Successful Marketers Make Buyers Feel Good, Not Guilty

People are more likely to buy an ethical product when marketing makes them feel good rather than guilty.

Good > Guilt

Does your company use marketing to guilt consumers into ethically-sourced purchases? Research shows you may be driving them to your competitors.

People are twice as likely to buy an ethical product when the marketing makes them feel good about the purchase, than when the marketing makes them feel guilty about the unethical alternative.

Guilt Works When People Feel Watched

Worth noting are the authors’ findings that consumer behaviour changed in the presence of others. In public areas such as retail locations, products with deliberate ethical appeals are more likely to be purchased. The authors find that the presence of others both activates the motivation to appear moral in front of others and the accountability to one’s standards of right and wrong. In the absence of observers, though, consumers are more likely to buy products with subtler ethical cues.

So avoid touting your company’s principled commitments by plastering your products with climate change statistics and harrowing pictures of stranded polar bear cubs. Your consumers shouldn’t feel morally obligated to save the world one hormone-free hamburger at a time. Rather, encourage consumers to buy your product by making them feel a little better about their purchase, and themselves. In the end, it’s simply the ethical choice.

Peloza J, White K, & Shang J. 2013. Good and Guilt-Free: The Role of Self-Accountability in Influencing Preferences for Products with Ethical Attributes. Journal of Marketing.77: 104-119.

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