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Brands Matter for Green Products

I suppose the headline of this post is a bit of a, "duh." We all know brands matter … that's why we spend so much money building and defending them.

In all the discussions and theories, though, around why consumers choose green products, there's little discussion of brand. And our soon-to-be-published Green Living Pulse study reveals that there is, in fact, a big correlation. There’s also a triumph of brand over initial gut-reaction.

Here’s the story:

We preceded our Green Living Pulse study with focus groups and, knowing from our Eco Pulse study that advertising and packaging are the primary source of information for consumers about what's green and what’s not, we tested several TV commercials for green products and packages as well.  In particular, the ad we showed for Clorox GreenWorks elicited several negative comments.  Not about the product --  about the brand name.  If I were to show you a movie of clips from these focus groups, you’d hear the following:

“It’s Clorox – how could it be green?…I would have found it more believable if they hadn’t used the Clorox name…When I think of Clorox I think of bleach!  Something I have to wear gloves to use can’t be green?”

So, the focus groups reactions would lead you to believe that a brand name -- particularly one associated with chemicals – could actually hurt a green product’s credibility.  Interestingly, though, and in a rare case of quantitative contradicting qualitative research work, our Green Living Pulse study shows exactly the opposite. In the survey we presented actual product photo close-ups of:

  • Clorox Green Works natural all-purpose cleaner
  • Scrubbing Bubbles Nature’s Source All-Purpose Cleaner
  • Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner
  • Method Multi-Surface natural all-purpose cleaner

We asked participants to choose which natural all-purpose cleaning product they would most likely buy, and here's how it panned out:

  • 43 percent would buy Clorox Green Works
  • 20 percent would buy Scrubbing Bubbles
  • 14 percent wouldn’t buy any of them
  • 14 percent would buy Seventh Generation
  • 8 percent would buy Method

When asked why they chose the way they did, the two most common answers for both Clorox and Scrubbing Bubbles were "I trust/am familiar with brand" (45 percent for both) and "I currently use this" (16 percent for both).

The moral of the story? Consumers are still really anxious about their ability to make a good green choice. They're worried they'll buy the wrong thing and, when forced to choose, they go back to the names they know and trust. So, if you have a trusted brand name, explore rolling your green products under it. If you're a newer green product without a well-known brand, put your marketing dollars into building the brand.

Suzanne C. Shelton is founder, president and CEO of Shelton Group, an advertising agency focused exclusively on motivating mainstream consumers to make sustainable choices. The original version of her post appeared on the Shelton Group blog and is reprinted with permission.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user adria.richards

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