“People are unwilling to openly admit they think sustainable products are not strong.”
This article is inspired by a blog post written by Elayne Crain for McCombs TODAY.
One of the most talked about commercials in this year’s Super Bowl collection was this spot from Audi, the “Green Police” drama which shows someone escaping from (or complying with?) a group of environmental enforcers while driving the new Audi A3.
Oddly, the commercial seems designed to both confuse and/or offend nearly everyone on any particular side of the environmental movement. But what was the real intent? David Roberts wrote on The Huffington Post:
To scratch one layer deeper: what is Audi’s message to these guys who want to be good but find the effort anxious-making? Here’s a way to meet your green obligations and still have a bad-ass car! The Audi A3 is both green and desirable — indeed more desireable because it’s green. Buried deep in this ad, in other words, is a bright green message: prosperity, pleasure, and sustainability can be achieved together.
Why does Audi feel such a message needs to be told? Look to a recent study by two researchers from the marketing department at The University of Texas at Austin, Julie Irwin and Raj Raghunathan, who point out that while 40 percent of consumers SAY they are willing to buy green products, only four percent actually follow through.
Apparently, while we may love to give the impression that environmental friendliness is a factor in our shopping decisions, most of us would rather choose effectiveness or durability–and as a rule consumers suspect that green products don’t quite meet those standards of strength.
Irwin [left] and Raghunathan [right] found in their study that there is a “sustainability penalty” levied on products for which durability or strength are key decision factors. So while we may be happy to buy eco-friendly baby shampoo, purchasing similarly green laundry detergent is not as attractive. Will it be strong enough to get the grass stains out of my child’s shorts?
Can Audi Convince Consumers that a “Green Car” Rocks?
Irwin sees a direct tie between the Audi commercial and this principle. “The ad refers to the feeling some people have that they should be more environmentally friendly, and that doing so would cause them to give something up,” she said. “This is manifested as guilt, the feeling that others are judging them for everyday behaviors. Audi seems to be attempting to play against this response, by implying that the car is zippy and fun to drive (i.e., strong) but also green.”
So is the Audi spot meant to soothe our guilt, or play upon it? “It certainly suggests a burden society has placed upon us,” Raghunathan said. “If people around us are going to constantly evaluate whether and to what extent we are supporting the green movement, then there’s a lot of pressure on consumers to appear as if green products have their unqualified support, even if they actually don’t. The ad seems to suggest we can succumb to the pressure yet still have our enjoyment.”
I’ll be watching Audi sales to see if the strategy works. In any event, they’ve certainly generated online chatter.
Read an interview with Irwin and Raghunathan about this research on Sheridan Titman’s Energy Insights blog.