Green Marketers Should Take Cue from Ten Commandments to Increase Sales

March 31, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — Companies offering "green" products and services can improve sales by making simple shifts in marketing language, new research from The University of Texas at Austin and the University of South Carolina has demonstrated.

The key findings, to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Marketing Research, hinge on an aspect of consumer decision-making which might seem trivial at first.

Suppose you were narrowing down a list of potential cars to buy. Would it matter whether you narrowed the choices down by eliminating alternatives that do not interest you, or by identifying alternatives that do interest you? Logically, it should make no difference how you go about the narrowing down process.

"We find that it makes a big difference, and we find this difference over and over, across different product categories," said Julie Irwin, associate professor of marketing at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, who co-authored the work with Rebecca Naylor, assistant professor of marketing at the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.

For example, the researchers asked consumers to sort actual shampoo bottles, either by putting them into an "interested" bin or a "not interested" bin. When faced with a "not interested" task the consumers paid much more attention to whether the shampoo companies perform animal testing or not. In the "interested" task consumers all but ignored this information.

"We show that exclusion is more compatible with moral reasoning than inclusion, even though logically they should not differ," Irwin said. "This is because we tend to think of morality in terms of 'don'ts,'" Irwin said, noting that many of the Ten Commandments are expressed negatively ("thou shalt not") as are many of our other moral rules such as "first, do no harm."

What does this research mean for consumers who want to act ethically? When faced with buying choices they should make the task one of exclusion: "Which choices do I not want?" Doing so will put you more naturally in a frame of mind to consider what really matters to you.

Similarly, marketers should encourage an exclusion frame of mind. Advertising can use phrases such as "say no to wasteful cars" and "no need to even consider buying clothes made using child labor." Consumer advocacy groups can provide lists of options not to consider: companies that are not green, companies that violate human rights, etc.

These simple shifts should, these researchers show, lead to substantially increased preference for green and other ethical products.

For more information, contact: Rob Meyer, McCombs School of Business; Julie Irwin, 512, 471-5419.

7 Comments to "Green Marketers Should Take Cue from Ten Commandments to Increase Sales"

1.  helen said on April 9, 2009

Of course, it will only work with people who know what the Ten Commandments are, a diminishing group. But I'm glad the business school is interested in ethics! Wall Street doesn't seem to have any. And some Texas firms.

2.  Bruce said on April 9, 2009

It is truly ludicrous and highly inappropriate to attempt to profit from a fictitious document which has poisoned the minds and hearts of a populous for so much of human history. We do not need to perpetuate and foster supernaturalism and superstition, however it may have come to our minds. Rather, we need to rid ourselves of their fallaciousness in our society, once and for all, and replace them with genuine reasoning and critical thinking.

3.  kate alexander said on April 9, 2009

Moral and religious imperatives also use proactive positive phrases such as "be ye kind one to another." Perhaps it is more attributable to a common parenting phenomenon of telling children what not to do rather than what to do, that is "stop running" versus "walk." Isn't encouragement of this negative model actually encouraging an undesirable negative approach and isn't that unethical? Ethics is in the eye of the beholder because some might see negative manipulation as itself unethical.

4.  Susan said on April 9, 2009

Bruce: I don't think the author of this article was exhorting anyone to adopt Judeo-Christian beliefs. I think they were using a widely known document as a example of a kind of language.

5.  Darren said on April 10, 2009

Bruce, I agree with Susan's comments. I also ask you to be open-minded about the possibility of God. If there is a God, then all our critical thinking and reasoning skills are from Him. Judeo-Christian values, whether one wants to admit it or not, are the basis for ethics and morality, and thankfully so, because the world is a much better place because of it. Also, just because one walks down a freeway lane and says "I don't believe in trucks" won't change the facts.

6.  Craig said on April 10, 2009

"Coveting thy neighbor's house" and "coveting thy neighbor's wife" are primary, and proven, marketing tactics. One would do well to ignore all the commandments if they want to ensure effective marketing strategy.

7.  Helen C. said on April 10, 2009

This article is not about beliefs. It is about a method of advertising. (Thank you, Susan!) The idea is that consumers should eliminate items to decide on a product. I think this idea has merit. Sometimes it is hard to tell which product is better, so this method works, especially if the consumer has no specific preference. However, I think many people are opposed to being told what to do (i.e. "Do not buy this because"), so the advertisement has to be worded carefully. An ad might say, "I never buy brand X because they are linked to human trafficking."