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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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  • Lauren Turner

    Lauren completed a Bachelor of Health Sciences and a Master’s in Environment and Sustainability at Western University. She interned with the Network for Business Sustainability as part of the MES program, and continued to edit and contribute content to the network in the years following. She later completed a Master’s in Insurance and Risk Management from the MIB School of Management in Italy, where she focused on environmental risk mitigation strategies in the face of changing market sentiments towards low carbon. Lauren has worked primarily in the non-profit and higher-ed sectors in Toronto and London over the past decade. Her work has revolved around corporate social responsibility in mining and minerals governance, stakeholder engagement, project and program management, and writing/editing for corporate audiences. Her writing has focused on the intersection of sustainability and finance, access to capital, investor risk, consumer behaviour, and sustainable marketing. She is interested in conversations around how industry can hedge against risk and benefit financially from improving the sustainability of their operations.

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