Consumers Don't Believe Your Green Ad Claims, Survey Finds

Green Gauge Study Points to Much Confusion and 22% Jump in Doubters Over Last Five Years

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Nearly a year after the Federal Trade Commission updated its guidelines for environmental advertising, consumers appear more confused or doubtful than ever about what green-marketing claims actually mean.

The percentage of consumers who say they don't know if companies' environmental claims are accurate doubled to 22% between 2008 and 2013 in GfK's annual Green Gauge tracking survey. The percentage who said they don't know how well businesses fulfill their responsibility to the environment tripled to 10% over the same period.

The GfK data jibes with other research such as that from Cone Communications earlier this year showing that while 40% of people think "environmentally friendly" means a product has a positive environmental impact, 22% think it means only a neutral impact and 9% think it means nothing.

Among consumers in the GfK survey who weren't confused, more than 40% thought green claims were inaccurate, said Tim Kenyon, a senior consultant with the market research firm.

Consumer confusion may abate as the FTC enforces recommendations in its Green Guides, because a key theme is steering marketers toward making specific claims and away from generalities, such as putting a leaf on a package, according to Jacquelyn Ottman and David Mallen, co-authors of a new Advertising Age research report, "How to Make Credible Green Marketing Claims: What Marketers Need to Know About the Updated FTC Green Guides."

Some marketers have ended up on the wrong side of recent rulings by the FTC and the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus for implying broad environmental benefits based on a very specific attribute, said Mr. Mallen, deputy director of the NAD.

"My prediction is we're going to see a lot fewer babies, planets and daisies in green advertising as a result of these guides," said Ms. Ottman, principal of New York-based environmental consulting firm J. Ottman Consulting. "We're going to see a lot more specificity."

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