The Green Sell

Consumers trust government eco-labels more than corporate, study finds

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With consumer advocacy groups often questioning the credibility of products labeled as "environmentally friendly," marketers have struggled to build consumer trust and approval.

However, recent research suggests that green product marketers could build consumer trust by relying on government eco-labels, which consumers tend to trust more than corporate eco-labels. The corporate eco-labels, researchers found, work best for improving product and brand likeability for lower-cost products, such as milk or cereal.

This is an ongoing area of research for Lucy Atkinson, assistant professor of advertising in The University of Texas at Austin's Moody College of Communication and Sonny Rosenthal, a former Moody student and now an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

The Green Sell

Some of their research is explored in "Signaling the Green Sell: The Influence of Eco-Label Source, Argument Specificity, and Product Involvement on Consumer Trust," published earlier this year in the Journal of Advertising. It was based on a survey of 233 undergraduate students at The University of Texas at Austin.

Researchers believe consumers tend to trust government eco-labels more, because the government has the ultimate responsibility of ensuring food safety and corporations might have other interests that compete with product safety. Conversely, those same consumers might find a corporation that is internally motivated to create its own label to be more likeable than a corporation that is forced to act by government regulations.

"Liking, which is a simple, somewhat transient emotion, comes with fewer risky consequences than trusting, which involves a more deeply held sense of faith in the claims being made," Atkinson said. "A consumer might like a company for establishing a sustainability index for all its products, while simultaneously not trusting that the labels are accurate or meaningful."

Additionally, researchers found that including specific information to support claims – on government or corporate eco-labels – positively influenced consumers' trust in less expensive products. For example, a label that specifies a livestock product is free-range would be preferable to vague logo that claims a product is "sustainable".

Laura Byerley
Public Affairs Representative