From Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications VOL. 4 NO. 2
Examining Green Advertising and Its Impact on Consumer Skepticism and Purchasing Patterns
The results of this study did not provide enough evidence to draw conclusive answers to RQ1: "Does the level of environmental enthusiasm determine the level of trust a consumer has in green advertising?" Having only 37.4% of respondents consider themselves environmental enthusiasts significantly impacted the study's ability to gauge whether or not enthusiasm directly determined the level of trust consumers had in green advertising. However, while a minority of respondents considered themselves enthusiasts, the vast majority of respondents (80.4%) indicated that they do indeed purchase green products. This information provided insight for half of the equation—in that the non-enthusiast may be more susceptible to green advertising appeals. While 65.4% of respondents indicated that they were well-educated in environmental issues, only 23.3% of respondents stated that they actively researched environmental claims in advertising. Respondents also indicated that they were more than likely either neutral or skeptical of both general and green advertisements. In both circumstances, fewer than 10% of respondents indicated trust in advertising. This information may indicate that advertising skepticism is a previously developed doubt, which is simply carried over to green advertising. Tables 2 and 3 below illustrate the crosstab relationships found between environmental enthusiasm and consumer skepticism.
As seen in the Table 2 on the next page, 39.3% of respondents indicated that they were skeptical of advertising in general, of which the respondents were split down the middle in terms of environmental enthusiasm: 22 were self-reported environmentalists while 20 were not. Furthermore, in Table 2, of those 40 respondents that answered yes to environmental enthusiasm, 55.0% stated that they were skeptical of advertisements in general. Of the 67 respondents that answered no to environmental enthusiasm, 46.3% stated that they were neutral to advertisements in general.
Similarly, as seen in the Table 3 above, of the 40 respondents who indicated environmental enthusiasm, 37.5% indicated that they were skeptical of green advertisements. Likewise, of the 67 respondents who indicated non-enthusiasm, 47.8% indicated a neutral level of green advertising skepticism. Such findings indicated that respondents in this study viewed advertisements (both general and green) more skeptically if they were considered environmental enthusiasts. While this provided insight in regard to RQ1, further research would need to be conducted in order to acquire a larger, random sample size that would allow results to be generalized.
Other implications found through this study were rooted in RQ2: "Which factors lead consumers to avoid green products?" Consumers' willingness to purchase green products can depend on a variety of factors, and this study uncovered a breadth of information regarding respondents' green purchasing motives and deterrents.
According to the study, respondents were more likely to purchase a green product if it advertised valid, environmental and health benefits at a valuable price. Respondents stated that claims must be transparent, as they are more likely to purchase green items if "[they are] produced in a sustainable manner, and [do] not harm the environment in all stages of production, use and disposal." They also expressed a great interest in the health aspect of green products. As indicated in the study's ranking question (Figure 1), the majority of survey participants (56.6%) value health and well-being as #1. Therefore, the health benefits of green products are a big motivator for purchasing patterns. Price was another big motivator for green purchases, according to survey respondents. While many expressed concern for cheap and affordable products, a significant percentage (17.8%) stated that long-term value was more important than initial costs (i.e. assumed health benefits, environmental support, etc.). Respondents also indicated that they were often inspired to purchase a green product in order to achieve a sense of accomplishment that the researcher has called the "do right, feel good" effect. Survey participants stated that they "felt like they were part of a larger initiative," when they purchased green, or that they often "felt better about some of their other non-green habits." Such findings complemented previous studies, as well as the application of the Competitive Altruism theory outlined in the literature review (Coleman et al., 2011).
In contrast to the above-mentioned purchase motivators, respondents also provided significant insight regarding purchase deterrents. Participants said that they would often abstain from purchasing green due to inappropriately priced items that are either too difficult to seek out, or are often overshadowed by more readily available, cheaper competitors. Respondents expressed a large concern over the pricing of green products, with many stating that they would "definitely buy more green items if I could actually afford them in college." Additionally, respondents felt that their preferred one-stop shopping locations did not feature as many green products. This concept of inconvenience and unavailability was a key deterrent for many respondents, which led some to elaborate that they often "wonder[ed] where to even find green items more easily." In addition to the previously listed deterrents, respondents also stated that false advertising played a large role in their refusal to buy green products. Many responses included statements such as "if it says its 'green' but doesn't have an accreditation seal of some sort—it is not going in my cart!" Similar respondents also stated that they felt a lot of products simply "slapped a green leaf on their logo" in order to bait environmentally conscious buyers. Such respondents vocalized that such actions "made them feel like they couldn't trust any green brand," and therefore stopped buying green products altogether.
According to this research, there is evidence linking environmental enthusiasm with consumer skepticism of both general and green advertising. This study indicated that environmental enthusiasts are often more skeptical of both forms of advertising, with non-enthusiasts remaining more neutral. However, this research did not indicate that environmental enthusiasm was directly related to consumers' responsiveness to green advertising. Instead, this study provided a better understanding of both the motivators and deterrents impacting consumers' willingness to purchase green products, which were independent of one's self-labeled environmental enthusiasm.
Ultimately, this research indicated that consumers are skeptical of green advertisements. They are conscious of advertisements' usage of natural images, green color schemes, and environmental accreditation labels, yet do not actively research environmental claims. Consumers value green products and brands that are trustworthy, affordable, healthy and environmentally beneficial. If such values are expressed in green advertisements, consumers are generally more willing to make green purchases. Such findings could be applied to green advertising planning, as the research provided a deeper understanding of consumers' green insights. Green advertisers could use this research to craft designs, themes and messages that would better motivate consumers to purchase green products.
Further research should be conducted in order to broaden the scope of the study and thus solidify any claims. Obtaining a larger, random sample size would benefit this study, as the researcher used both convenience and purposive sampling methods. Furthermore, obtaining an equal balance of both environmental enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts would benefit this study's ability to track the relationship between enthusiasm and skepticism of advertising. One may even consider conducting two separate surveys, one for enthusiasts and one for non-enthusiasts, in order to compare their differing levels of skepticism and purchasing patterns more effectively. Additionally, further research should be conducted in order to test consumers' responsiveness to green advertising appeals. For example, allowing participants to view and then respond to various green advertisements may have provided more conclusive answers regarding consumer responsiveness.
The author would like to extend her thanks to Dr. Byung Lee at Elon University for his advice, patience and research guidance—without which the article could not have been published. The author is also thankful to Dr. Dan Haygood at Elon University for inspiring her to pursue and further investigate the world of advertising.
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