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Consumer Research


Meet the Green Consumer

Meet the Green Consumer

OMD Sense findings

Recent articles have introduced the Paradoxical Consumer and the Consciencious Consumer whose purchasing preferences are influenced by green concerns.

We’ve discussed what these consumers want and what kinds of messages they respond well to.

In this piece we’re going to look at what gives those consumers their context, the grand trend of the moment, climate change.

Green-minded consumers did not develop by themselves but respond to media cues, which have now moved from the headlines into entertainment – an appearance at Live Earth, for example, can multiply a popstar’s sales (Madonna, Foo Fighters).

Global warming remains a huge news story – it’s responsible for moving green concerns into the mainstream.

If there is a definitive trend affecting consumer culture right now, our ever-more extreme weather – a possible effect of global warming – and its catastrophic side-effects is it.

The story is now so familiar that it should by rights be stale, and greening up a brand should be stale with it. People know the situation – unless we all change the way we live, we’ll be underwater in 60 years.

It’s become a cliché. However new news stories keep coming our way, such as the recent flooding during the wettest July since 1789 – following one of the hottest Aprils on record.

These extremes and records refuel the trend and make clear why brand after brand – from M&S to Jeep – is engaging with it.

Arguments and spin

The media reports are confusing, though. The consumer is receiving so much conflicting spin that it’s impossible to confirm which side is telling the truth. Just to be really clear:

One argument says the planet had four major ice ages before we even started farming, for example, and blaming the current phase of climate change on us is (a) unscientific and (b) liberal whingeing. Global-warming is a myth. Just keep doing what you’re doing. This view is embodied in Jeremy Clarkson.

The opposing argument says our use of fossil fuels, CFCs and so forth has heated up the atmosphere and that by persisting in this lifestyle we are about to make the polar bear extinct, bring great white sharks into Cornish waters, and sink Gloucestershire.

This view is heavily supported by the Independent and the main political parties, and at the moment seems the more buoyant of the two.

The science is drowning in politics, and it is impossible to fish the facts out of the spin. One thing we can be certain about is that the human actions in question here are, above all, consumer actions – what we buy, how we buy it, transport it and use it.

Analyses and predictions

The consumer doesn’t know what to do with analysis or forecasts. The conflict between the two arguments is too intense. What this intensity does is maintain the debate at its current, increasing volume, with its current, increasing effect on consumer culture.

If a consensus was reached, the effects would be simpler. The volume would plummet and you would either produce a carbon-neutral lager or abandon your research into carbon-neutral lager.

For the time being, people have opinions, including marketeers, brand managers, even jaded media professionals. What that also means is that consumers will remain unpredictable.

We already know that a majority of consumers blames brands for what consumers do, including global warming. Brands should not be surprised when consumers remain fickle and ignore a green product.

Many consumers aren’t really clear on what a green alternative really means, and even if a brand tries to educate those consumers, it’s just one more voice on the pro-green side. The uncertainty is what’s driving the noise and the PR and green market.

Climate change has made mainstream purchasing habits part of a wider debate, with conscientious and paradoxical consumers now doing their buying in a newly political supermarket aisle.

Brands that successfully court them orchestrate and deliver green messages that reflect not just the debate – e.g. “we’re green now!” – and the needs of those consumers, but also the terms of the debate.

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