Green marketing? The gap between consumer beliefs and marketers' presumptions

By The Drum | Administrator

March 19, 2010 | 6 min read

The Marketing Industry Network offers a library of White Papers and research. Gyro International submitted a paper about the current attitudes towards green marketing, and spelling out where consumers and marketers part company.

Citing climate change, carbon footprints, ozone depletion or intensive farming, it seemed that all and sundry had taken it upon themselves to implement policy after policy, promising to tackle this, that and the next thing, all the while employing a whole new lexicon and bandying around words such as ‘sustainable’, ‘organic’, ‘fair-trade’ and ‘welfare’.

The cynical amongst us might argue that companies and brands implementing policies, or at least talking about tackling a few green issues, were doing so purely on the realisation that conversing about environmental factors could have a positive influence on consumer buying decisions. So, with the recessionary grip loosening, perhaps now is as good a time as any to reopen the debate over corporate responsibility.


It is almost certainly true that most organisations adopting a green stance have done so due to consumer demand, but how much do companies really understand their customers’ viewpoints on such issues? Do the green issues that marketers are communicating really match up to what consumers care about?

Research conducted by Gyro International in conjunction with fastMAP surveyed almost 2,000 consumers and 150 marketing directors across the UK, US and mainland Europe with regards to their attitudes towards green marketing issues.

Whilst consumers were asked to express their own views, the marketers were asked to predict how the consumers would respond to each of the questions, thus highlighting the differences of opinion between the perceived view of marketers and the actual opinions of the general public.

Considering the survey was undertaken against the backdrop of the recent financial turbulence it is perhaps unsurprising that green issues were not consumers’ top concern. Cost of living was deemed the most important everyday issue (86%), followed by terrorism (70%), green issues (66%), immigration (64%), house prices (54%) and free trade (39%).

Consumers in Europe, meanwhile, were more concerned with green issues than their UK counterparts (74%), but location wasn’t the only factor to cause variation. Age also divided opinion, and on the whole the younger generation proved more concerned with 69% of under 45 year olds indicating concern and 8% indicating no concern, compared with 62% and 11% respectively of over 45 year olds.

The survey also found that more than half of consumers (53%) are influenced by green issues in their purchasing, although 61% of marketing directors predicted that this number would be less than 30% massively underestimating awareness of green issues and their impact on purchasing decisions. Asked whether consumers would be willing to pay a premium for green goods however, marketers slightly overestimated this time – 44% when the actual percentage was 38%. If split by location, the UK fares worst with only 28% likely to accept paying a premium versus 32% in the US and 55% in mainland Europe.

The biggest issues consumers would like to see addressed by companies and their products/services, according to the research, is packaging and recycling (28%). This is followed by research & development (23%), energy consumption (18%), greenhouse emissions (18%), and fuel economy (11%). Marketing directors managed to estimate these findings fairly accurate, with the exception of the importance of research and development – marketers assumed this would be most important to 5% of consumers when the actual percentage was 23%.


When asked whether the current economic climate would cause consumers to re-evaluate their attitudes towards green issues only 25% said they would be less willing to pay a premium as a result of the recession. Once again the UK fared worst in environmental stakes, with 32% saying the economic conditions had made them less likely to pay a premium for environmentally products. 22% in mainland Europe said the economy would make them less likely to pay a premium, while only 15% in the USA were likely to reduce their spending on green goods.

And asked whether they trusted marketers’ claims with regards to products/practices being environmentally responsible, almost half (48%) do not, while 13% indicated they were ‘very untrusting’. The UK is the least trusting, with as little as 14% admitting to trusting companies’ claims. Mainland Europe had 21% of consumers admit to being trusting and the USA 25%.

It is reassuring to see that consumers are still taking environmental issues seriously and that they still rank so highly on people’s agendas. Not so encouraging however is the gap between marketing professionals’ presumptions and the actual values and opinions held by consumers.

This gap is likely a reflection of the variations seen in the research across different age groups and locations. The fact that the economic climate has altered consumer decisions has surely also played its part. If continued inroads are to be made into changing consumer attitudes towards environmental products and practices then this disparity needs to be addressed and the gap closed. Only then will trust return to the relationship between consumer and marketer.

Forecast for the next 2 years:

• 84% of consumers will recycle more (88% of marketers thought this would be less than 80%)

• 76% will cut back on gas and electricity (84% of marketers thought this would be less than 70%)

• 69% will buy more local produce (83% of marketing directors thought this would be less than 60%)

• 54% will purchase a car with lower emissions and fuel consumption (51% of marketing directors thought this would be less than 50%)

• 48% will drive less (68% of marketing directors thought this would be less than 40%)

• 47% will buy from environmentally friendly retailers (83% of marketing directors thought this would be less than 40%)

Download the full report from the Marketing Industry Network website.


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