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Consumers to Marketers: Don't Call Us "Green"

April 21, 2008 - Is it time to put "green" out to pasture? U.S. consumers say the word that helped galvanize the environmental movement just doesn't cut it anymore - to describe either them or the products they're likely to buy, according to a survey from branding firm BBMG.

According BBMG's just-released Conscious Consumer Report, only 18% of Americans self-identify as "green," while 39% prefer "socially responsible," followed by "conscious consumer" (37%) and "environmentally friendly" (34%).

"People tend to associate the word 'green' with a sense of activism they may not share, and also perhaps with a standard that is higher than they feel they can realistically aspire to," says BBMG co-founder Raphael Bemporad, who co-authored the report.

The report also finds that eco-attributes test better with consumers when describing specific qualities such as "recycled," "biodegradable," "cruelty-free" and "locally grown," as opposed to the more general term "green."

"Brand messages that speak to specific benefits can help cut through the kind of vague green-marketing clutter that's evoking such skepticism among consumers today," says Bemporad. "'Green' has reached the point of such saturation that it's virtually meaningless. It's the new 'new and improved.'"

The brand promise behind "new and improved," - quality - continues to trump all, however. Consumers still rate price and quality as most important when choosing a product (although in cases when those factors align, most will choose the greener option). The report shows that even so-called "enlightened consumers" - those who are most driven by their values when making purchasing decisions - prize attributes such as utility, durability, and affordability just as highly as mainstream consumers.

While consumers continue to prioritize personal and practical concerns like health, safety, price, and quality, they are also looking to make a difference in the world, says David Lubensky, founder of Bagatto, the research firm that conducted the study. We see a trend toward self-centered consciousness, whereby consumers want companies to meet their personal needs and positively impact society.

The new Conscious Consumer report builds on BBMG's initial findings, published last November, from its in-depth study national survey on purchasing behavior and social values. For a free whitepaper summarizing the key findings BBMG's latest report, click here.