change if their children are to even have a hope for a non-dystopian future.

    Movements begin at the edges with early adopters, and it works its way inward towards a tipping point of mass acceptance. I'm hardly an early adapter. I'm a Gen Xer who happens to be fairly well read and well-traveled.

    Three years ago I became a vegetarian for health reasons and I was a meat lover from childhood. But the side benefit of an environmentally friendly plant-based diet has me twice as committed to keep it going. That's not even taking into account the miserable circumstances on animals or health impact to humans of factory farmed, industrial agriculture. The more I find out, the more I'm in love with my decision. 

    In my travels I've witnessed that socially conscious consumption is a mass GLOBAL movement, and it's been growing for decades, but in particular the last five years. It's picked even more steam during the pandemic, and it will continue post-pandemic, whether the corportacracy is along for the ride or not. Most corporate players may not be because it simply isn't in their best interest for more people to live more simply with less stuff and more quality experiences, but that is what is happening. 

    It wouldn't be the first time I've seen marketing "experts" miss the point with such a swing and a whiff, and it won't be the last either. There's a good reason most marketing firms' efforts all look alike (like a child's soccer game with everyone running after the soccer ball), or the definition of creativity in media is "a bunch of folks running to where lightning just struck."

    Mindless consumption will always be there for some mindless people but the days of mass mindless consumption are over. This is a VERY real movement. Don't believe me? Just save this comment and get back to me in 24 months.

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