How To Persuade A Conservative To Buy Green? Don't Tell Them It's Green

Despite the clear cost benefits of being more energy efficient, many conservatives won’t buy in to something so closely associated with the liberal agenda. To get around that requires some marketing tricks.

It remains a mystery why energy efficiency isn’t more popular. Given the provable savings of investing in things like home insulation and higher mpg cars, you might think that the whole country would be banging on the door to get its share.

Turns out that energy efficiency remains a hard sell as much for political and cultural reasons as economic ones. Simply put: people are more likely to embrace energy savings if they have a "liberal" political outlook, and identify with a Democratic party agenda. The question is why, and what marketers of energy efficient products can do about it.

Research by Dena Gromet and Howard Kunreuther at the Wharton School and Rick Larrick at Duke University shows that marketing based around monetary incentives or energy independence may play better than appealing to environmental issues. In particular, messaging around climate change is the least effective, studies shows.

The researchers conducted two experiments. In the first, they asked 657 adults aged 19 to 81 the relative value they placed on reducing CO2, energy independence, and how much energy costs (for them). By a significant margin, more conservative participants were less likely to see efficiency as a priority.

"More politically conservative individuals are less in favor of investing in energy efficiency than are those who are more politically liberal, a finding driven primarily by the polarized psychological valuation of carbon emissions reduction," the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says.

Following the first experiment, the researchers wondered if labeling a product as "environmental" would actually deter buyers of a particular persuasion. They found that it could. Working with 210 participants, aged 18 to 66, they offered two lightbulbs: an incandescent bulb and a compact fluorescent light (CFL). They priced the higher efficient CFL light at $1.50 and less efficient incandescent one at 50 cents, telling the participants that the former would last longer and cut energy costs by 75%. Then they added "Protect the Environment" stickers to half of the CFLs, but not the others.

The result: self-identified conservatives happily chose the more expensive bulb without the sticker. But when the CFL bulbs were labeled, they were less likely to buy it. Across all participants, 60% chose CFLs. With the stickers added, only about 30% of "more conservative participants" chose it.

"These findings indicate that connecting energy-efficient products to environmental concerns can negatively affect the demand for these products, specifically among persons in the United States who are more politically conservative," the researchers say.

Marketers therefore would be wise to either tailor messages to different audiences, or come up with statements of "trans-ideological appeal." "Different messages may be needed to reach different groups, and we think it is also important to identify more unifying messages," Gromet says, in an email.

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  • Sean Breslin

    Stereotypes are dangerous. There are plenty of conservatives who do plenty to help the environment, just as there are plenty of conservatives who support causes like gay marriage, abortion rights for women and other topics.

  • Bobby Burns

    Mr. Breslin - unfortunately, there may plenty of Republicans who support the causes you mention, but true conservatism cannot embrace these causes by their very nature. One may be a "fiscal conservative" and hold to more liberal views on other issues, and one may be politically "liberal" yet find themselves holding more conservative mores and moral convictions than other liberals.

    You are correct, however, that stereotypes are dangerous.

  • Latitude

    Man, it's a good thing journalism can hide behind the guise of design on this one.  I hope the author can feel as good as politicians about stereotyping and dividing.  The posters below have it right on.....green tech, in general costs more to the environment or your wallet, sometimes both.  A person must put blinders on to some aspect of the process in order to feel they are doing good by buying green.  I think if doing the research, weighing the choices, and coming to a rational conclusion happens to steer you away from green anything, then label me a conservative all day long. 

  • Danthemason

    Maybe the architectural and engineering professions using the laws of physics in their everyday work have sold conservatives for years on efficiencies. Going along with the whole green thing in order to sell to liberals who don't build much anyway just expands their market, and my work


  • jsmithcsa

    This is pretty offensive to me as a conservative. You seem to be using a pretty broad brush here. My family recycles and, as a Scout leader, I spend a lot of time outside caring for nature.

    My advice: stop stereotying -- it absolutely will not help your cause.

  • michaelmousedisqus

     Don't worry, most people that would be thought of as conservative actually don't operate off of "how they feel".  That does play a part but subservient to the actual facts!  I.e. "don't print this", like how is every body going out and buying the equipment/services to print a few pieces of paper cost effective?  People that uses their feelings for 90% of their decision results can actually justify those kind of decisions.  It just feels good!!  I.e. obama and all the operable cars that were destroyed...

  • Ralph Bagnall

    Wow, talk about stereotyping! And here I thought Liberals were supposed to be the "open minded" ones. The premise of the artical is crap and everyone with a brain can see that. "Investing" in a Prius for example is NOT "green", it is simply a way to feel good while actually doing damage. The energy required to build a new car is bad enough. Add the mining, processing and shipping of all the parts for the lithium batteries, and you simply can't drive it enough to make up the destruction. Not to mention that the battery pack will go bad long before it can save enough gas to offset the damage of producing it. I drive a 97 Jeep Wrangler. Keeping it running is FAR more "green" than replacing it with a hybrid even if it does only get 20 MPG. And it is more cost effective as well. Simple math will tell the tale.

    I know many conservatives who recycle, bike to work, and live other "green" lifestyle choices. I also know many liberals who keep their homes at 84 degrees in Winter, 68 in the summer, water their lawns and toss cigarette butts out their car windows. Generically lumping either type of behaviour on either group is not only disengenuous, but grossly in accurate as well.

  • tardx

    Amazing insight! "Marketers therefore would be wise to ... tailor messages to different audiences..." We needed the brains of Duke & Wharton to tell us this?

  • jimjenal

    So much for enlightened self-interest.  It is a sad commentary when self-described "conservatives" eschew an interest in products that help to conserve the environment in which those conservatives live.

  • jsmithcsa

    The problem with this article is that is assumes we don't, and it's not true. There are people all across the political spectrum who "live green" to varying degrees.

  • Marc Posch

    It's right out of Frank Luntz's GOP strategy handbook: It's not about what you say, it's about what they hear.