Over-advertising eco-friendliness of products may put consumers off: Study

London, Mar 1 (PTI) Companies looking to promote their environmentally friendly products should downplay their green credentials to get more customers, according to a study which says by over-advertising green attributes, firms risk generating associations with weak product performance.

The researchers, including those from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK, said this is because of the performance ability sometimes associated with green products which make consumers perceive them as being less effective.

According to their study, published in the Journal of Advertising, by downplaying a product's greenness, firms may be more likely to persuade consumers to buy them, if promoted on more traditional, rather than performance, aspects.

It said green products usually include environmentally friendly features that are less harmful to the planet and population, such as biodegradable and nontoxic ingredients, that enhance energy efficiency, and include recycled components.

However, while it has been suggested that consumers are willing to buy such products, these attitudes rarely result in purchases, and they often buy the conventional alternatives, the scientists said.

Based on earlier studies, they said consumers tend to choose products with superior functional performance over products with better sustainability characteristics, indicating that this choice is often related to assumptions about the performance ability of green products.

The current study showed that the product category can influence the effect of a green product advertising strategy.

Subtle, or 'implicit' messaging is more effective in conditions under which consumers have more concerns about the product's performance, or have lower expectations about its greenness, the researchers added.

According to the study, when the product-related attributes are prominent, or 'explicit', in advertising, if consumers perceive them as being at odds with the benefits associated with the product category, the resulting incompatibility may further reduce how the customers evaluate their performance.

'Given consumers' perceptions of poorly performing green products, persuading them to alter their consumption habits remains a difficult task for marketers,' said study co-author Bryan Ursey from UEA.

'While firms have often attempted to enhance their environmental credentials by emphasising a new product's green attributes, we show that this may in fact have negative consequences,' Ursey said.

The study said it would be sensible for firms to match the advertisement and its information to the product being marketed.

'In addition, as green products are often associated with poorer performance, firms would do well to tailor their advertising to meet the expected benefits associated with a given product category,' Ursey added.

Citing an example, the researchers said the car manufacturer Toyota made the Prius's low emissions and fuel consumption prominent, clearly stating that the product has environmental benefits.

On the contrary, Tesla and BMW reduce the prominence of such information, focusing instead on products' performance-related characteristics, such as, acceleration time, handling ability, they said.

The scientists noted that these examples represent two distinct advertising strategies -- namely, green emphasis and understatement.

The former aims to make products' green characteristics clear, employing what the researchers term as 'explicit signals', while the latter strategy reduces this prominence, they added.

To examine whether, why, and when an implicit versus explicit advertising strategy leads to higher performance evaluation for green products, the scientists tested with an advertisement for a new laundry detergent, and a commercial for a washing machine that featured a new eco-mode.

They found that implicit, rather than explicit, communication about greenness leads to higher performance evaluations, and purchase intent for products that are less commonly green -- the detergent -- and for products that have an optional green mode -- the washing machine.

According to the researchers, the findings have implications for public policy makers, and support the notion that consumers are more likely to engage in pro-social actions when the request for help is accompanied by some form of personal benefit.

'When encouraging consumers to act in a more sustainable manner, downplaying the environmental aspects of the behaviour may further increase evaluations and intent to buy,' Ursey said. PTI VIS VIS VIS