Does eco-friendly translate to inferior?
According to new study from researchers at Yale University, consumers are less likely to purchase a product if they think helping the environment was the intended purpose of a product improvement. Essentially, consumers perceive that brands skimp on quality to get greener.
Wrote authors George E. Newman, Margarita Gorlin, and Ravi Dhar (all of Yale University) in a statement, "If a company intentionally made a product better for the environment, consumers believe the product’s quality must have suffered because the company diverted resources away from product quality."
In a series of studies, subjects learned about a company that manufactures household cleaning products and were told that the company either intended to make the product better for the environment or that the environmental gain was the result of another improvement.
Even when the company’s intentions were not disclosed, consumers thought the products suffered from a quality control problem, suggesting that consumers automatically perceive green products as being lower quality even when a company does not specify its intentions.
"Companies improving a basic product feature (making something more environmentally friendly or better tasting) should either position the improvement as unintended or emphasize that the primary goal is improving the quality of the product," wrote the authors.
The study found a similar effect with other perceived tradeoffs, such as healthfulness and taste. In one experiment, ice cream that was intended to be healthier was perceived as less tasty than the ice cream that was healthier as an unintended side effect.
The study did find that when the spelled-out social benefit was separate from the product (e.g., advertising fair trade or sustainable production practices or their donations to charity), consumers evaluate the product more favorably when the enhancement was intended (vs. unintended.) The authors wrote in the report, that "the key moderator of compensatory inferences versus halo effects appears to be whether the social benefit is seen as something that is part of the product or not."
- When Going Green Backfires: How Firm Intentions Shape the Evaluation of Socially Beneficial – Yale
- Are Consumers More Likely to Purchase Unintentionally Green Products? – Journal of Consumer Research
- We’ll buy ‘accidentally green’ household products: study – Today
Are messages at retail around green and healthy-for-you often counterproductive to sales? What lessons does the study offer around promoting green and healthy-for-you products?