In green we trust: an exploratory research into the credibility of green claims in print advertising

Year of publication: 2012
Author(s): De Vlieger L. & Verleye G.
Appeared in: Etmaal van de communicatiewetenschap, Proceedings


It is widely recognized that green advertising is on the rise, although practitioners have to contend with low credibility of environmental claims due to a variety of reasons. Greenwashing and consumers’ lack of knowledge concerning environmental issues, for example, make people distrustful of green advertising. This interesting evolution notwithstanding, research assessing the credibility of green ads is virtually non-existent. Moreover, there is no literature employing content analysis as a methodology to predict the credibility and greenness of ads conveying an environmentally-friendly stance. This study attempts to fill this void using qualitative content analysis employing the Means-End Chain Conceptualization of Advertising Strategy (MECCAS) model to divide genuine environmental print ads into five incremental levels of greenness. Levels are allocated based on a specific combination of five variables assessing whether a particular green feature (e.g. green claim, green look) is present or absent. A whole volume of two Flemish weeklies and one monthly was selected and every ad was carefully examined. This resulted in a pool of 162 ads trying to convey greenness to a minimum extent. Coding was carried out by one none-expert judge and intrajudge reliability was calculated for each variable separately by recoding a subset of ads. The lowest reliability was 0.78, while all others exceeded 0.90, thus meeting stability standards. Results indicate that many advertisers have not yet discovered the rich potential of green advertising since nearly half of the ads studied can merely be awarded the lowest level of greenness. Subsequently, an offline survey was conducted among 52 Flemish respondents in order to assess people’s judgments of greenness and credibility of the same ads used in the content analysis. This survey revealed that the MECCAS model does not live up to expectations in predicting respondents’ judgments since the MECCAS variables explained a low, yet significant proportion of variance in credibility (R²=.104, F (7,1033)=18.18, p=.000) and greenness (R²=.137, F (5,1033)=33.90, p=.000). This study also indicates that green ads do indeed suffer a rather low credibility (M=4.13, SD=2.74, measured on an 11-point Likert-scale ranging from 0 to 10). Thus it can be assumed that we still have a long journey to travel before people’s confidence in green advertising will be restored and before the earth together with its rich fauna and flora can finally benefit from greener products.

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