That's the finding of a Burst Media online survey in April of more than 6,000 consumers ages 18 and over about their perception of environmental marketing. More than 70% of respondents recalled seeing green ads at least occasionally, yet more than 20% said they never believe the claims. And a whopping two-thirds say they only believe the claims "sometimes."
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However, there is a group that does appreciate marketers' sustainability ad efforts. That group is the most dedicated green consumers -- the 5% who classify themselves as "completely green" -- and they are the biggest cheerleaders of the ads. For instance, 44% of the self-described completely green consumers think advertisers are doing an excellent or good job at providing information on green claims, compared to less than 20% of the much larger group of consumers classified as "aspirationally green."
"The deeply passionate green audience is rooting for the brand marketers to get with the green thing," said Jarvis Coffin, president and CEO of Burst. "That's true of advertising in general. If you find your best, most invested audience, speak to them and -- providing your claims hold up, of course -- those people become your champions in the marketplace."
He thinks that the popularity of current green-marketing initiatives offers a unique marketing opportunity. He called it a "clean laboratory" where marketers can get a bigger picture of advertising in general, and how consumers interact with brands.
"The message, or the moral, of this story is that everyone is aware of the importance of the issue of green ... and marketers are certainly conscious of that. But they need to be aware of the fact that it's only superficial until you get down to where the hard-core audience is," Mr. Coffin said. Marketers "have got to overcome a lot of suspicion, and the place to do that is with that group of deeply engaged consumers."
He believes the internet, with its capacity for narrow, cost-effective targeting, is a good place to reach that group.
Indeed, almost 80% of those surveyed used the web to research green initiatives and products themselves. The most searched-for issues? Recycling information (36%); healthy recipes (34%); alternate energy sources (28%); natural remedies (26%) and eco-friendly cleaning products (25%).
Ads aren't the first place consumers find out about companies' green efforts and products, either. Almost 44% find out from news stories, 35% cite word-of-mouth, and 34% cite personal research. Ads ranked as the No. 4 source of information, cited by fewer than 27% of respondents.
Another key difference between the true and casual green consumers was their motives for going green. Casual greenies most often cited "good for the environment" (62%) as their top reason, while the more dedicated said it was "to live a better quality of life" (48%).
"It's highly personal for them. It's gone beyond 'we fix the environment if we all work together' to 'it's good for me and my family,'" Mr. Coffin said. "Marketers need to take a more personal approach ... connect the dots between your company's rationale for being green to being better for you personally."