Consumers are fed up with being hectored about being green. International economic turmoil and domestic austerity measures mean they are preoccupied with rising grocery prices and falling household budgets. The last thing a harassed mum needs when buying laundry liquid against this backdrop is to feel ticked-off by a trusted brand to take more responsibility to save the planet.
At The Big Picture, we have recently carried out a series of in-depth interviews with consumers to find out how they rated sustainability in the laundry and tea and coffee sectors, based on the look and feel of a products’ packaging.
We found people fell into three broad groups; Ethical Elites, Feel Gooders and Ethical Antis. Ethical Elites and Feel Gooders are more engaged with sustainability and find more aspects of the sustainable lifestyle appealing.
However, the majority of consumers – the mass market – fall into the last group, for whom any sustainability appeal is limited to the point of purchase, where media such as on-pack communication can offer instant feel-good gratification.
What we found is crucial intelligence to marketing and design teams grappling with how to communicate sustainability messages effectively to consumers. We discovered that sustainability has almost become a dirty word for the majority of people as, in the current climate, it makes the vast majority feel irritable, lectured to and, ultimately, turns them off.
We found that consumers are typically in a rush, and are not primed to select a product based on its sustainability. In addition, most consumers are likely to be motivated by price promotion messaging at shelf.
But – and it’s a big but – when all price and quality perception is equal, our research shows there is a real opportunity to persuade mass market consumers to choose their pack based on feel-good eco credentials.
Therefore, obvious positive emotional and feel-good pack design elements are most likely to engage consumers and win at shelf (when all other factors are equal) because they offer a feel-good factor just by purchasing the product.
Our research also uncovered that, on the whole, consumers find it much easier to engage with the sustainability messages communicated in the tea and coffee categories than the laundry category. This is because beverage brand messaging is inherently more focused on social and ethical issues, while the latter concentrates on more abstract, less immediate environmental issues.
For example, our ethical antis responded very positively to Café Direct’s simple images of smiling producers/farm workers on pack because they could make the link between their purchase and sustainable impact easily. To many, choosing this product made them feel as if they could make a difference instantly without having to do anything other than buy the product.
However, we found it is possible to achieve some emotional engagement in the laundry category through the use of imagery that breaks category codes.
A good example is the Attitude laundry brand, which uses an image of penguins on front-of-pack that infers to consumers the product is doing something good for these penguins by lessening the negative impact on their natural habitat.
Overall, applying our impact model helped us to draw out further learnings for FMCG marketers and pack designers. For example, once a consumer’s attention has been drawn to a product using ‘shoutout’ and ‘showstop’ pack design techniques, we found that using key words on front of pack such as ‘biodegradeable’, ‘good’ and ‘handpicked’ work well to ‘seduce’ consumers into purchase when at shelf.
We also discovered that shoppers are very alert to so-called ‘greenwash’ and, once drawn in to picking up a product, would find a product more appealing if the sustainable messaging on pack seemed more genuine and informal, as opposed to authoritative and ‘staged’.
But the overriding message for brand owners, we believe, is to remember that a holistic design approach to sustainability messaging on pack is key.
In other words, you wouldn’t leave a key part of your brand messaging (i.e. premiumness) to a small logo and blurb tucked away on a less visible part of the pack. Thus if communicating sustainability is truly a key priority, then it must be central to the design brief, and compliment the whole brand design approach to engage consumers.
Ultimately, if you treat sustainablility as an afterthought, so will consumers.
Suranee Abeysuriya is a director of The Big Picture Design Research agency. Visit www.thebigpicture.co.uk