Can ‘gain language’ persuade more consumers to go green?
A new university study finds using “gain language,” or highlighting positive possible outcomes, works better at encouraging people to go green than “loss language,” or highlighting negative potential outcomes.
“Gain language is messaging that says ‘you can save this amount of water if you reuse your towel or save this amount of electricity.’ Highlight the positive benefit of the proposed action,” said Prof. Priyanko Guchait, a study co-author and professor at University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, in a press release.
“Combine that strategy with peer pressure, or what’s called normative influence, and convey that 75 percent of customers reuse towels, for example. Then customers will be more likely to do the same because of that established social norm,” he said.
For companies, shifting customers’ behaviors to be greener can save money while increasing their reputation, researchers said.
A 2019 study from Warwick Business School in a similar manner found appealing to “pride,” or making people feel good about their past achievements, is the best way to sell sustainable goods. The positioning was also expected to work for promoting other sustainable behaviors, such as driving less and saving energy at home.
Lead researcher Hugh Wilson, professor of marketing at Warwick, said in a release, “Attempts to encourage consumers to make more sustainable choices have traditionally been dominated by negative emotions, such as guilt and fear. While this has achieved some success, it can have a really bad side effect: people can lose heart and give up.”
In her book, “The Green Bundle: Pairing the Market with the Planet,” published in 2018, Magali Delmas, professor of management at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, argues that the vast majority of consumers are “convenient environmentalists,” finding endless excuses for not purchasing sustainable products, such as the expense, lower quality or unclear environmental claims and benefits.
She proposes a “green bundle,” combining environmental good with product traits — quality, healthiness, performance, status — that have always sold. An excerpt from the book reads, “Messaging that pairs sustainability with private benefits creates a win-win for consumers.”
- Persuading Consumers to Go Green – University of Houston
- When normative framing saves Mr. Nature: Role of consumer efficacy in proenvironmental adoption – Psychology & Marketing
- How Fear Encourages Physical Distancing During Pandemic – University of Houston
- How do you persuade people to buy sustainable goods? – Warwick Business School
- The persuasive effects of emotional green packaging claims – UCLA Anderson Review
- Be Green and Save a Little – Stanford Social Innovation Review
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What personally persuades you and, conversely, dissuades you to go green when buying a product? What general assumptions about reaching potential green consumers are flawed and which work well?