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Consumers Will Punish Brands for False Environmental Claims

After all the effort marketers are putting into communicating their green claims, a new study shows that consumers — American consumers at least — continue to misunderstand phrases commonly used in environmental marketing and advertising. Often, this gives products a greater “green halo” than they may deserve.

At the same time, these same consumers are willing to punish a company for using misleading claims.

  • 71% say they will stop buying the product if they feel misled by an environmental claim.
  • More than a third (37%) of these will go so far as to boycott the company’s products entirely.

These results come from 2011 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker, which found that a growing number of Americans (97% in 2011, as compared to 90% in 2008) believe they know what common environmental marketing claims such as “green” or “environmentally friendly” mean, yet their interpretations are often inaccurate.

The study also found that more than two-in-five Americans (41%) erroneously believe these terms mean a product has a positive (i.e., beneficial) impact on the environment. Only 29% understand that these terms more accurately describe products with less environmental impact than previous versions or competing products.

“It’s telling that three years after Cone first conducted the Green Gap survey, not much has changed,” says Jonathan Yohannan, Cone’s senior vice president of corporate responsibility in a released statement. “Consumers continue to be confused about environmental claims, often without realizing it. This creates a huge risk for consumer backlash. To overcome this gap between environmental messaging and consumer perception, companies need to provide detailed information in-line with the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines in a place where consumers are making purchase decisions.”

The 2011 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker presents the findings of an online survey conducted March 7-8, 2011 by ORC International among a demographically representative U.S. sample of 1,040 adults comprising 515 men and 525 women 18 years of age and older. The margin of error associated with a sample of this size is ± 3%. Cone is a strategy and communications agency engaged in building brand trust.

Written by Heidi Tolliver-Walker

Heidi Tolliver-Walker has been a commercial and digital printing industry analyst, feature writer, columnist, editor, and author for nearly 20 years. She is known for her meticulous research and no-nonsense perspective. In addition to having written thousands of industry articles for top industry publications, she and Richard Romano have been the face of the well-respected industry research firm The Industry Measure (TrendWatch Graphic Arts) for many years. In her more than 13-year tenure with the firm, she has written countless reports on digital printing, 1:1 (personalized) printing, Web-to-print, personalized URLs, and other hot industry applications. She is also a long-time contributing editor and columnist for Printing News, for which she writes two monthly columns, including "Personal Effects," which features monthly analysis of 1:1 (personalized) printing case studies. She is also the author of three titles for the National Association of Printing Leadership: Designer's Printing Companion, Ink & Color: A Printer's Guide, and Diversifying Via Value-Added Services. As a small, niche publisher (Strong Tower Publishing), she is active in utilizing these technologies in her own business, as well.

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