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Color Effects in Green Advertising

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Abstract and Figures

Marketers often use green in marketing communications to signal sustainability, despite the lack of supportive data. This article is a report of two experiments to observe consumer reactions to advertisements that use color to indicate environmental friendliness. The pretest and Study 1 confirm that consumers associate green with environmental friendliness and gray with environmental unfriendliness. Thus green (gray) is more (less) effective for producing positive ad attitudes and purchase intentions. Consumer perceptions regarding color appropriateness mediate the effects. Study 2 shows that persuasion knowledge moderates the effects: when consumers have high persuasive knowledge, green has a less positive effect; gray has a less negative effect; blue remains neutral. The study concludes that green functions as a peripheral cue signaling an eco‐friendly brand image, but the use of green may backfire when consumers are aware that green is used to bias responses.
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wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/ijcs Int J Consum Stud. 2020;44:552–562.
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© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
1 | INTRODUCTION
Marketing communications use colours to shape the consumer be-
havior (Bellizzi, Crowley, & Hasty, 1983; Singh, 2006). For example,
Starbucks and Whole Foods Market, known for eco-friendliness,
signal their sustainability using a green logo as a particularly strong
signal indicating socially desirable business practices (e.g., Mazar &
Zhong, 2010; Yoon & Oh, 2016). Ironically, however, BP, infamous for
the deadly and destructive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of
Mexico, adopted a green label to counter the damage to the brand.
Does the use of green to advertise environmental friendliness
actually enhance advertising effectiveness? Do green strategies
work if they are perceived to inappropriate? In contrast, does the use
of grey—a colour that often symbolizes environmental destruction—
damage brand images? Might success or failure of colour strategies
depend on consumer scepticism about marketing persuasion? How
do colours and words jointly shape consumer thought and action in
response to sustainable marketing? Surprisingly, those questions
have been rarely studied empirically. This research aims to fill the
gap.
Many adver tising campaigns use visual elements as cues to en-
hance brand perceptions (Parguel, Benoit-Moreau, & Russell, 2015).
Green is the ubiquitous visual cue used to trigger implicit ecologi-
cal inferences in green advertising, but green can be abused through
greenwashing practices intended to mislead consumers (Schmuck,
Matthes, & Naderer, 2018). In response, the U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office established guidelines to prevent environmentally
destructive companies from using the word green in their trade-
marks (Collen, 2012).
Theoretically, the current research proposes that marketing
communications may be persuasive when colours are appropri-
ate for the message, but inappropriate colour themes may cause
resistance (Seo & Scammon, 2017). Accordingly, the persuasion
knowledge model (Friestad & Wright, 1994) warns that if message
recipients are explicitly aware that companies are using colour inap-
propriately to manipulate them, the persuasive intent may backfire.
Received: 7 Novembe r 2019 
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  Revised: 6 Ap ril 2020 
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  Accepted: 8 April 2020
DOI : 10.1111 /ij cs.12589
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Colour effects in green advertising
Dongjae Lim1| Tae Hyun Baek2| Sukki Yoon3| Yeonshin Kim4
Funding information This work was su pported by 2019 Re search Fu nd of Myongji
University
1Department of Advertising and Public
Relations, Grady College of Journalism and
Mass Communication, Universit y of Geor gia,
Athens, GA, USA
2Department of Integrated Strategic
Communication, College of Communication
and Information, University of Kentucky,
Lexing ton, K Y, USA
3Marketing Depar tment, College of
Business, Bryant University, Smithfield, RI,
USA
4Department of Business Administration,
College of B usiness, Myong ji University,
Seoul, South Korea
Correspondence
Yeonshin Kim, Depar tment of Business
Administration, College of Business, Myongji
University, Seoul, South Korea.
Email: yeonshin67@mju.ac.kr
Funding information
Myongji University
Abstract
Marketers often use green in marketing communications to signal sustainability,
despite the lack of supportive data. This article is a report of two experiments to
observe consumer reactions to advertisements that use colour to indicate the en-
vironmental friendliness. The pretest and Study 1 confirm that consumers associate
green with environmental friendliness and grey with environmental unfriendliness.
Thus green (grey) is more (less) effective for producing positive ad attitudes and pur-
chase intentions. Consumer perceptions regarding colour appropriateness mediate
the effects. Study 2 shows that persuasion knowledge moderates the effects: when
consumers have high persuasive knowledge, green has a less positive effect; grey has
a less negative effect; blue remains neutral. The study concludes that green functions
as a peripheral cue signalling an eco-friendly brand image, but the use of green may
backfire when consumers are aware that green is used to bias responses.
KEY WORDS
colour, green advertising, persuasion knowledge, sustainability
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