Marketers seeking to drive environmentally-friendly behaviors could benefit from understanding the role of “green guilt” and financial considerations, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

The paper, authored by Sidharth Muralidharan (Southern Methodist University) and Kim Sheehan (University of Oregon), used a tax introduced in England and that charged 5p per plastic bag, as a basis for their analysis.

More specifically, they conducted two studies in order to ascertain whether guilt exerted a different level of influence among male and female consumers, and its impact when deployed in advertising.

And the results indicated that women are “more prone to exhibit more favorable attitudes toward the carry-bag law and pro-environmental behavior than men when the level of guilt from not carrying reusable bags was high.

“No differences, however, were found between men and women when the level of guilt was low. This key finding indicates that women were more susceptible to green guilt, especially high guilt, than men.”

The study, entitled The role of guilt in influencing sustainable pro-environmental behaviors among shoppers: Differences in response by gender to messaging about England's plastic-bag levy, drilled down even further.

Another key finding was that an advertisement based on making savings “was more effective in generating an elevated level of guilt among women”.

“This result suggests that although women have strong concerns about the environment, they might place greater emphasis on avoiding the 5p charge.”

One potential explanation for this outcome was that the message “credited participants for behaviors that they might not have performed”, the academics explained.

“Although the egoistic advertisement credited women for contributing to their personal savings by carrying reusable bags, they might have neglected to bring reusable bags, which could have induced feelings of guilt from the missed opportunity to save money.”

When looking at green advertising, the analysis also highlighted the importance of “psychological ownership” in assessing how people respond to communications involving “green guilt appeals”.

“Values are related to personal and psychological ownership – whether an individual actually possesses an object or entity (egoistic: money) or strongly identifies with it (biospheric: the planet),” the authors wrote.

“In the current study, women responded better to the guilt appeal focused more on personal than psychological ownership. This unexpected finding could indicate an endowment effect: the tendency to value possessions (money) more than non-possessions (the environment).”

Sourced from WARC