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Green marketing can boost brands' reach by a third, study finds

Research commissioned by the PR giant Edelman points to a 'powerful amplifier effect' of sustainability messaging.

"The sustainability amplifier effect is real."

Image via Shutterstock/RoseRodionova

Effective environmental sustainability messaging in corporate communications can enhance brand reach among consumers by up to a third, according to new "first of its kind" research that demonstrates how "the sustainability amplifier effect is real."

Global PR agency Edelman published findings from research carried out by New York University's Stern Center for Sustainable Business aimed at providing a best practice guide for environmental messaging for leading brands.

Carried out in partnership with nine high profile consumer-facing corporates — including Mars, North Face, Unilever, and HP — the research suggests that effective corporate sustainability messages can have a "powerful amplifier effect" that is able to increase brand reach and relevance by up to a third.

Researchers partnered with innovation, sustainability and marketing teams for all nine brands to devise environmental sustainability claims for each in order to gauge their overall appeal, and come up with best practice lessons that could be applied across advertising categories and campaigns, Edelman explained. The claims were then tested on 2,700 people to gauge responses and reactions.

The report said the results showed "a wide-range of consumers are attracted to simple, jargon-free sustainability messages that connect directly to them, their family, and the world around them."

Sustainability claims in advertising messaging significantly expanded brand reach by between 24 and 33 percentage points.

Overall, the research found that sustainability claims in advertising messaging significantly expanded brand reach by between 24 and 33 percentage points by bringing in new consumers. It also found that the strongest performing claims related to sustainability benefits for individual's lives, families and experiences.

Consumers also reacted strongly to claims regarding animal health, sustainable sourcing, local sourcing and children and future generations, as well as support for local farmers, according to Edelman.

However, the research found that consumers were notably less interested in the scientific claims behind a brand's sustainability claims, unless it is tied to a self-centered reason to care or related to the outcome of a specific action. For example, a message that promised "reduced air pollution for cleaner air to breathe" was more likely to resonate with audiences than a claim promising "reduced air pollution."

Significantly, the research also showed that the top performing sustainability claims had no demonstrable demographic, psychological or political preference differences in impact, with performance largely the same across party lines and age groups.

Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, said the research showed that environmental sustainability should be a core pillar of brand messaging and communications, as it holds huge potential to increase consumer interest and engagement.

"Every leader thinking twice about sustainability on the grounds of it being 'divisive' needs to know this: If you communicate sustainability the right way, it will appeal across political affiliation, income, gender, education levels, and age groups," he said. "Sustainability is an amplifier and if brands embrace it, we can exponentially increase growth and trust."

Project lead researcher Randi Kronthal-Sacco, a senior scholar at NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, said the study "demonstrated the commercial case for sustainability for mainstream brands."

The report comes as Edelman continues to face criticism from some environmental campaigners for its work with fossil fuel companies.

"The sustainability amplifier effect is real and can help brands reach and engage more people," she said. "We hope this mobilizes brands and marketers to act and put sustainability at the core of business strategy, innovation and communications."

The report comes as Edelman continues to face criticism from some environmental campaigners for its work with fossil fuel companies and other carbon intensive businesses.

In a position statement the company insisted it worked with "a wide range of companies, associations and organizations across every sector of the global energy industry, from fossil fuels and utilities, to alternative and renewable energy providers and clean tech companies, to government agencies, NGOs and citizen coalitions."

"Like our clients, we believe that business, government and society must work together to address climate change while supporting the economic recovery and growth required to improve people's lives and create opportunities for billions of people around the world," it added. "We are committed to helping meet this challenge by supporting efforts by all stakeholders to advance the development of sustainable solutions and meet ambitious emissions goals as soon as possible."

In related news, a "world first" guide to sustainable media setting out how advertisers can reduce the direct carbon emissions from their work has been launched by industry initiative Ad Net Zero and the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM).

Launched on the sidelines of the global creative industries Cannes Lions summit, the guide is aimed at encouraging and supporting advertisers and the agencies and technology partners they work with to play their part in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

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