Scientists Unlock Keys to the Green Shopper’s Cart

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Canadian researchers have discovered what makes some of us purchase environmentally friendly products and services, while others do not.

Think it is because people care about the environment?

Nope. Not even close. Though that’s what common sense tells you. Leave it to science to toss common sense for a loop.

Actually, it’s more about what people care about how they are perceived, rather than their impact on going green.

In an era of snapping self-absorbed pictures of oneself – the selfie – it makes sense.

The scientists from Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business in Montreal conducted studies to see what makes us spend a little more to go green.

They found that consumers who defined themselves based on other people’s perceptions of them was the perfect marketing strategy to get people to purchase green. The researchers say this could be especially useful in cultures where social relationships are central to one’s identity.

Sounds like any modern social structure, where we base our needs and wants on what others think of us, instead of our actual needs. However, there are specific cultures where public perception is a greater driver to our decision making process, such as Eastern philosophies.

The study puts to rest the notion that we purchase environmentally friendly products and services because we actually are trying to be greener.

“This is because asking people to predict whether they will undertake a certain behaviour increases their probability of actually doing so,” says Onur Bodur, the study’s lead researcher, and a marketing professor at the school. “It’s what’s called the ‘self-prophecy effect.’ Our research shows that, that effect is even stronger for a person who defines him or herself by social ties and peer opinions.”

The self-prophecy effect essentially guilt’s us into making purchasing decisions, based not on our actual wants and desires, but rather, into making purchases which meet our social circle’s approval.

The study demonstrates how the self-prophecy effect can be used by marketers to increase a person’s preferences for environmentally friendly product purchases.

“While the self-prophecy effect has been applied in a consumer context before, our study is the first to examine whether it can actually make buyers more sustainability-conscious,” Bodur says.

Bodur and fellow Concordia co-authors Kimberly Duval and Bianca Grohmann showed consumers one of two advertisements: an ad with a sustainability message, or a neutral ad. Both asked whether they would purchase environmentally friendly products.

Those who were exposed to a prediction message were much more likely to make sustainable consumption decisions later on, when given the choice, compared to those exposed to an ad with a neutral message.

The researchers enhanced their study by introducing a pair of “watching eyes” to the ads.

“We added an image of a face or group of faces appearing to make eye contact with the reader,” says Bodur.” This increased consumer preference for sustainable products even further.”

The result was stronger for consumers who define their identity based on the perceptions of others in their social circle.

The results of this study suggest that introducing a prediction request and audience cue into a social marketing campaign increases sales of sustainable products, while potentially boosting other pro-environmental and pro-social behaviours.

“The fact that these effects are stronger for those consumers who define themselves based on others’ perceptions shows that this type of marketing strategy could prove especially useful in cultures where social relationships are central to one’s identity,” says Bodur. “That’s especially useful news for emerging Asian economies that are particularly plagued by pollution and environmental threats.”

For years marketing and advertising firms have been attempting to get inside our heads to figure out how to ensure we purchase the products and services which they are selling us. From this study, it appears that all they have to do is create a sense of guilt at purchasing products and services which aren’t green.

Traditionally, green products are marketed to us as being good for the planet, and the right choice for a healthy home.

That message may change, to one of guilt and peer pressure, as advertising agencies discover this new research which explores why we make green shopping decisions.

What do you think? Leave a comment!