US brands see green messages fall flat

02 October 2009

NEW YORK: The "green" messages of many major advertisers in the US are failing to resonate with consumers, despite the fact an increasing number of Americans are placing a heightened emphasis on environmental issues, a new study has found.

Procter & Gamble, the FMCG giant, recently announced its intention to launch a major "green" marketing effort in its home market next year.

According to a survey by Grail Research, 85% of US shoppers have previously purchased products boasting these sorts of credentials, but only 8% said they made up a majority of their acquisitions.

Of those respondents who have not bought such offerings, two-thirds have actively considered doing so, while price was found to be the biggest single obstacle to an increased level of uptake overall.

Some 63% of Grail Research's panel also said they had changed their buying habits in the downturn, although 76% of this group had not "switched" away from green goods.

Purchase rates were highest in the cleaning category, where 80% of people had chosen such an option, falling to 68% for paper products, 47% for electronics and small appliances, and 50% for health and beauty.

This total declined to 37% for packaged food, 36% for apparel brands, 19% for consumer durables, 8% for furnishings, and just 5% in the auto sector.

Despite this, 93% of shoppers considered a company's environmental credentials as being an important factor in shaping their choice of brand.

Clorox was the organisation which contributors most associated with providing eco-friendly products, followed by Johnson & Johnson and SC Johnson.

Apple was the top-ranked firm when it came to recognition of its involvement in social responsibility projects, sustainable manufacturing practises and communicating on environmental issues.

Johnson & Johnson took this position with regard to transparently relating the risks and safety of its products, followed by Procter & Gamble, which was also acknowledged for its CSR efforts.

By contrast, more than 75% of adults polled by Grail Research said they were "not aware" that Estée Lauder, HP, Unilever, Nestlé, Intel, Cisco and Newell Rubbermaid were active in these fields.

Among this group, HP was most identified with manufacturing "green" goods, although just 14% of people associated it with such a strategy, a figure that fell to 11.2% for Unilever.

Such an opinion was delivered despite the fact Estée Lauder has well-established links with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and Nestlé has committed to using natural ingredients and recycled goods.

Similarly, HP has developed an "Eco-label" programme, while Unilever has reduced the amount of water used in its manufacturing process by 63%, and CO2 by 39%, per tonne of production.

In terms of discovering information about brands' environmental standing, 63% of those polled primarily relied on product labels, compared with 45% who afforded this position to word-of-mouth.

TV ads were given this status by 38% of the sample, falling to 34% for print media, 28% for specialist internet services, 21% for online product reviews, and 18% for company websites.

Silvia Springolo, a researcher on the report, said "the low awareness of these initiatives raises huge questions because companies are spending so much money on them.

"And while green qualities are very important to consumers, they are not being communicated effectively. These companies are just not getting through to consumers."

Data sourced from MediaPost; additional content by Warc staff