Marketing sustainable cars: what might hybrids learn from the myths and storytelling behind the success of SUVs?

Richard Brookes and Richard Starr
The University of Auckland, New Zealand


Encouraging more responsible and sustainable consumption is fast becoming an important public policy goal. Global automotive marketing has traditionally encouraged purchase and consumption choices that are optimal for particular individuals. Many of these choices, however, have social and environmental externalities which extend beyond the individual consumer. Kotler and Keller (2006) sum up both sides of the issue when they ask: “Are companies that do an excellent job satisfying consumer wants necessarily acting in the best long-run interests of consumers and society?

We are studying a generalisable question: what leads people to make a purchase decision that may be individually fulfilling, but could be construed by others as harmful in economic, social, environmental, ethical, and/or personal safety terms? One commentator has called this the societal effect of an individual's “rational bad behaviour” (Diamond, 2005). We also explore the converse, exploring what leads some people to make a purchase decision that may be construed as beneficial in social, environmental, and/or ethical terms, but not necessarily sensible in individual economic terms? We might term this the personal cost effect of 'rational good behaviour.'