Examining Green Advertising and Its Impact on Consumer Skepticism and Purchasing Patterns

By Lindsay Richards
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2013, Vol. 4 No. 2 | pg. 2/4 |

Willingness to Purchase Green

This section investigates the final piece of the green advertising puzzle—the purchase. Similar to other universal product trends (e.g. technology, fashion, etc.), the green "industry" has unique properties and consumer relationships that influence purchasing patterns, both negatively and positively. Consumers' willingness to purchase green products has often been contributed to their self-labeled level of environmental enthusiasm, coupled with their skepticism and awareness of green claims.

Leonidas et al., (2011) studied the relationship between consumers' knowledge of environmental issues and the effectiveness of advertising claims. The advertisements used in these studies featured basic or "shallow" claims, and were perceived by consumers to be lacking in credibility and comprehensiveness.

Results also concluded that only low environmentally involved participants found validity in the green appeals (Leonidas et al., 2011).

Contrastingly, researchers Mitchell & Ramey (2011) suggested that consumers' willingness to purchase green may be rooted in their passion for the environment. They wrote that those who are considered environmental enthusiasts are more likely to purchase green products than others. Mitchell and Ramey (2011) go on to state that those passionate about the environment will be motivated to purchase any product that is "green"—no matter what "shade" of green it may be.

According to Nyilasy, Gangadharbatla & Paladino (2012), such discrepancies can be attributed to the complexity in environmental issues, making it difficult for even the most enthusiastic consumer to be completely updated on jargon and claims featured in green advertisements.

Research conducted by Basgöze, & Tektas (2012) found various factors that make a difference in consumers' purchasing decision after interviewing both environmental and non-environmental enthusiasts. Their research outlined various elements and barriers that impact consumers' willingness to purchase green products:

  • Price: Consumers have a clear comfort zone in regard to pricing of green products. If they perceive a product's value as outweighing its monetary cost, they will follow through with the purchase. However, if the quality did not outweigh that of a cheaper, non-green product, then they more than likely did not make the purchase. Additionally, their research found that consumers would purchase environmentally sustainable products, such as appliances, if the product would benefit their long-term financial investments.
  • Time: In a fast-paced society, many participants in the study stated that their schedules do not permit the extensive research required to make sound and informed purchasing decisions. The convenience of stopping at one store to get all of their items outweighed the multiple stops it may have taken to purchase green products.
  • Confusion: Many of the participants vocalized concerns with the complexity of green advertising and environmental products and issues. Difficulties in deciphering advertisements and understanding product labels often deterred consumers from purchasing green products. Furthermore, they were often left confused as to whether a product was green or not.
  • Unavailability: In particular geographic areas, consumers addressed that there was a lack of green options available in their area. Additionally, participants felt that the U.S. was not "set up to be green . . . with big cars, big packaging . . . our community design just doesn't currently support green."
  • Trust: One of the largest and most pertinent issues addressed by consumers was skepticism of green products, labels and advertisements. Some products advertised recyclable packaging; however, participants were unsure whether the actual production was sustainable. Participants often questioned the claims of the advertisements, the politics fueling some green movements and whether or not green products were necessarily domestic. (Basgöze, & Tektas, 2012)

Similar research conducted by Leonidas, Palihawadana & Hultman (2011) highlighted that the most challenging aspect of green advertising and consumer purchasing patterns is the gap between the attitudes and buying behavior of consumers. One study conducted by Coleman et al. (2011) suggested that purchasing patterns might follow the foundations of the Competitive Altruism Theory. This theory describes the process in which an individual attempts to outcompete others in terms of generosity/status. For example, a green enthusiast would view a green purchase as a means of obtaining long-term gains, such as respect or admiration for their actions. However, research has also documented environmental enthusiasts avoiding green products. Such contradictions have also been interpreted through the Competitive Altruism Theory. In this view, environmental enthusiasts believe that by avoiding false claims in green advertising they are in turn paying a better service to the environmental community. Ultimately, the disconnect within green advertising lies between what is getting consumers interested, and what is getting them to act on these interests.

Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • RQ1: Does the level of environmental enthusiasm determine the level of trust a consumer has in green advertising?

Out of RQ1, the following hypothesis was derived.

  • H1: If a consumer is an environmental enthusiast, then this person is skeptical of green advertising.
  • RQ2: What factors lead consumers to avoid green products?

Out of RQ2, the following hypotheses were derived.

  • H2: Price will be a barrier to consumers' willingness to purchase green products.
  • H3: Trust will be a barrier to consumers' willingness to purchase green products.

III. Methodology

Data was collected through a SurveyMonkey inquiry of 107 students and faculty of Elon University, who were asked 13 questions about their demographics, level of environmental enthusiasm, and responsiveness to green advertising.

Procedure

The sampling frame comprised both Elon University on-campus organizations that were considered environmentally sensitive, and Elon student and faculty peers of the research conductor (Elon Outdoors, Elon Sustainability Department, Elon Garden, Sierra Club, Environmental Studies Department). The survey link was sent out via email with a message that requested recipients' participation in the survey. The link was also posted to the research conductor's Facebook page, asking the current Elon student and faculty friends to complete the survey.

All members of the previously listed on-campus organizations were emailed directly because of their interest in and activism toward environmental issues. However, convenience sampling through Facebook and general email contacts was used to reach participants who were indifferent to environmentalism.

Questions

Survey questions were structured in order to operationalize concepts in the previously outlined research questions. In order to discover the connectivity between environmental enthusiasm and ad skepticism, respondents were asked to rank environmentalism's level of personal importance in comparison to other categories such as personal finances, education, etc (see Appendix). They were also asked to share their level of agreement with various statements that indicated their personal perceptions of the green trend in advertising. Furthermore, respondents' environmental involvement was measured by asking respondents to list any affiliations they had with environmental organizations.

In order to discover consumers' barriers to purchasing green products, respondents were asked to define their personal definition of green products and advertisements, and their awareness of green messages. Additionally, respondents were asked to list their motivations for choosing to or opting out of making green purchases.

Explanation

The above-mentioned research method was used in order to generate anonymous feedback regarding consumer skepticism of green advertising as well as consumer purchasing patterns. The participant sample covered a wide range of demographics and environmental activism in order to explore the correlation between enthusiasts and green purchasing patterns. Furthermore, the research method was designed to allow participants to openly share their opinions of green advertising and the "greenwashing" trend.

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