Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Development and Testing of a Measure of Skepticism toward Environmental Claims in Marketers' Communications

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Development and Testing of a Measure of Skepticism toward Environmental Claims in Marketers' Communications

Article excerpt

With the growth of public concern about the environment and business response to this concern, the 1990s has been declared the decade of environmentalism (Drumwright 1994; Kangun, Carlson, and Grove 1991). Roper's national opinion poll on attitudes toward the environment shows that the majority of Americans regard a number of issues as "very serious," including industrial water and air pollution, destruction of ozone and rain forests, industrial accidents, oil spills, and hazardous waste (Roper Starch Worldwide 1996). Many people believe that businesses should play a major role in confronting these issues, as evidenced by a national Cone/Roper survey on cause-related marketing (Cone Communications Press Release 1994) where they found that quality of the environment ranked second only to crime among issues businesses should work hardest on solving.

Response to this public concern is indicated by the dramatic increase in the number of "green" product introductions between 1985 and 1990 (Drumwright 1994). Furthermore, there is evidence that more marketers are making environmental claims about their products. For example, Mayer, Gray-Lee, Scammon, and Cude's (1996) audit of grocery store products across the United States uncovered environmental product or package claims, either explicit or implied, for 66 percent of the 397 brands they audited. In spite of the apparent proliferation of green marketing, however, actual consumer purchasing has lagged behind verbally-expressed concern for the environment (Mayer, Scammon, and Gray-Lee 1993; Shrum, McCarty, and Lowrey 1995). One reason for this lack of consumer responsiveness may be the confusion about and skepticism toward green marketing communications (Gray-Lee, Scammon, and Mayer 1994), possibly spawned by distrust for advertising in general. For instance, 72 percent of the respondents in a consumer panel study of attitudes toward television advertising indicated that less than one-quarter of TV ads are honest and credible (Mittal 1994). Gray-Lee, Scammon, and Mayer (1993) argue that the nature of environmental claims makes these communications especially likely to mislead consumers. In support of this argument, Moore's (1993) in-depth interviews with consumers found pervasive distrust of marketing "hype," leading respondents to perceive little association between "green" products and helping the environment.

To the extent that consumers do not believe the environmental benefits touted in ads and on product labels, the costs of both developing and communicating the benefits of these new or improved "green" products are wasted. Furthermore, consumers who are skeptical of such marketing claims may inadvertently forego the chance to help the environment by purchasing genuinely beneficial or less harmful products. These arguments have lead some to assert that consumer distrust of advertising and other forms of marketing communications reduces marketplace efficiencies (c.f. Pollay and Mittal 1993). On the other hand, the Federal Trade Commission and other public policy and consumer groups, who are concerned with the potential to mislead consumers, argue that skepticism provides consumers with a "healthy" viewpoint from which to make product evaluations. They also suggest that skepticism should be enhanced through education and training. From a public policy standpoint, a desired state for consumers is that they are skeptical in those areas where there is greater potential to mislead and less skeptical in areas where there is less potential to mislead. When this is not the situation, then public policy action in the form of additional regulation or consumer education may be called for.

In 1992 the Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines for the use of environmental marketing claims (FTC News 1992; Federal Trade Commission 1992). The guides were intended to reduce confusion by helping consumers understand the basis for environmental claims, to increase consumer confidence in such claims so they would be more likely to make product comparisons and choices using environmental criteria, and to enable consumers to use the power of the marketplace to achieve environmental goals. …

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