The declaration was based on sales figures of cleaning products. In short, sales of green cleaning products from conventional brands (Clorox and SC Johnson) are down, while sales of green-ier products -- like Method and Seventh Generation -- are up. The point of the NYT piece was that mainstream consumers won't pay the price premium for greener products from mainstream brands.
And on that front, in this economy, they're right. The cleverness of creating a green product under a conventional brand name is that it demystifies it and gives a consumer confidence to purchase it amid a tremendous amount of confusion about what's actually greener/healthier/safer/better. But that same consumer is also extrinsically motivated, needing price promotions and coupons to motivate her to purchase.
So my standard answer about this conundrum has been just that: Before you launch the product you must align the pricing strategy and branding strategy with the right audience. The mainstream Americans (we call them Seekers and Skeptics) will respond to a conventional brand name, but they're price motivated as well. The greener Americans (called Actives) will actually pay more for greener products, but they're not turned on by conventional brand names and believe that a Seventh Generation or a Method sounds/feels/smells more pure.
We've now added another layer to this view of the American consumer, deepening our understanding of exactly how to align a product with the right audience and deliver the right message. In our annual Eco Pulse study, which publishes later this month, we added in questions from John Marshall Roberts' Worldview Assessment Tool. This allows us to see each of our segments in a whole new light.
For instance, though there are eight to 10 questions in our surveys that determine our segmentation, one of the key questions is how many green activities someone is already engaged in. If they're engaged in many, they get bucketed in the Actives category. Broadly, Actives are more attuned to the environment and are motivated to make green purchases because of their desire to do the right thing for the earth. But there are a lot of nuances that are critical for getting a brand and key selling message right ... and for assessing true market potential.