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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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| Int J Consum Stud. 2020;44:552–562.
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
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
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 
  Revised: 6 Ap ril 2020 
  Accepted: 8 April 2020
DOI : 10.1111 /ij cs.12589
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
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,
4Department of Business Administration,
College of B usiness, Myong ji University,
Seoul, South Korea
Yeonshin Kim, Depar tment of Business
Administration, College of Business, Myongji
University, Seoul, South Korea.
Funding information
Myongji University
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.
colour, green advertising, persuasion knowledge, sustainability
... Manufacturers commonly use colors to give products a sustainable image. The color green is used most often, given that this color is commonly associated with sustainability (Lim et al., 2020). One study previously found that green food packages gave the impression that a brand had a lower environmental impact (Seo & Scammon, 2017). ...
... More specifically, we observed that cool packaging colors made snacks seem healthier and more sustainable. This finding is in line with previous studies that suggest that green and blue are associated with sustainability (Aparna & James, 2015;Lim et al., 2020;Seo & Scammon, 2017). However, contrary to the results of Study 1 on beverages, young consumers did not think that snacks with cool colors would be less tasty, and they were not more likely to choose snacks with warm colors. ...
Following the increasing importance of healthiness and sustainability for many consumers, manufacturers increasingly try to give products a healthier or eco-friendlier image, for instance through packaging design. We conducted two experiments to investigate how visual (i.e., colors) and textual (i.e., claims) packaging elements shape perceptions of product healthiness, sustainability and tastiness. Additionally, the studies investigated whether these packaging elements impact the likelihood that these products are selected in a choice task. Study 1 (N = 202) had a mixed design, with packaging color (warm versus cool) and a nutrition claim (present versus absent) as within-subjects manipulations. Young consumers chose between four beverages, and subsequently evaluated these beverages. Study 2 (N = 211) had a similar design and procedure, but focused on the impact of an ecological claim on the evaluation of snacks. In line with our hypotheses, cool packaging colors (i.e., green and blue) increased perceptions that food and drinks were healthy and sustainable. However, in Study 1, cool packaging colors also resulted in lower tastiness expectations, and a lower likelihood that the product was selected. We also found that a simple nutrition/ecological claim made products seem overall healthier and more sustainable. Additionally, contrary to many previous studies, we did not find that these claims affected taste expectations. Our studies highlight the importance of package design as a factor that can influence perceptions of food and drink products.
... Interestingly, all three hospitals utilized blue and green as main colours. There is evidence that the colour blue is associated with competence (Labrecque & Milne, 2011) and neutrality (Lim et al., 2020). The colour green signifies eco-friendliness and sustainability (Lim et al., 2020). ...
... There is evidence that the colour blue is associated with competence (Labrecque & Milne, 2011) and neutrality (Lim et al., 2020). The colour green signifies eco-friendliness and sustainability (Lim et al., 2020). By using blue and green as the basis for their strategic plans, the hospitals convey competence, neutrality, and sustainability. ...
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Hospitals communicate their values, positions, and future goals to the public through their strategic plans. The language and images used in these reports reflect each hospital’s distinct identity. Three hospitals in Toronto, Canada were selected to explore how this identity is communicated through their strategic plans. Using a poststructuralist, pattern-based discourse analysis, a common theme of “Hospital as Community Builder” emerged. All three hospitals used visual and verbal storytelling to anthropomorphize themselves, connect with the community, and foster a sense of ownership and belonging. By incorporating storytelling into their strategic plans, the hospitals transform a historic identity as sterile, institutional bodies into a modern identity as facilitators of community connection.
... Afterward, participants were invited to fill out a survey report, including the degree of preference for the target green battery (7-point scale, 1 = "very dislike, " 7 = "very much like"; Lee and Pillai, 2013), to assess the consumer's selfcontrol system (Feng et al., 2016; 1-7 points scale, 1 point = only focus on maximizing all benefits when choosing, 7 = only focus on the importance of the option to yourself when choosing). To exclude other possible mediating effects, participants also reported color appropriateness (Lim et al., 2020), cognitive fluency (Novemsky et al., 2007), emotional state (Pancer et al., 2017; see Table 1). Participants also reported opinions on the product, familiarity with the product, previous buying experience, personal interests, and other confounding items. ...
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The color of green product advertisements is an important factor affecting consumers’ preferences. Based on the theory of the self-control system, this paper explores the influence mechanism and boundary conditions of green product ad color on consumers’ preferences through three experiments. Experiment 1 tested the effect of advertisement color type (green/color) on consumers’ preferences for green products. The results show that color ad can promote consumers’ preferences for green products compared with green ad. Experiment 1 also analyzed the mediating role of the self-control system between advertisement color type (green/color) and consumers’ preferences. Experiment 2 further clarified the boundary of the main effect. The effect of ad color (green/color) on consumers’ preferences was only effective in the context of green products. Experiment 3 explored the moderating effect of green product type (egoistic/altruistic) on the main effect. The results show that only when the green product type is altruistic, the ad color type (green/color) can significantly affect consumers’ preferences. This study is the first to link the ad color of green products with consumers’ preferences. The findings confirm that the use of color ad for green products can elicit higher consumers’ preferences than pure green ad, which enriches the research on the color of green product advertisements.
... idealized representation of what is natural and real. For example, perceived naturalness has been seen as more pronounced when the color green is present in packaging, as it is directly linked with nature (Lim et al., 2020;Seo & Scammon, 2017). Likewise, when ingredients are presented in a clear manner, perceived naturalness increases, as it serves to reassure that the materials used to make a product are safe, provide health benefits, and may be beneficial to the world (Rozin, 2005). ...
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Natural‐hyped products are receiving greater attention from and acceptance by consumers worldwide. Environmental factors that foster the demand for natural‐hyped products, specifically hemp‐based products include the deregulation of the cannabis industry and greater consumer desire for natural foods. Adding to this, the strategic use of stimulant type of cues (e.g., a cannabis leaf) included in product logos, ads, and packaging, seems to create hype associations when evaluating hemp‐based products. In this context, this study presents empirical evidence (three experiments and two qualitative studies) that illustrates consumer preference for hemp‐based products over ones that do not include hemp as an ingredient (hemp‐free). The research focuses on identifying the psychological determinant that orients consumers towards hemp‐based products. Findings suggest that the perceived naturalness is the psychological mechanism behind consumers positive evaluation of hemp‐based products. Moreover, this study presents evidence that this evaluation is enhanced by the consumer's need for stimulation. Implications of the findings for the role of perceived naturalness and the need for stimulation in marketing strategies are discussed.
... Environmental advertising refers to "sponsored communications designed to change individual behavior in relation to environmental goals" (Noble, Pomering, and Johnson 2014, p. 4). Numerous studies have investigated the effectiveness of environmental ads through examining cognitive elements in messages, such as assertive messages (Baek, Yoon, and Kim 2015;Baek et al. 2022;Kim et al. 2017;Yoon, Kim, and Baek 2016), environmental pledges (Yoon, Kim, and Baek 2016), amount of information (Pittman, Oeldorf-Hirsch, and Brannan 2022), advertising believability , and color effects (Lim et al. 2020). Notably, some studies examined affective components of the green ads, reporting varying effects of positive (e.g., pride: Hong, Lim, and Atkinson 2021) or negative (e.g., fear: Pittman, Read, and Chen 2021) emotional appeals. ...
An online experiment was conducted to examine a past moral deed’s influence on consumers’ response to guilt appeals in environmental advertising. The findings suggested that a guilt appeal ad increased irritation when participants engaged previously in a moral deed. Further, the results indicate that the perceived irritation mediated the interaction between past moral behaviors (i.e., previously engaged versus not engaged) and green message types (i.e., a guilt appeal versus a nonguilt appeal) and attitude toward the green advertisement and the message’s credibility. The results demonstrate that participants who performed a prior moral deed chose conventional detergent over an eco-friendly detergent when they were exposed to a guilt appeal that promoted recycling. However, no moral licensing behaviors were observed among participants in the nonguilt appeal ad. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed further.
... Instead of using an imagined scenario, experimental researchers may also design stimuli such as an advertisement or packaging that has the manipulation embedded directly in it. For example, Lim et al. (2020) created ads with green versus grey colour schemes to test how colour affected consumer responses to an eco-friendly product (Study 1). Similarly, to understand how framing of discount depth effects consumer purchases, Guha et al. (2018) manipulated promotional frames, where half of the participants read that the new price was "now 31% lower" and the other half read that the old price "was 44% higher" while holding the sale price constant (Study 1). ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic has marked key milestones including a transition to sustainable consumption. Eco-brands could exploit this conjuncture to advertise their products while pondering how green ad claims are judged as misleading, unsubstantiated, and opportunistic, but also useful and efficient. This study revises the notion that green consumers distrust green advertising by analyzing how green consumerism, conceptualized as a hierarchical construct, moderates the effect of three factors on the credibility of green advertising. An experiment involving the ad claim, product type, and familiarity with the eco-brand was performed in the context of an emerging economy. The statistical analyses show complex interrelationships between the experimental factors and cross effects between factors and the dimensions of green consumerism. Results indicate that eco-brand familiarity increases green ad credibility for products that were designed and launched as green (e.g., hybrid cars and tissue paper) while the type of ad claim (environmental vs. self-benefit) has no significant effect if the product is recognized as green. Results also indicate that of the three dimensions comprising green consumerism, only green purchasing has a direct negative effect on ad credibility. This effect is stronger for low-cost goods whose environmental benefits against regular products are easier to confirm.
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In three experiments, we tested the effectiveness of 360-degree rotatable product images on retail websites. In Study 1, participants reported higher purchase intention in response to a 360-degree rotatable image than a two-dimensional static image. In Study 2, participants who were primed for cognitive busyness by writing about activities that kept them busy (vs. writing about typical daily activities) reported lower purchase intention than in Study 1. In Study 3, we found a similar effect by directly manipulating cognitive busyness: participants memorized long or short number strings while performing a shopping task. Furthermore, sensory vividness fully mediated the effect of 360-degree rotatable images on purchase intention for the less busy participants, not the highly busy participants. Theoretical and practical implications for virtual product presentation are discussed.
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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to contrast two lay theories of how consumers draw affective inferences about their online bidding experiences. The active-bidder theory (smart-bidder theory) predicts that after winning a bid, highly (minimally) participative bidders would be more satisfied than minimally (highly) participative bidders. Design/methodology/approach Four experiments test two competing hypotheses, the active-bidder hypothesis and the smart-bidder hypothesis (Study 1), identify a condition that mitigates the observed effects (Study 2), identify when the mitigation is effective or ineffective (Study 3) and replicate the findings in a scenario-based study where participants are allowed to make actual bidding decisions (Studies 4A and 4B). Findings The findings support the smart-bidder hypothesis across three different product categories; however, this heuristic-driven effect is absent when bidders have concrete shopping goals. The effect was sufficiently robust to be observed even when the bids are made at will. Research limitations/implications The present research does not incorporate the widely adopted procedure of second-price auction (also known as proxy bidding in the eBay setting), a system that allows the highest bidder to win the auction but pay the amount of the second-highest bid. Practical implications Online consumers should be mindful that entering the minimum number of bids not only helps consumers avoid overbidding but also elevates their joy in winning after the auction ends. Originality/value Prior research on bidding behavior on online auction sites has yet to examine how different bidding dynamics affect consumers’ post-auction satisfaction. This research sheds light on the psychological process underlying the robust phenomenon: online auction consumers rely heavily on proxy signals. Bidders appear to use the efficiency heuristic in constructing their affective judgments of their buying experiences.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate consumers’ evaluation of non-focal overlay images appearing closer than the focal point (e.g. a transparent brand logo appearing in front of an online news article). Design/methodology/approach Three experiments identify factors on both task-side and image-side that influence consumers’ liking of non-focal overlay images. Findings The findings show that study participants evaluate the non-focal overlay image more favorably when they are engaged in a primary task that is challenging rather than unchallenging, and when the primary task and the non-focal overlay images require different processing modes (e.g. a conceptual primary task paired with a perceptual image) rather than similar processing modes (e.g. a conceptual primary task paired with a conceptual image). Research limitations/implications A caveat is that Experiment 1 lacked a baseline condition. Another limitation is that we conducted all three experiments in a controlled laboratory environment, without real-world marketing stimuli. Therefore, further research should be conducted in a field setting to validate how extensively our theoretical insights apply to real-world marketing contexts. Future research may replicate the findings on various platforms such as YouTube and The Wall Street Journal to provide immediate, readily applicable suggestions to online marketers. Practical implications The current research provides marketers with a framework for identifying optimal vehicles for the marketing message. Transparent overlay ads can bolster or damage later evaluations of the advertised objects. Online marketers, in their desire to persuade consumers to perceive products positively, must consider what types of activities consumers are pursuing at a target website, what kinds of activities the website promotes and how meaningful are the images. Originality/value The current work extends to the work on fluency effects and persuasion knowledge model, both of which have typically shown that subtle exposure to marketing communications positively affects subsequent judgments about products and brands. The findings extend this line of evidence by demonstrating that marketing communications may exert even greater influence when the primary task requires greater cognitive processing.
The consumer behavior literature shows that men are externally focused and women are internally focused consumers. The authors conduct three studies to test gender differences in the use of media‐posted public ratings for deciding whether to recommend branded entertainment films. The Study 1 results indicate that men are more (less) likely to recommend films that have high (low) star ratings, but women are equally likely to recommend films regardless of star ratings. In an interesting twist, Study 2 results show that if women are momentarily distracted by being made more aware of their surroundings, they process information similarly to men and are more persuaded by public ratings. In Study 3, the authors replicate and extend the findings by including a no‐star control group and examining additional variables—film and brand attitudes and recommendations—with a no star rating control group. The overall results show that men (women) are more (less) likely to look to public ratings for forming film and brand attitudes and recommendations.
We examine how the associative properties of the color red relate to an independent self-view, and their impact on advertising message processing and persuasion. In study 1, using explicit measures, we demonstrate that red is associated with independence-focused words. In study 2, employing an Implicit Association Test, we further examine the congruence of independence and red, and observe an identical pattern of results. In study 3, we test these findings in a social marketing context (diabetes testing). We find that participants’ behavioral intentions to comply with an advertisement’s advocated position are enhanced when red ad backgrounds are matched with an independent self-construal prime. In study 4, these findings are replicated in a more typical consumer behavior context (restaurant patronage), and indicate that processing fluency and perceived ad believability are mediators of the observed effects on participants’ behavioral intentions. We conclude by discussing the practical and theoretical implications of our work.