As corporate marketers and regulators alike evaluate how to communicate environmental commitments and avoid greenwashing, the 2011 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker (download for free here) tested which of three common marketing approaches was most influential in consumer purchase decisions. Consumers were asked to “purchase” the most environmentally responsible of three generic cleaning products based on an isolated marketing approach: a certification, a vague environmental claim, or an environmental image.
- Certification: This was by far the most influential purchase driver. More than half (51%) selected the product bearing a mock certification. What’s more telling is that more than half of respondents (51%) also believed the certification meant this product was reviewed and verified by a credible third party.
- Claim: Thirty percent of respondents chose the product with a vague “made with natural ingredients” claim.
- Imagery: Environmental imagery was the least influential purchase driver, yet one-in-five (19%) still chose this product without any other indication it was better for the environment. Some even believed the environmental imagery indicated this product is safe for the environment (14%).
According to the research, testing the certification, claim, or image on-pack indicated each drove consumer perceptions that the products themselves did not necessarily live up to. This disconnect is a significant threat for companies because consumers who feel misled by an environmental claim may punish the brand. They will:
- Stop buying: 71% will stop buying the product; 37% of these will boycott the company’s products altogether.
- Do nothing: Only 11% will continue buying the product.
“As Americans continue to consider environmental claims when shopping, companies must be transparent to build trust – or face the consequences,” says Jonathan Yohannan, Cone’s senior vice president of corporate responsibility in a press release. “Puffery and generic claims alone aren’t going to cut it. Companies will be held accountable to ensure the claims are not only accurate, but also aligned with consumer perceptions.”
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.