You Just Aren't Sustaining Me!

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You Just Aren't Sustaining Me!

American Consumers Aren't Buying Brands' Sustainability Claims

CANNES, France--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- American companies that claim to be "sustainable" or "green" aren't inspiring flocks of consumers to pledge allegiance to their brand, according to a Young & Rubicam Group study conducted by Crowdverb and Civic Science. The study revealed consumers aren't swayed emotionally by brands' claims of being green and helping the earth, but there are ways to make a connection.

Current marketing approaches to sustainability fail to appeal to more than two of five emotions that drive loyalty:

  • Broad messaging that promotes a company as "being green" will not be successful at inspiring brand loyalty to more than a small base of consumers.
  • Men and women have distinct emotional principles that tie them to a brand and will serve to excite them about a company making the effort to be more sustainable.
  • There are distinct differences as to which emotions people feel about industry segments, and marketers should be aware of the emotions resonating in their segment and with their brand.

The study measured five principles described as key to winning the hearts and minds of consumers in former P&G executive Jim Stengel's book, Grow. The emotional precepts (Joy, Connection, Exploration, Pride/Security and Impact the World) demonstrate the different possible levels of engagement consumers have with a brand.

The findings were unveiled at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity Selling Sustainability... Are We There Yet? forum, held on Friday, June 21. Trish Wheaton, managing partner, Young & Rubicam Group and Richard Dunn, chief strategy officer, Wunderman UK, were joined onstage by Chris Arnold, author of Ethical Marketing and the New Consumer.

"We know that the green message is niche, it only appeals to about 15% of consumers," said Wheaton. "If marketers can strengthen their appeal to consumers based on honest efforts, then they can make the all-important emotional connection and be drawn in."

So, what's a company to do?

  • DON'T LEAD WITH THE TECHNICAL: Companies need to place technical facts in second or third position in their messaging to meet consumers at no less than three of the five emotion-driven principles.
  • MATCH EMOTION FOR EMOTION, PRINCIPLE FOR PRINCIPLE: For broad- based communication planning, executive marketing teams should look within their own leadership, stockholders and employees and make a personal evaluation and investment in the five emotions identified. In essence; placing purpose greater than profit. It's necessary for companies to match consumers emotion for emotion and principle for principle on a broad basis.
  • UNDERSTAND WOMEN AND MEN: On a targeted basis, brands must recognize the distinct split between the emotions that animate men differently than woman, and consumers undertaking brand decisions in one category versus another.

"The language and technical talk that brands use - carbon footprint, post-consumer fiber content, etc. - don't register very deeply with the emotions we have identified in this study," said Dunn.


Crowdverb and Civic Science produced the study examining how US consumers feel about over 2,000 brands, products and companies by mapping them to the five principles described in Stengel's latest book. Those results were crossed with how committed US consumers are to changing the way they live day-to-day to help the environment. From this research, an assessment was made on the emotions that brands will need to connect with consumers in order to gain ground in convincing them to become loyal to companies oriented toward sustainable practices.

About Young & Rubicam Group

The Young & Rubicam Group is a unified team of the leading companies in their fields, dynamically organized to meet clients' continually growing and evolving needs. Y&R Group delivers the precise and most powerful combination of talents and resources, customized for superior execution.

Partner companies include Y&R, the iconic advertising agency; Wunderman, the world's largest direct and digital agency; Burson-Marsteller, one of the world's leading global public relations and communications firms; Landor Associates, a leader in strategic brand consulting and design; Cohn & Wolfe, Public Relations, as well as Sudler & Hennessey, one of the world's leading healthcare communications firms.

Andrew Sexton, 646-415-0980

KEYWORDS:   United States  Europe  North America  France


The article You Just Aren't Sustaining Me! originally appeared on

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