Archive for the ‘Consumer Research’ Category

From the New York Times, today, on ‘Across Globe, Empty Bellies Bring Rising Anger‘:

Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

From the Star, a few months ago, on ‘Obesity Becoming World Crisis‘:

According to the United Nations, there are now more overweight people in the world than starving people. Maybe time for some give and take, literally? What do you think? Do you have any ideas of how to make this work?

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Looks like No Impact Man and I, were both wrong. This whole business of declining happiness past a certain level of consumption, may be a fallacy after all. Chrystia Freeland, from the Financial Times just featured a forthcoming research paper by two bright and up-coming economists from the Wharton School. According to Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson, the Easterlin Paradox does not exist. It is not true that there is a limit to how much happiness money can buy.:

They conclude that we do, in fact, become happier overall as our country becomes richer. This is true over time – as generations get richer they get happier; and over space – people living in rich countries are happier than people in poor countries. They also refute the concept of a “satiation point” or the belief that, beyond a certain income threshold, further increases in national wealth cease to increase national happiness.

Controversy is brewing on the happiness front . . . So I need to ask you a personal question. Is there a point at which you have felt- or think you will feel – satiated with material things? I know I have ceased to get pleasure from buying and owning more stuff. But that’s a recent phenomenon. Will it stand the test of time?

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A few months ago, No Impact Man drew a graph showing his interpretation of the connection between quality of life and consumption.

Global Give and Take for a Happier Planet



Yesterday’s pictures of the Cuban people eagerly snapping up electronics in the stores, made me think of how the No Impact Man‘s graph can be applied not just on a personal, but also a country level. Cubans want in on the consumerist orgy, and we cannot deny them that right, even in the face of the looming global warming threat. Just as we can’t prevent the Chinese or the Indians. Similarly, some of the poorest developing countries in Africa are lacking even the most basic necessities, and yearning for material goods to improve their lives. All are on the left side of the curve. Our job as good neighbors should be to help them get what they want and need, so that they can catch up to us and reach the apex.

Maybe we should listen to James Speth, author of “The Bridge at the End of the World” as he suggests that “We need a new story”? What he means by that, is we, the Western folks, are on the right side of the curve, where more things not only do not make us happier, but instead lead us to become more and more dissatisfied with our lives. At some point, we have to stop and ask ourselves, how can I lead my life differently so that I am more ful-filled, not ‘fake-filled’? New happiness research shows that we are happiest when we give, not when we take. Place this in the context of the people on the left side of the curve, and you can connect the dots.

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All green marketers would do well to take note of Nielsen Online‘s new report just mentioned in Ad Age this morning. According to Jessica Hogue, research director at Nielsen Online, and author of the report, “Corporations can’t do everything in one feel swoop, but need to be authentic and transparent about the steps they are taking,” She also suggests brands, study Footprint Chronicles, Patagonia‘s recent interactive online campaign, that discloses the company’s both environmental good works and sins.

Nielsen Report Says Green Marketers Better Be Authentic and Transparent

It’s time brands understand that they are in a relationship with their citizen customers.

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I don’t always agree with John Tierney, but I have to thank him for pointing me in the direction of ‘Nudge‘, a new book by University of Chicago professors, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler.

The authors agree with economists who’d like to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by imposing carbon taxes or a cap-and-trade system, but they think people need extra guidance.

“Getting the prices right will not create the right behavior if people do not associate their behavior with the relevant costs,” says Dr. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics. “When I turn the thermostat down on my A-C, I only vaguely know how much that costs me. If the thermostat were programmed to tell you immediately how much you are spending, the effect would be much more powerful.”

It would be still more powerful, he and Mr. Sunstein suggest, if you knew how your energy consumption compared with the social norm. A study in California showed that when the monthly electric bill listed the average consumption in the neighborhood, the people in above-average households significantly decreased their consumption.

Meanwhile, the people with the below-average bills reacted by significantly increasing their consumption – not exactly the goal of the project.

That reaction was avoided when the bill featured a little drawing along with the numbers: a smiling face on a below-average bill or a frowning face on an above-average bill. After that simple nudge, the heavy users made even bigger cuts in consumption, while the light users remained frugal.

Mr. Sunstein and Dr. Thaler suggest applying those principles with something more sophisticated than smiley faces. A glowing ball called the Ambient Orb, programmed to change colors as the price of electricity increases at peak periods, has been given to some utility customers in California, who promptly reduced their usage by 40 percent when the ball glowed red in peak periods.

Another gadget, the Wattson, which changes colors depending upon how much electricity a house is using, collects data that can be displayed on a Web site. Clive Thompson, a columnist for Wired, has suggested that people start displaying the Wattson data on their Facebook pages, an excellent idea that I’d like to take a little further.

I have written before about the need for people to be recognized for their good deeds, and what that means in terms of behavioral strategies for the climate fight. At heart, we remain little children. No matter how grown up I may pretend to be, there is this place inside my heart, that smiles whenever my efforts get acknowledged . . . I call that the ‘sticker effect‘. The other insight deals with the ‘lemmings‘ phenomenon, a behavior I have often observed in myself! Both behavioral tendencies are interrelated and stems from our inherent nature as social beings.

Nudge‘ is behavioral psychology at its best. Maybe not as appealing to the big boys as fancy technology, but potentially just as effective to fight climate change.

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GreenBiz reports on a recently released joint study from Yankelovich and Getty Images, the ‘MAP Report 2: Aspirational Environmentalism‘:

Firms seeking to advertise their green credentials should shun generic images associated with climate change such as polar bears and melting ice floes, according to a major new survey of green advertisements and consumer attitudes.

The study from picture agency Getty Images assessed 2,500 advertising campaigns from last year for its annual “What Makes a Picture” (MAP) report and concluded that many of the conventional images used to promote green campaigns were in danger of becoming visual clichés.

“When it comes to the visual language of the environment, we are in danger of killing it as a meaningful symbol with visual cliché,” said Lewis Blackwell, creative advisor at Getty Images. “The first lesson we must learn in order to grab any attention is to make Death to Environmentalism our mantra and kill off the clichés of ecology.”

Rebecca Swift, global creative planning director at Getty Images, warned that pictures of ice caps and polar bears in particular “will not resonate with consumers in the future.”

How to talk to people about green stuff

The report recommends that advertisers instead embrace more localized images that are relate more closely to consumers’ experience of the environment. “Whatever the product, the closer to home you can pitch the communication the better the opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of consumers to green products and behaviors,” it claims. “This is probably not good news for communicators who have been enjoying economies of scale in recent years by running global campaigns.”

It also advises advertisers to challenge consumers’ negative attitudes towards the environment head-on, arguing that campaigns should not shy away from addressing issues such as consumer indifference, concerns over greenwashing and resentment about the commercialization of a social cause.

These are important findings. At the same time, the study does not tell us anything we could not infer from previous research, and also good marketing practice. Advertisers and marketers need to empathize with their target ‘consumers’ – I use this term reluctantly, as I believe we should increasingly relate to people as citizens instead of consumers. Empathizing means acknowledging the reality of where people are:

  1. a combination of apathy, frustration, resentment, some of it that can be linked to Steven Running theory of Climate Grief
  2. cynicism and doubt bred by experiences of greenwashing
  3. guilt from being asked to make life changes that are impossible to achieve, given present solutions
  4. a thirst for information
  5. a physical reality linked to place, time, and personal experience; make it personal, make it local.

Practically, this means giving people solutions to real problems, not trying to force upon them products and messages decided by wannabe green marketers. The ‘Green‘ magic can only go so far.

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The following 2007 Environmental Survey was commissioned by Professor Jon Rosnick, from Stanford University Woods Institute for the Environment. ABC News and the Washington Post were cosponsors. Here is what it said about the state of Americans’ minds towards global warming:

1) Americans on the whole, believe in the severity of global warming, and the need to do something about it; only half of them however feel it is personally important:

  • Global warming is the world’s biggest environmental problem – 33%
  • Global warming is caused mostly by human activigy – 41%
  • Global warming is important to them personally – 52%
  • Know a good deal about global warming – 62%
  • Believe it is happening – 84%
  • Believe it will be a serious problem if left uncorrected – 86%
  • Think it indeed can be reduced – 63%
  • Federal government should do more to address – 70%

2) There is a declared willingness to make changes in order to help with the problem:

  • Are willing to make changes in their lives in order to help environment generally – 94%
  • Say so even if it means some personal inconvenience – 80%
  • Are already making efforts to reduce energy consumption in their homes – 73%
  • Are willing to make changes to benefit the environment – 50%
  • Are very willing if it means personal inconvenience – 45%
  • Are doing a great deal to reduce their energy consumption – 31%

3) Intent translates into behavior only in selective areas:

  • Make efforts in terms of Heat/AC – 26%; would be willing to make efforts it it helped the environment
  • Favor law in favor of recyclable grocery bags – 82%
  • Recycle even if not mandatory – 75%
  • Have low-flow showerhead or low-volume toilet – 69%
  • Use at least some CFL bulbs – 70%; support laws requiring CFLs – 56%
  • Had their tire pressure checked within last month – 68%
  • Oppose taxes on electricity use – 79%
  • Oppose taxes on gasoline – 67%

4) Younger, female population are more positively predisposed towards making behavioral changes:

  • Adults younger than 40 are more aware than older adults, 65% vs. 52% think global warming will be a serious problem if left unchecked, 70% vs. 58% think it can be addressed.
  • Women are more willing to change their behaviors than men – 10 points difference.

What is remarkable is the consistency of the results between the various studies.

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Thanks to Craig Nelson, over at World Changing for alerting me to the latest GFK Roper Poll on Americans’ Green or Environmentally Responsible New Year’s Resolutions for 2008:

  1. 49% of all American adults say they will make a green New Year’s resolution this year.
  2. Reducing household energy usage was cited as the most likely to be undertaken in 2008, cited by 75% of respondents.
  3. It was followed by recycling more (74%).
  4. And reducing the use of harmful household chemicals (66%).
  5. Carrying fabric bags to the supermarket (42%) and reducing one’s “carbon footprint” (43%) were the least frequently cited.
  6. The survey found that, in general, the more involved or personally demanding an environmental responsibility, the lower the response.
  7. 9 in 10 Americans say it’s important to take actions in their personal lives (recycling, giving blood, conserving energy, etc.) to address social issues, but not nearly as many are actually doing so. We want to help, but between family and work, we’re stretched thin. The easier we can make it for individuals to act on their good intentions, the better. There’s a lesson in that for businesses looking to leverage the growing green sensibility.
  8. 58% of Americans 18 to 24 said they would make a green New Year’s resolution for 2008. That compares with 50% of Americans 50 to 64 and 40% of Americans 65+.
  9. 31% admitted to feeling guilty in recent years about not living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Women (36%) are more likely than men (26%) to feel “green guilt.

This is very interesting, and has obvious implications for the green marketer:

  1. Target women
  2. Go for the younger crowd
  3. Make it easier on people
  4. Hot areas: lower energy use, recycling, natural products that are free of harmful chemicals.

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According to the updated Green Brands 2.5 Research, there is an up tick in purchase intent for most consumers when it comes to green products and services, particularly those that are relatively simple to implement such as installing environmentally friendly lighting and upgrading to energy-saving appliances.

Other attitudinal shifts worth noting:

  • 90% of Americans agree that there are important green issues and problems, and 82% believe it is important for companies to implement environmentally-friendly practices.
  • Consumers perceive green as a direct and positive reflection of their social status, in addition to recognizing its broader value to society and the world.
  • Bright Greens remain sad and skeptical about the future outlook and one in three feel anger about the situation. They care most about the environment, animal rights and education.
  • One in five Dull Greens is satisfied with the current state of the environment. Dull Greens prioritize crime reduction, religious organizations and health care as their main causes.

As encouraging as these findings maybe overall, one should not forget the difference between absolute versus relative data. While it may be true that the majority of Americans care about the environment, voters’ polling data shows that green is not a priority, relative to other issues such as the war in Iraq, immigration, national security, jobs/unemployment, health care, and education.

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Market researchers are all trying to classify consumers’ attitudes into various shades of green. And using different words to describe similar categories of green consumers. Where the Green Gauge Report sees consumers split between, True Blue Greens, Green Back Greens, Sprouts, Grousers, and Apathetics, the folks at PSB research propose instead a different segmentation in their Green Brands 2.0 Study:

  • Bright Greens (34%), instead of True Blue Greens (30%)

The most skeptical and the most convinced that things are going in the wrong direction (a “bunker” mentality). Therefore they are the most likely to demand “green” steps on the part of companies – and at the same time the most likely to complain about these companies not taking green far enough.
These are, in the language of a political campaign, the key “swing” voters. They are younger and energized – the most likely to be speaking out, writing letters to the paper, etc., about global warming and government and corporate environmental responsibility. Because they feel things are going so badly, they raise the bar enormously high. Their touchstone is pure green, not shades of green. They look to Greenpeace and other environmental NGO’s for in-depth information about all green issues, including consumer products.
At the same time, however, the bright greens still need to buy groceries, household products, appliances, and cars. Within categories where there are greener choices, they will help anoint the best of breed. They are both your Opinion Leaders in the category and your most severe critics.

  • Green Motivated (10%), instead of Green Back Greens (10%)

They want green, but are optimistic about the way things are going. They are likely to accept corporate “green” programs at face value and as a step in the right direction.

  • Green Hypocrites (26%), instead of Sprouts (26%)

They like to talk about green, but don’t want to go out of their way – not even slightly out of their way for it. Slap a green smiley face on it and they’re on board.

  • Green Ignorants (19%) and Dull Greens (11%), instead of Grousers (15%), and Apathetics (18%)

They are simply unengaged in the issue. Green isn’t particularly motivating, but it’s not a negative either.

Personally, I find this second classification more relevant to how I think as a consumer. More straightforward, and easier to grasp.

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