Turning emotions in to actions: Why do consumers spend more on ethical products?

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

"This research has critical implications for advocacy groups, ethical brand managers, and anyone else trying to encourage mainstream consumers to make more ethical choices,” said study author Ahir Gopaldas.
"This research has critical implications for advocacy groups, ethical brand managers, and anyone else trying to encourage mainstream consumers to make more ethical choices,” said study author Ahir Gopaldas.

Related tags: Marketing

Ethical consumption, and consumer willingness to pay more for ethical products, is motivated by a need to turn emotions about unethical practices into action, say researchers.

It may seem obvious, but new research investigating what motivates consumers to make ethical choices such as spending more money on fair-trade coffee or sustainable food products has found that these practices are driven by a desire to turn emotions such as contempt, concern, and celebration in to real actions.

Writing in the Journal of Consumer Research​, Ahir Gopaldas of Fordham University investigated the driving factors behind why some groups of consumers will spend more on ethical products while others simply hunt out the best deal on products.

“Although sentiments are theoretically latent in consumer research, they are empirically unmistakable forces in activism, branding, and consumer identity work,”​ said Gopaldas. “Simply put, marketplace sentiments are critical to understanding how consumer culture works.”

“From outrage at corporations to excitement about innovations, marketplace sentiments are powerful forces in consumer culture that transform markets.”  

"This research has critical implications for advocacy groups, ethical brand managers, and anyone else trying to encourage mainstream consumers to make more ethical choices,”​ he said. “It is simply not enough to change people's minds. To change society, one must also change people's hearts.”

“Sentiments ignite passion, fuel commitment, and literally move people to action.”

Studying sentiment

Gopaldas analysed information from dozens of websites of advocacy groups and companies driven by ethical mission statements, and conducted at-home interviews with people who identify themselves as ethical consumers.

From this he identified three common emotions driving ethical behaviours: contempt, concern, and celebration.

According to the analysis, contempt happens when ethical consumers feel anger and disgust toward the corporations and governments they consider responsible for environmental pollution and labour exploitation. Concern, meanwhile, stems from unease for the victims of rampant consumerism, including workers, animals, ecosystems, and future generations.

Celebration occurs when ethical consumers experience joy from making responsible choices and hope from thinking about the collective impact of their individual choices.

Gopaldas suggested that advocates of ethical consumerism should consider the role of emotions in motivating consumers to make more responsible decisions. For example, anger can motivate consumers to reject unethical products and concern can encourage consumers to increase charitable donations, while joy and hope can lead consumers to cultivate ethical habits such as participating in recycling programs.

“The sentiments of ethical consumerism, such as guilt about regressions to mainstream consumption, are powerful drivers of everyday behaviour,”​ he added.

Social media & sentiment analysis

Gopaldas also noted that consumer sentiments are important to businesses because current sentiments can help to predict future behaviour.

“Sentiment analysis has become especially important in the new age of big data because social media give marketers an unprecedented opportunity to regularly monitor consumer sentiments.”

However, he warned that current sentiment analysis software generally only interprets marketplace sentiments about target elements as simply positive, negative, or neutral

“By contrast, the current analysis of ethical consumerism demonstrates that there are meaningful differences among different positive sentiments and different negative sentiments,”​ he said.

Source: Journal of Consumer Research
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1086/678034
“Marketplace Sentiments”
Author: Ahir Gopaldas

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