Building brands in a changing society

Winning over the mainstream consumer to green

What’s the best way to capture the heart of the mainstream consumer for a green brand, product or service? Apparently it can be as easy as embedding a few scenes from nature in advertising.

Research from the University of the Basque Country has found that scenes of cascading waterfalls, dense forests and rolling fields aren’t just pleasing to look at in commercials and print advertising. They’re also powerful levers for improving how consumers feel about a brand. Images of nature can serve to create a positive emotional state in viewers, one that can measurably improve a consumer’s attitude towards the brand.

Patrick Hartmann and Vanessa Apaolaza-Ibáñez established this learning by testing consumer perceptions of major Spanish energy brands. One was historically perceived as the least environmentally-friendly but had recently repositioned itself as Spain’s only green energy brand through an advertising campaign featuring flying eagles, mountains and other natural scenery. The study found that consumers who viewed these images of nature linked their positive emotional response to the brand, resulting in a significant improvement –even a transformation – in brand perception.

The researchers explain that positive feelings are stirred by images of nature because humans generally enjoy a pleasant emotional response when in contact with nature, whether real or simulated. As modern society becomes increasingly urbanized, they argue, people have less opportunity for real nature experiences and rely more heavily on the virtual experiences available through the media.

Interestingly, the positive influence of natural images was pronounced across both consumer segments under study: the environmentally concerned consumer – a segment predisposed to environmental messages – and the non-concerned consumer. The former can be considered an easy target for green marketing; the latter makes up a sizeable proportion of mainstream consumers and, based on the research results, are often immune to direct claims about green product features.

This points to a lesson for marketers:  tapping into a basic human desire to connect with nature can help engage even the non-concerned consumer in green messages. But proceed with caution. Over-reliance on natural images without the support of verifiable environmental benefits can run the risk of damaging a brand.

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