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Evaluating the green advertising practices of international firms: a trend analysis

Leonidas C. Leonidou
University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus, and

Received January 2010 Revised June 2010 Accepted August 2010

Constantinos N. Leonidou, Dayananda Palihawadana and Magnus Hultman

Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
Purpose Consumer scepticism about the credibility of green advertising around the world is growing. The article aims to provide a comprehensive assessment and trend analysis of green advertising practices of international firms over a 20-year period. Design/methodology/approach The study identifies 473 international green advertisements during the 1988-2007 period and content-analyses them on five major axes: advertiser profile, targeting features, message aspects, copy characteristics, and situation points. Findings The content analysis reveals significant trends in all major areas examined and identifies important interaction effects between certain dimensions of green advertisements. Research limitations/implications The findings could be augmented by combining them with changes in the external environment, input from consumers about advertising effectiveness, the views of advertisers and advertising agencies, and secondary data referring to the performance of the specific company/product advertised. Originality/value Green advertising research mainly focuses on domestic rather than international advertisements; examines important issues in isolation from other issues; partially analyses message, copy, and situation characteristics; and covers a short period. This study fills these gaps by systematically evaluating international green advertisements over a long period and using an integrated framework of analysis that is based on the extant literature. It also explores potential interaction effects between key dimensions describing these advertisements. Keywords Green marketing, Advertising, Environmental management, International marketing Paper type Research paper

International Marketing Review Vol. 28 No. 1, 2011 pp. 6-33 r Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0265-1335 DOI 10.1108/02651331111107080

Introduction Intensifying environmental regulations by governments and other bodies, growing pressures on organizations by stakeholder groups to preserve the environment, and rising concern of the general public about the harmful effects of certain industry practices on the ecology are issues responsible for the phenomenal increase worldwide in the number of firms adopting environmentally friendly approaches in their sourcing, operating, and marketing activities (Gurau and Ranchhod, 2005; Menon and Menon, 1997; Polonsky and Rosenberger, 2001; Sriram and Forman, 1993). Advertising plays a critical role in communicating this pro-environmental image while harnessing an eco-friendly consciousness among consumers and organizations (Grillo et al., 2008; Iyer and Banerjee, 1993). Recent evidence has shown that green advertising has grown exponentially in the last two decades (Futerra, 2008), becoming the driving force behind increasing public awareness of ecological issues and skyrocketing demand for eco-friendly goods (Easterling et al., 1996; Polonsky et al., 1997). Despite the benefits offered, green advertising activity has run into major problems, with people in many countries becoming increasingly sceptical about its credibility,

validity, and usefulness (Pfanner, 2008). Some of the reasons causing this scepticism can be attributed to the growing number of companies promoting their environmental credentials, the increasing buyer complaints to various watchdog organizations (e.g. European Advertising Standards Alliance, the US Federal Trade Commission) about misleading claims (Knight, 2008), and consumer concerns about the way many green-themed advertisements are made and presented. Numerous studies have been conducted to understand the nature, structure, and content of green advertising, making this a field of environmental marketing research of its own (Leonidou and Leonidou, 2011). Although it provides useful insights for advertisers, advertising agencies, public policymakers, and other interested parties, this body of research suffers from various gaps: first, the majority of investigations have had a domestic emphasis, despite the growing importance of international green advertisements as a result of intensifying globalization trends; second, the approach to evaluating environmental advertisements has been fragmented, with important issues being investigated in isolation from others; third, the message, copy, and situation characteristics of green advertisements have been partially and/or inadequately examined; and fourth, in most cases, environmental advertisements have been evaluated at a specific point in time (or covered over a short period of time), thus preventing temporal trends from being established. This study aims to fill these gaps, by systematically providing a comprehensive assessment and trend analysis of green advertising practice by international firms over a 20-year period. It specifically attempts to provide answers to the following questions: What are the profile characteristics of firms engaged in international green advertising? What are the targeting features of their advertisements, in terms of products, audience, focus, and level of greenness? What types of environmental claims are conveyed in the messages, and how are these assessed from a specificity, emphasis, and validity perspective? What are the structure and format of the headlines used, and what is the specific mode and tone of the body copy? What forms of settings and presenters are employed in illustrations, and what types of identification marks are shown? Lastly, are there any interaction effects between key dimensions describing international green advertisements? We have organized the remainder of this article as follows: We first review the literature on green advertising and discuss the key issues. Then, we explain the methodology adopted to carry out the study, focusing on the scope of research, sampling frame, research instrument, coding process, and analytical method. Next, we present and discuss the findings of the study with regard to each of the research questions namely, advertiser profile, targeting features, message aspects, copy characteristics, situation points, and interaction effects. In the next section, we summarize the key insights of the study and draw conclusions. In the final sections, we discuss the managerial implications and provide future research directions. Review of green advertising literature Environmental (or green) advertisements refer to all appeals that include ecological, environmental sustainability, or nature-friendly messages that target the needs and desires of environmentally concerned stakeholders (Zinkhan and Carlson, 1995). These fall under three major categories: (1) those that directly or indirectly address the relationship between a product/ service and the natural environment;

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(2) (3)

those that promote an environmentally responsible lifestyle with or without highlighting a product/service; and those that present an image of corporate environmental responsibility (Banerjee et al., 1995).

Some of the green advertisements have an educational content (e.g. helping stakeholders understand the nature of environmental issues), others are purely commercial in nature (e.g. inducing people to buy the companys products and become regular customers), and still others are image-focused (e.g. enhancing the firms green profile) (Banerjee et al., 1995; Menon et al., 1999). Corporations wanting to support their domestic and international environmental marketing strategies widely use green advertising, regardless of its content (Belz and Peattie, 2009). The first environmental advertisements appeared in the late 1960s, when the scientific community, public opinion, and consumer activism raised the first concerns about the anti-ecological practices many firms followed at that time (Easterling et al., 1996). In response to these concerns, firms used advertising as a means to promote an environmentally friendly approach in their business to customers, regulators, and other stakeholders (Kinnear and Taylor, 1973; Peattie, 1995). However, it was not until the late 1980s that green advertising experienced a sharp increase, mainly because of heightened public awareness and concern, spiralling competitive pressures, and stricter government regulations related to the environment (Carlson et al., 1996; Kilbourne, 2004). False advertising claims, exaggerated green messages, and consumer confusion regarding green terminologies were some of the reasons for the decrease of green advertising activity in the 1990s (Easterling et al., 1996; Polonsky et al., 1997). This negative climate begun to turn around at the dawn of the new millennium, when strong global political support, sound international legislative developments, and renewed public interest worldwide propelled marketing strategies into a new sustainable era (Belz and Peattie, 2009; Yin and Ma, 2009). These developments in green advertising practice attracted the attention of many marketing scholars who followed various streams of research (Leonidou and Leonidou, 2011). The first is green washing, which pertains to the validity and deceptiveness of environmental advertisements (Kangun et al., 1991; Karna et al., 2001; Newell et al., 1998). In this context, green advertisements fall under four categories: (1) (2) (3) (4) ambiguous, containing statements or phrases that are too broad to have a clear meaning; omission, excluding important information to evaluate its truthfulness or reasonableness; false/lying, including claims that are clearly untrue or misleading; and acceptable, making specific environmental claims in a justifiable, self-explanatory, and clear way (Kangun et al., 1991).

In general, studies focusing on green washing revealed some degree of misleadingness or deception in the advertisements examined (Kangun et al., 1991; Carlson et al., 1993; Karna et al., 2001), indicating a serious problem in the advertising industry in accurately portraying and promoting the environmental credentials of firms. Another stream of research focused on environmental claims, which Carlson et al. (1993) classify as product-oriented, process-oriented, image-oriented, and

environmental fact. Studies belonging to this research stream found that image-oriented claims were used most frequently but, at the same time, were the most ambiguous, while product claims, though popular, were the most deceptive. In addition, Easterling et al. (1996) reported that different types of approaches have been used to communicate environmental messages over time, with image-oriented and process-related claims used in the early years of environmentalism and product-oriented claims used in recent years. However, contradictory results were found for claims of a factual nature, with some studies (e.g. Carlson et al., 1993) revealing widespread use, and others (e.g. Easterling et al., 1996) indicating minimal usage. Advertising greenness, which measures the level of environmental information included in advertisements, was the object of another group of researchers. In terms of greenness, Banerjee et al. (1995) grouped environmental advertisements into the following categories: shallow, moderate, and deep. This classification was subsequently augmented with additional levels of greenness, such as the five-dimensional typology that Wagner and Hansen (2002), Kilbourne (1995), and Grillo et al. (2008) adopted. Most studies revealed that advertising claims had mainly a shallow or moderate greenness, denoting a lack of substantiveness, comprehensiveness, and credibility. In contrast, advertisements that contained deep environmental claims were mainly characterized by high effectiveness in conveying their messages (Manrai et al., 1997). Another group of studies (e.g. DSouza and Taghian, 2005; Schuhwerk and Lefkoff-Hagius, 1995) investigated the effect of environmental advertising messages on consumer behaviour. Several contradictions have been observed in this line of research. For example, Newell et al. (1998) found that consumer perceptions of green claim deception did not have an effect on advertiser credibility, attitudes toward the advertisement/brand, and purchase intent; and according to Chan et al. (2006), substantive environmental claims for high-involvement services were more effective than associative environmental claims. Two other studies tried to ascertain the role of green-based consumer involvement with regard to green claim effectiveness, evaluation, and consequences. However, while Schuhwerk and Lefkoff-Hagius (1995) found that only low environmentally involved consumers were positively affected by green appeals, DSouza and Taghian (2005) revealed the opposite. The examination of copy and situation aspects of environmental advertisements provided another stream of research. With regard to copy aspects, evidence shows that there was a shift in the language used over time (e.g. Banerjee et al., 1995; Iyer and Banerjee, 1993; Wagner and Hansen, 2002). For example, early advertisements on the subject highlighted such ecological terms as disposable, recyclable, and pre-packaged; however, these have been gradually replaced by more contemporary words such as organic, energy efficient, and sustainably sourced (Peattie, 1995). Although green advertisements can have different tones of expression, ranging from rational and emotional to moral and zeitgeist (Banerjee et al., 1995), rational appeals (particularly those promoting self-interest rather than social conscience) were found more suitable (Fiori, 1989). With regard to situation points, various elements have been used to improve the comprehensiveness of the green advertising message (Grillo et al., 2008). Some examples include environmental-related setting graphics (e.g. natural wildlife), nature-related presenters (e.g. animals), and green identification marks (e.g. green logotypes or certification labels) (Banerjee et al., 1995; Karna et al., 2001; Wagner and Hansen, 2002).

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Finally, although many international corporations have extensively used advertising to communicate their environmental practices to the global market, only a few studies focused on international green advertising. Carlson et al. (1996) and Polonsky et al. (1997) were the first to investigate green advertising claims in an international context, by comparing environmental advertising practices in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. Their findings revealed significant differences in green advertisements among the four countries, with US advertisements characterized by fewer environmental and more associative claims. Another group of scholars examined the role of the country of origin in influencing the effectiveness of environmental claims. Their findings confirmed that the ecological reputation of the products country source (Chan, 2000; Chan et al., 2006) and the products country-oforigin predisposition (Chan and Lau, 2004; Manrai et al., 1997) were important in maximizing the effectiveness of green claims. Surprisingly, other key green advertising issues examined in a domestic domain remained relatively untapped. Study method We confined our study to environmental/green advertisements that had an international focus, that is, advertisements with environmental messages targeting audiences located in more than one country (Douglas and Craig, 2002). We identified these advertisements from the international edition of The Economist, a widely read publication focusing on business, economics, and political issues, with a weekly circulation of more than one million copies. The magazine is also a global advertising outlet, covering almost all countries in the world, with the USA accounting for half of all subscribers. Altogether, the study covered 944 magazine issues published during the 1988-2007 period, a sufficiently lengthy time to establish trends on the evolution of international green advertising. Owing to the exploratory nature of the study, we placed no limitations on selecting the advertisements in terms of type of advertiser, nature of the products advertised, or the advertisements target audience. Two specially trained researchers independently searched all issues of the magazine for the 20-year period. To trace any advertisements with an ecological flair, the following steps were taken: (1) (2) (3) the two researchers received definitions of green advertisements derived from the pertinent environmental marketing literature; examples of international advertisements containing green claims were provided to understand their nature; a list of keywords such as environmental, ecological, sustainable, natural, and green, were employed to facilitate the identification of relevant advertisements; the major ecological problems that marked the world since the early 1970s (e.g. global warming, animal extinction) were briefly analysed; and the most frequent technical terms used in relation to environmental issues (e.g. carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbon, methane) were explained.

(4) (5)

Of the 33,349 advertisements scanned, the two researchers identified 557 and 523 advertisements, respectively, with an environmental focus. A comparison of the two sets of advertisements revealed that only 431 were the same; this represents a

consistency level of approximately 80 percent[1]. The remaining advertisements were discussed with the principal investigator to agree on including another 42 advertisements relevant to the study. This resulted in a final sample that comprised 473 different green advertisements. Notably, the annual frequency of the green advertisements did not follow a clear pattern during the period of investigation (see Figure 1). That is, at the beginning of the study period, the number of these advertisements was relatively high (reaching 58 in 1990), but in subsequent years it dropped to low levels (falling to six in 2002). However, in recent years there has again been a growth of ecological advertisements (rising to 48 in 2006). These ups and downs in international green advertising activity greatly reflect various worldwide events related to environmental issues[2]. From the advertising pattern, we divided our sample for analytical purposes into three periods: 1988-1994 (220 advertisements), 1995-2001 (68 advertisements), and 2002-2007 (186 advertisements). We used content analysis to evaluate each of the advertisements collected (Abernathy and Franke, 1996). To codify the information contained in each advertisement, we designed a special coding protocol, comprising five major sections: advertisers profile (i.e. company name, location country, organization type, and economic activity); targeting features (i.e. products advertised, target audience, product cycle, and level of greenness); message aspects (i.e. type of environmental claim, claim specificity, claim emphasis, and claim validity); copy characteristics (i.e. headline structure, headline format, body copy mode, and body copy tone); and situation points (i.e. illustration setting, illustration presenter, company identification mark, and product identification mark). The coding protocol contained constructs and items that other scholars have used mainly in the field of advertising in general and green advertising in particular. As such, to a large extent, the protocol was heavily structured, though the option other was also available for some constructs to identify hidden issues that prior research has not tackled on the subject. To make the protocol more comprehensive
70 60 Number of advertisements 50 40 30 20 10 0
19 88 19 89 19 90 19 91 19 92 19 93 19 94 19 95 19 96 19 97 19 98 19 99 20 00 20 01 20 02 20 03 20 04 20 05 20 06 20 07

Green advertising practices 11


Figure 1. Frequency of international green advertisements by year

Source: The Economist (January 1988-December 2007)

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and provide a common frame of reference in coding the advertisements, we prepared a special manual that incorporated operational definitions, explanations, and examples for each construct/item. Before the full-scale coding process, we tested the coding protocol using a small sample of advertisements; this revealed only minor corrections to improve its workability. The two researchers who previously identified the green advertisements, undertook the coding, under the supervision of the principal investigator. The coders had appropriate educational levels, experiential background, and familiarity with the subject. Both coders underwent rigorous training, in which the general purpose and objectives of the coding exercise were clarified; the constructs and items included in the coding manual were analysed, and the way the coding protocol needed to be administered was fully explained. Coders also participated in a short coding exercise to ensure that the process was clearly understood. After training, each coder received the full set of advertisements and transferred the information contained in each independently onto coding forms. With the completion of the coding task, each coder returned all completed forms to the principal investigator, who subsequently carried out an inter-coder reliability analysis (Holsti, 1969). This analysis revealed a satisfactory level of agreement in the two coding attempts, ranging from 91 percent for some items (e.g. advertising greenness) to 100 percent for others (e.g. advertiser characteristics). The principal investigator and the two coders discussed and collectively resolved the coding disagreements and, in some ambivalent cases, the opinion of an expert in the field was sought. The data contained in the final coding forms were subsequently entered for statistical analysis, including total percentage frequencies, partial percentage frequencies, chi-square (w2) test, and post hoc tests because of the nominal nature of the data collected. Research findings In this section, we discuss the studys findings in terms of each research objective namely, advertiser profile, targeting features, message aspects, copy characteristics, and situation points. To better understand the changes in these advertising dimensions over time, the Appendix (Table AI) provides a list of the key events related to environmental issues that took place worldwide during the investigation period. At the end of the section, we discuss the interaction effects between the advertising dimensions examined. Advertiser profile A total of 195 firms were the sponsors behind the 473 advertisements identified, with the top ten companies being responsible for 38.3 percent of them (see Table I). These top green advertisers were as follows: Shell (7.0 percent), ABB (5.7 percent), BP (5.3 percent), Bayer (4.2 percent), TOTAL (3.4 percent), Degussa (3.2 percent), BASF (3.0 percent), General Electric (2.1 percent), Chevron (2.1 percent), and Opel (2.1 percent). Top advertisers, as well as most of the other firms in the sample, typically handle products that greatly depend on natural resources and/or whose consumption seriously affects the environment. Notably, the green advertising pattern varied significantly by period, with ABB (w2 21.42, p 0.000), BASF (w2 27.19, p 0.000), and Shell (w2 13.92, p 0.001) holding the leading positions in the periods 1988-1994, 1995-2001, and 2002-2007, respectively. With a few exceptions, this reflects a rather reactive approach to green advertising, often driven by situation-specific factors. For example, the excessive amount of Degussas advertisements in the late 1990s could be

Advertiser profile Company name Shell Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) BP Bayer TOTAL Degussa BASF General electric Chevron Opel Siemens Lexus Volvo Other Location country Germany United Kingdom United States Switzerland Japan The Netherlands France Sweden Italy Other Organization type Manufacturer Supplier Distributor Financial organization Governmental organization Non-profit organization Other Economic activity Industrial goods production Consumer goods production Services Mining Agriculture

(I) Total 1988-1994 (n 473)% (n1 219)%

Time period (II) (III) 1995-2001 2002-2007 (n2 68)% (n3 186)%



Scheffes test

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7.0 5.7 5.3 4.2 3.4 3.2 3.0 2.3 2.1 2.1 2.1 1.9 1.9 55.8

2.3 11.0 4.1 5.5 0.9 2.3 3.7 3.7 4.1 4.1 58.3

10.3 2.9 1.5 10.3 1.5 13.2 2.9 2.9 1.5 53.0

10.8 0.5 8.1 0.5 7.0 0.5 2.2 5.9 5.4 4.9 54.2

13.92 21.42 5.45 13.28 12.25 27.19 0.79 17.38 15.76 6.75 8.34 14.17 10.64 1.16

0.001 0.000 0.066 0.001 0.002 0.000 0.673 0.000 0.000 0.034 0.015 0.001 0.005 0.560


20.7 16.1 13.3 9.7 9.7 8.2 7.0 5.5 2.3 7.5

27.3 13.2 6.8 15.1 6.8 6.4 5.0 9.1 1.8 8.5

35.3 13.2 8.8 11.8 11.8 4.4 2.9 1.5 10.3

7.6 20.4 22.6 2.7 12.4 11.8 10.8 2.7 3.8 5.2

34.45 4.69 22.95 17.94 3.86 5.47 7.08 10.52 3.55 2.16

0.000 0.094 0.000 0.000 0.145 0.065 0.029 0.005 0.169 0.340



93.4 19.0 2.1 2.5 1.9 1.1 0.2

95.4 16.4 1.8 2.2 0.4 0.4

94.1 1.5 2.9

90.8 29.0 3.2 2.1 4.3 1.1 0.5

3.49 29.02 2.68 1.14 9.50 3.06 1.55

0.174 0.000 0.264 0.567 0.009 0.216 0.462



81.0 33.2 19.9 16.5 6.3

80.4 31.1 23.3 12.3 10.9

91.2 58.9 8.8 1.5 1.4

77.9 26.9 19.9 26.9 2.7

5.75 19.64 6.82 28.45 14.76

0.057 0.000 0.033 0.000 0.001


Table I. Advertiser profile of international green advertisements

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attributed to the firms adoption of new environmental strategies and the introduction of sound environmental management systems. Almost all green advertisements examined were sponsored by firms located in the developed parts of the world, particularly Europe, the United States, and Japan. In total, nine countries (among the most economically advanced) accounted for 92.5 percent of the green advertisements examined. Overall, German firms had the leading position with 20.7 percent of the advertisements, followed by British (16.1 percent), US (13.3 percent), Swiss (9.7 percent), and Japanese (9.7 percent) companies. However, the frequency of green advertising differed markedly by country: Germany (w2 34.45, p 0.000) and Switzerland (w2 17.94, p 0.000) were in the lead during the 1988-1994 period, but their advertising activity dropped sharply in the 2002-2007 period. The reverse trend occurred in the case of the United Kingdom (w2 4.69, p 0.094) and the USA (w2 22.95, p 0.000), which in the last period were the most frequent green advertisers. This change in the green advertising scene could reflect increasing demands by local and regional stakeholders for more environmental initiatives, as well as international criticism received by US and British firms for not conforming to environmental standards (Polonsky et al., 1997). The same holds true for Japanese companies, which have also tried to enhance their green image recently. The overwhelming majority (93.4 percent) of the sponsors of green advertisements were manufacturing firms, which took the lead throughout the investigation period. This can be justified because these firms are more likely to damage the environment through their resource use (e.g. energy consumption), production processes (e.g. toxic emissions), or the products they manufacture (e.g. non-biodegradable). Suppliers of raw materials composed the second major advertising group, accounting for 19.0 percent of the total advertisements. Again, the activities of these firms have a direct impact on the environment, especially regarding the extraction of non-renewable raw materials and the environmental pollution caused by processing them. Green advertising activity by other types of firms was minimal, and this aimed primarily toward communicating the green character of some of their services, as in the case of financial organizations offering risk assessment of environmental projects to corporate clients. Green advertisements sponsored by either government or non-profit organizations were almost non-existent. In rare cases, these advertisements were usually aimed at raising public concern on environmental problems. Most of the firms involved in green advertising were big conglomerate organizations, consisting of multiple strategic business units and producing a wide range of products. Approximately, four-fifths (81.0 percent) of the advertisers were engaged in the production of industrial goods (e.g. chemicals), and another third (33.2 percent) were manufacturers of products directed to the consumer market (e.g. automobiles). These are basically firms with products that have often been accused of harmfully affecting the environment. Organizations belonging to the services sector accounted for one-fifth (19.9 percent) of the advertisements, whose focus was on communicating their environment-led services and/or sensitizing people to the potential consequences of ecological problems. Firms related to the mining and agricultural sectors had the smallest share, being responsible for 16.5 and 6.3 percent of the advertisements, respectively. However, while advertising activity by mining companies was more evident in the period 2002-2007 (w2 28.45, p 0.000), the reverse was true for agricultural-related firms, which advertised more during the first period (w2 14.76, p 0.001).

Targeting features The most frequent products appearing in green advertisements were energy-related (e.g. gas, oil, and electricity) (23.3 percent), followed by transportation equipment (e.g. automobiles, airplanes, and trains) (12.5 percent) (see Table II). Advertisements from both categories were more evident during the 2002-2007 period (representing 32.8 and 16.1 percent of the total, respectively). Advertisements focusing on metal products, machinery, and non-metallic goods accounted for 9.5 percent of the total and were mainly shown during the early stages of the investigation period (w2 23.17, p 0.000). Two other categories that also attracted attention, albeit to a lesser extent, pertained to renewable technology and environment-related services. Other product categories were advertised on a much more limited basis, though some notable variations existed in their advertising pattern. For example, business services were advertised more in the first period (w2 9.10, p 0.001), chemicals and plastic products

Green advertising practices 15

Targeting feature Products advertised Electricity/oil/gas/fuel/energy Automobiles/airplanes/trains Metal products/machinery/ non-metallic Renewable technology Environment-related services Chemicals/plastic products Business services Agriculture/forestry/fishing Public administration/public services Paper products/printing and publishing Mining Waterworks and supply Miscellaneous Target audience Business-to-consumer Business-to-business Both Product-cycle Consumption-related Production-related Both Degree of greenness Deep Moderate Shallow

Time period (I) (II) (III) Total 1988-1994 1995-2001 2002-2007 (n 473)% (n1 219)% (n2 68)% (n3 186)%



Scheffes test

23.3 12.5 9.5 8.7 6.3 5.1 4.7 4.4 1.9 1.7 1.5 1.5 18.9

19.6 11.4 13.7 5.5 5.5 5.9 7.8 5.5 2.7 0.5 0.5 21.4

8.8 5.9 17.6 5.9 8.8 10.3 2.9 7.4 2.9 4.4 1.5 23.6

32.8 16.1 1.6 13.4 6.5 2.2 1.6 2.2 4.8 1.6 2.7 14.5

19.03 5.21 23.17 8.83 0.98 7.49 9.10 4.22

0.000 0.074 0.000 0.012 0.612 0.024 0.011 0.121



14.16 0.001 5.29 5.60 3.44 4.19 0.071 0.061 0.179 0.123


42.9 36.7 20.4

32.9 42.0 24.6

30.9 48.5 20.6

59.1 25.8 15.1

33.01 16.28 5.74

0.000 0.000 0.057


60.0 28.6 11.4

52.1 38.8 9.1

57.4 32.4 10.3

70.4 15.1 14.5

14.40 28.40 2.98

0.001 0.000 0.225


41.9 29.4 28.7

38.8 26.5 34.7

38.2 27.9 33.9

46.8 33.3 19.9

3.05 2.35 11.77

0.218 0.308 0.003


Table II. Targeting features of international green advertisements

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in the second (w2 7.49, p 0.024), and public administration/public services in the third (w2 14.16, p 0.001). More than two-fifths (42.9 percent) of the advertisements focused on consumers, while 36.7 percent targeted business buyers. However, while during the initial years of the period under investigation the emphasis was on the business market (w2 16.28, p 0.000), more recent advertisements placed greater emphasis on consumer buyers (w2 33.01, p 0.000). That is, 59.1 percent of the advertisements published during the 2002-2007 period targeted consumers, compared with 25.8 percent with a business-to-business orientation. To some extent, this can be explained by the increasing awareness of ecological issues by consumers in many countries (particularly in the developed part of the world) and the concomitant escalation of demand for environmentally friendly versions of products and services (The Cooperative Bank, 2007). Another one-fifth (20.4 percent) of the advertisements targeted both consumers and businesses, and this was particularly true for products related to energy, chemicals, and electronics. This dual focus, though relatively high in the initial years, consistently diminished over time (w2 5.74, p 0.057). About three-fifths (60.6 percent) of the advertisements stressed the consumption side of the advertisers products, focusing on ecological attributes related to the use of products/services (e.g. recycling, energy savings); in contrast, 28.6 percent highlighted production-related issues such as ecological friendliness aspects of production inputs and processes (e.g. advanced ecologically friendly technology, sustainable raw materials, and environmental expert advice on processes). However, while the former group of advertisements experienced an upward trend over time (w2 14.40, p 0.001), the reverse was true for the latter (w2 28.40, p 0.000). The remainder (10.5 percent) emphasized both consumption and production elements. We employed Banerjee et al.s (1995) categorization to determine the degree to which a green advertisement explicitly states the environmental behaviour of the advertiser. Of the advertisements examined, 41.9 percent were considered deep, that is, provided extensive hints about the firms environmental practices (e.g. statistical figures indicating environmental efficiency improvement). Another 29.4 percent had moderate greenness, that is, did not focus on topics related to the environment per se, but rather mentioned specific issues (e.g. a description of recycling methods or corporate environmental actions). The remaining 28.7 percent displayed shallow greenness, that is, made general inferences to environmental attributes and initiatives (e.g. mentioning products biodegradability properties without further explanation). Advertising greenness demonstrated a gradual increase over time, with deep advertisements constituting almost half (46.8 percent) of those that appeared in the 2002-2007 period. To some extent, this mirrors the growing pressures stakeholder groups in many countries put on firms to show proof of their environment-protection practices. Message aspects Following Carlson et al. (1993), we classified environmental claims contained in advertising messages into four major categories: product-oriented, process-oriented, image-oriented, and environmental fact (see Table III). Product-oriented claims, which focus on the eco-friendly characteristics of the product advertised, appeared in more than half (52.2 percent) the advertisements. Some examples included low product emissions, product durability, low energy consumption, and product recycling. Process-oriented claims, which are related to the companys green internal technology

Message aspect Claim type Product-oriented Process-oriented Image-oriented Environmental fact-based Claim specificity Specific Vague Claim emphasis Strong Weak Claim validity Acceptable Ambiguous Omission False/lie

Total (n 473)%

(I) 1988-1994 (n1 219)%

Time period (II) 1995-2001 (n2 68)%

(III) 2002-2007 (n3 186)%



Scheffes test

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52.2 26.6 14.2 10.4

50.2 32.4 17.4 8.2

45.6 7.4 17.6 4.4

57.0 26.9 9.1 15.1

3.24 16.69 6.37 8.09

0.198 0.000 0.041 0.018


62.3 37.7

53.9 46.1

60.3 39.7

73.0 27.0

15.07 15.07

0.001 0.001


56.1 43.9

46.1 53.9

47.1 52.9

65.5 33.5

13.76 13.76

0.001 0.001


58.6 30.2 8.0 3.2

49.3 37.4 12.8 0.5

61.8 33.8 4.4

68.3 20.4 3.8 7.5

15.24 14.29 12.49 18.97

0.000 0.001 0.002 0.000


Table III. Message aspects of international green advertisements

and production methods, were identified in just 26.6 percent of the advertisements. These claims included emphasis on low toxic emissions, low energy use, and non-polluting production processes. Image-oriented claims such as preserving the ecosystem, maintaining natural resources, and reducing the greenhouse effect, were less common. Finally, claims related to environmental facts such as stressing the issue of increasing levels of global warming, were the least employed. With regard to the specificity of environmental claims, 62.3 percent of the advertisements made specific claims (i.e. claims with a clear meaning, usually accompanied by detailed information). A case in point is the following claim made by the energy company ENEL in 2005: We are working to reduce CO2 emissions to zero. In the last five years we have already reduced them by 17 percent. The remaining advertisements made vague claims (i.e. phrases too broad to have a distinct meaning) such as we respect the environment, environmentally sound, and ecologically friendly. Notably, the proportion of advertisements incorporating specific claims increased dramatically over time, from 53.9 percent in 1988-1994 to 73.0 percent in 2002-2007. More than half the advertisements had a strong claim emphasis that is, environment-related issues were highlighted as of primary significance, in contrast to traditional benefit-creating attributes (Manrai et al., 1997). For example, Toyotas zero emission advertisement in 2007 announced to the public its environmental beliefs, incentives, and targets for the future, without, however, referring to any other attribute. We observed weak emphasis on environmental aspects in the remainder of advertisements (i.e. 43.9 percent), and these typically presented environmental

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friendliness as an extra minor attribute influencing the product/service value offer. For example, in a 1990 advertisement, Volvo revealed the benefits of buying its 760 series, which, in addition to greater safety, enhanced comfort, and improved technology, offered environmental friendliness. In terms of claim emphasis, we observed that advertisements published at the beginning of the examination period had a predominantly weak claim emphasis (w2 13.76, p 0.001), while in later advertisements, emphasis on environmental aspects became increasingly stronger (w2 13.76, p 0.001). We evaluated the validity of the environmental claims made using Kangun et al.s (1991) quadruple typology: acceptable, i.e. advertisements with no false claims or omissions; ambiguous, i.e. allegations that do not have a distinct meaning; omission, i.e. statements that omit details that are important to verify whether they are true; and false/lying, i.e. inaccurate or untruthful declarations. Of these, acceptable claims accounted for 58.6 percent of the advertisements, followed by ambiguous claims (30.2 percent of the advertisements). Claims characterized by omissions or false/lying appeared in 8.0 and 3.2 percent of the advertisements, respectively. Advertisements increasingly incorporated acceptable claims in their messages (w2 15.24, p 0.000), rather than ambiguous and omission claims, which experienced a downward trend (w2 14.29, p 0.001; w2 12.49, p 0.002, respectively). Our assessment also revealed an increase in false/lying claims, which reached 7.6 percent during the 2002-2007 period (w2 18.97, p 0.000), which is in line with findings of an event report recently produced by the British Advertising Standards Authority (2008). To some extent, this finding is attributed to some automobile manufacturers reporting that their cars were environmentally friendly when, in reality, they were not and even exceeded average acceptable industry standards. Copy characteristics The most commonly employed headline (and subheading) structure in the advertisements had a declarative form (75.7 percent); that is, they provided a statement with a definite meaning such as we have a plan to combat climate change (see Table IV). Headlines with identification (i.e. a clear distinction of the advertiser and/or its products), or interrogative (i.e. words questioning in a challenging sequence) structure appeared in 18.6 and 17.1 percent of the advertisements, respectively. Just 6.6 percent of the advertisements employed slogans (e.g. Bayers expertise with responsibility). Some advertisements also used statistics in their headlines as a means of dramatizing the consequences of ecological problems. Other types of headline structure such as quotation, selective, and negative, were rarely used. A trend we observed here is the reduced use of identification headlines (w2 7.85, p 0.020) and slogans (w2 6.90, p 0.032). The informative headline (and subheading) was the most frequently used format (84.4 percent of the advertisements), and was consistently high across the entire investigation period. Degussas (1999) headline, working together to protect the environment, provides a good example in this respect. Next (12.3 percent of the advertisements) were headlines that stressed the environmentally friendly nature of the products features (e.g. LEXUSs (2006) advertisement the worlds first performance hybrid sedan), though their use experienced a declining trend (w2 13.58, p 0.001). We recorded a news format in only 5.7 percent of the advertisements, and this mainly took the form of announcing recent environment-related developments

Copy characteristic

Total (n 473)%

(I) 1988-1994 (n1 219)%

Time period (II) 1995-2001 (n2 68)%

(III) 2002-2007 (n3 186)%



Scheffes test

Green advertising practices 19

Headline/subheading structure Declarative 75.7 Identification 18.6 Interrogative 17.1 Slogan 6.6 Statistics 4.2 Quotation 2.3 Selective 1.9 Negative 1.7 No heading/ subheading 3.4 Headline/subheading format Informative 84.4 Product feature 12.3 News 5.7 Consultative 3.8 Feelings 3.8 Testimonial 2.3 No heading/ subheading 2.5 Body copy mode Description Explanation Technical expertise Factual Persuasive Statistics Other Body copy tone Rational Emotional Ethical/moral

73.5 23.7 13.7 7.7 3.7 3.6 2.7 1.8 4.1

72.0 17.6 19.1 11.7 5.9 1.5 1.5 1.5 2.9

79.6 12.9 20.4 3.2 4.3 1.1 1.1 1.6 2.7

2.57 7.85 3.43 6.90 0.64 3.20 1.57 0.05 0.67

0.276 0.020 0.180 0.032 0.726 0.202 0.456 0.975 0.716


80.8 16.4 7.3 3.7 5.9 1.4 3.1

92.6 17.6 1.5 1.5 5.9

85.5 5.4 5.4 4.8 0.5 4.3 2.7

5.79 13.58 3.35 1.57 8.94 5.70 2.17

0.055 0.001 0.188 0.456 0.011 0.058 0.338



50.1 47.8 39.5 37.0 26.2 26.0 1.3

28.7 70.3 56.2 41.1 23.7 17.8 1.8

45.6 47.0 27.9 48.5 23.5 13.2

76.9 21.5 24.2 28.0 30.1 40.3 1.1

93.78 96.07 47.47 11.98 2.40 33.23 1.47

0.000 0.000 0.000 0.003 0.301 0.000 0.479


99.7 34.2 29.4

100.0 37.9 31.5

97.0 26.5 25.0

99.4 32.8 28.5

0.69 3.30 1.18

0.710 0.192 0.555

Table IV. Copy characteristics of international green advertisements

in the company and/or its products. Other types of headline format such as consultative, feelings, and testimonial, were also infrequently used. Body copy appeared in many different modes, with half (50.1 percent) the advertisements giving a description of key issues that might linger in the readers mind (e.g. Do you see a tree? At Veolia we see an industrial challenge). This was closely followed by an explanation mode (47.8 percent of the advertisements), which mainly provided details about environmental problems unknown to the reader, as well as information about the environmentally friendly character of the company and its products. For example, a General Electric advertisement in 2005 argues that by developing advanced technologies in energy, manufacturing, and infrastructure,

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we can create solutions that are as economically advantageous as they are ecologically sound. Technical expertise was employed in two-fifths of the advertisements, mainly to demonstrate the companys ability to protect the environment such as we have the know-how to biologically treat your waste water. Another 37.0 percent of the advertisements had a factual mode that is, they provided various facts that enhanced the ecological profile of the advertiser. Advertisements used persuasion (e.g. Duponts advertisement in 1990 saying that Tynek is easily recycled or disposed of, with no adverse environmental effects) or statistics (e.g. at YARA we are geared to reduce our emissions by 25 percent before 2008) less frequently. Some notable tendencies regarding body copy modes are the increasing adoption of description (w2 93.78, p 0.000) and statistics (w2 33.23, p 0.000) and the declining use of explanation (w2 96.07, p 0.000), technical expertise (w2 47.47, p 0.000), and facts (w2 11.98, p 0.003). Regarding body copy tone, the overwhelming majority of the advertisements (99.7 percent) were characterized by a rational approach. This mainly took the form of declarative comments about the direct benefits the companys methods and products contributed to the environment (e.g. TOTAL was the first oil company to produce and market biofuels) and, to a lesser extent, their efficiency (e.g. since 1992, Chevron has reduced its own energy consumption by 24 percent) or quality (e.g. BPs ultimate fuels help vehicles deliver more performance and less pollution) aspects. An emotional tone was employed in 34.2 percent of the advertisements, and this usually stressed either pleasure (e.g. Toyota Prius delivers impressive environmental performance and driving pleasure), or pride (e.g. the latest Shell report allows you to judge how far we have come). Other emotional appeals, though less popular, derived from fantasy, warmth, fear, happiness, and guilt. Only 29.4 percent of the advertisements had an ethical/moral tone, which typically took a positive stance as to what is moral, ethical, or right. A case in point is Linde Groups advertisement in 2006, which states that we take our products from nature and thats why we have a particular responsibility toward the environment. Situation points The green advertisements also used a wide range of illustrations. Advertisements showing a natural environment represented 27.9 percent of the total, though a serious decline occurred during the 2002-2007 period (w2 27.32, p 0.000) (see Table V). Some popular scenes here included a blue sky, a tree in a field, a blue sea, a green forest, and flowers or birds. Still life illustrations, which presented mainly pictures of products (e.g. cars, airplanes, machine equipment), appeared in 13.9 percent advertisements and were more evident in the last two periods (w2 7.97, p 0.019). In about the same proportion, advertisements also employed imaginary or artificial scenes as in the case of Vattenfalls advertisement, which shows a lion hunting penguins in a dried-up, tropical region, were also employed in about the same proportion. Approximately, 12.6 percent of the advertisements adopted an industrial environment setting, particularly in the case of advertisers producing heavy industrial goods. Some advertisements also opted to show exclusively green equipment/devices (e.g. water desalination devices), green lifestyles (e.g. a father fishing with his child in clean river waters), and environmental objects (e.g. plastic bottles or aluminium containers). More than half (57.5 percent) the advertisements did not include a presenter in their illustrations. Of the remainder, the presence of ordinary people was the most common, often shown individually or in association with other people with similar

Situation point Illustration setting Natural environment Still life Imaginary/artificial environment Industrial environment Normal scenery Abstract design Green equipment/device Slice of life Green lifestyle Environmental objects Other No setting Illustration presenter Normal people Animals Company person Special character Expert Human hands Special people Celebrity Cartoon No presenter Company identification mark Environmental website Environmental slogan Green signature cut Green logotype Green awards No company environmental identification Product identification mark Legal requirements logos Environmental certification Green trademark No product environmental identification

Total (n 473)%

(I) 1988-1994 (n1 219)%

Time period (II) (III) 1995-2001 2002-2007 (n2 68)% (n3 186)%



Scheffes test

Green advertising practices 21

27.9 13.9 13.7 12.6 11.6 9.5 6.7 5.7 3.4 1.1 3.0 5.9

36.5 9.1 15.0 16.0 8.2 9.1 10.5 5.4 2.2 1.4 4.6 2.7

36.7 19.1 10.3 11.8 22.0 13.2 4.4 1.4

14.5 17.7 13.4 9.1 11.8 8.6 4.8 6.5 5.4 1.1 2.2 11.8

27.32 7.97 1.02 4.31 9.68 1.31 10.88 0.43 3.83 0.93 4.47 19.91

0.000 0.019 0.600 0.116 0.008 0.519 0.004 0.809 0.147 0.628 0.107 0.000




21.8 9.5 5.7 2.7 1.3 1.3 0.6 0.4 0.4 57.5

16.0 14.2 4.6 3.2 0.9 1.8 0.5 0.4 58.4

33.8 1.5 1.5 5.9 4.4 52.9

24.2 7.0 8.6 1.1 0.5 1.1 1.1 0.5 1.1 58.1

10.75 11.97 5.69 4.61 6.38 1.47 1.12 2.57 3.10 1.11

0.005 0.003 0.058 0.100 0.041 0.479 0.572 0.277 0.212 0.575


24.7 8.8 1.3 0.8 0.3 66.6

6.8 10.0 2.3 1.4 79.9

29.4 70.6

44.1 10.8 0.5 0.5 0.5 49.5

75.84 7.80 3.47 1.51 1.55 41.08

0.000 0.020 0.177 0.470 0.462 0.000



2.3 2.1 0.2 95.4

0.5 1.4 98.1

1.4 98.6

5.4 3.8 90.8

12.61 4.50 5.97 13.94

0.002 0.105 0.051 0.001



Table V. Situation points of international green advertisements

characteristics (e.g. men, women, children). Animals constituted the second-largest category, shown in 9.5 percent of the advertisements, and their presence was the highest during the 1988-1994 period (w2 11.97, p 0.003). Altogether, 40 different animals appeared in advertisements, with mammals comprising the biggest group (19),

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followed by birds (nine), insects (six), amphibians (three), and fish (three). The most frequently shown animals were ducks, trout, and butterflies, each appearing in three different advertisements. A company person appeared in 5.7 percent of the advertisements; this person usually had the status of a top executive, engineer, or scientist within the organization. A small proportion of advertisements introduced special characters such as Opels teddy bear, which appeared in a 1992 advertisement that showed the bear as the only thing left after cars are recycled. Experts were rarely shown, and if so, they aimed to confirm the firms commitment to save the environment or emphasized the firms environmental expertise. Two-thirds (66.6 percent) of the advertisements contained no identification mark associated with the green status of the company. Of those that did, the most commonly used was an environmental website, which provided additional information about the firms environmental practices and educated consumers on environmental matters. As expected, the use of environmental websites was more prevalent in more recent advertisements (due to the emergence of the Internet as a communication medium in the late 1990s). Environmental slogans such as BPs beyond petroleum, AEGs our future demands responsibility, and Boeings making airport communities quieter communities, appeared in just 8.8 percent of the advertisements. Other forms of identification marks such as the green signature cut (e.g. Waste Management Europe), green logotype (e.g. the black-and-white panda above the WWF sign), and green awards (e.g. Rolex laureate award for people making exceptional contributions to the environment) were rare. The use of green product identification marks was even more infrequent among the advertisements examined, with only 4.6 percent displaying such marks. Legal environmental logos, indicating that the product met minimum required industry standards, appeared in just 2.3 percent of the advertisements. These advertisements were mainly sponsored by automobile firms, which have recently been obliged to provide more information about their cars CO2 emissions. Environmental certification appeared in 2.1 percent of the advertisements, the most commonly cited being ISO 9002, Energy Star, and Energy Efficiency Scheme (later renamed Carbon Trust Standard). Finally, the use of green trademarks (i.e. company signs symbolizing an environmental aspect) appeared in only one advertisement, namely that of SANYO in 1995, which shows the planet earth with a mark indicating the eco-friendly nature of the firms refrigerators. The negligible use of green trademarks can be attributed to the newness of this phenomenon in the last few years and, though many firms now widely embrace these trademarks, usually some time must elapse before legislative bodies approve them and firms subsequently include them in advertisements. Interaction effects In addition to identifying differences in international green advertisements over time, we focus on specific interaction effects among the key issues examined. With regard to advertiser profile, we found that some companies adopted distinctive environmental patterns that deviated from the norm. For example, BP and Bayer showed greater sensitivity toward environmental issues by making more specific, strong, and acceptable claims than the other firms examined. In addition, international companies from the UK or USA tended to have greener advertisements than those based in other countries, probably reflecting their stricter environmental regulations.

We also found differences in environmental advertisements in the case of targeting features. For example, while automobiles/airplanes/trains, chemicals/ plastic products, and paper products/printing and publishing had vaguer and more ambiguous green advertisements, the opposite was true for renewable technology and environmental-related services. Our analysis also found that the greener the advertisement, the stronger, more specific, and more acceptable the ecological claim made. With regard to message aspects, the greener the advertisement, the more evident was the use of environmental claims, regardless of whether this pertained to a product, a process, an image, or an environmental fact. In terms of the products advertised, we observed some variations in the type of claim used. For example, automobile manufacturers placed greater emphasis on product-oriented claims, environmentally related services used more process-oriented claims, agriculture/forestry/fishing organizations used more image-oriented claims, while energy firms mainly employed environmental fact-based claims. The analysis also indicated that weak environmental claims were vaguer than those with a strong emphasis and high specificity. Claim validity was also significantly associated with the specificity and emphasis of the claim: acceptable claims were more prevalent in advertisements with high specificity and strong emphasis, while claims with more ambiguity, omissions, and falsehoods/lies were mainly connected with advertisements with greater vagueness and weaker emphasis. In the case of copy characteristics, headlines/subheadings containing declaration, identification, or statistics were associated more with automobiles, waterworks and supply, and energy, respectively. Our analysis also indicated certain distinctive patterns with regard to headline format: while the use of testimonials was more common in advertisements with deep greenness and high specificity/strength, the reverse was true with regard to news. Advertisements with factual and persuasive body copy were related more to strong, specific, and acceptable claims. Finally, the deeper the greenness of the advertisement, the more ethical the body copy tone was. With regard to situation points, illustration settings exhibiting natural environments were more profound in advertisements related to energy and automobiles, perhaps in a way to soften their harmful effects on the environment. Advertisements showing industrial environments contained claims of greater vagueness and ambiguity. Use of company personnel was more obvious in relation to electricity supply, paper products, and business services, while the use of animals appeared more in advertisements pertaining to agriculture/forestry/fishing, waterworks and supply, and mines. The use of both environmental websites and environmental slogans was associated more with advertisements making strong, specific, and acceptable claims, and the same pattern occurred with regard to environmental certification. Summary and conclusions From this study, we can conclude that the international green advertising scene has changed dramatically during the past two decades on many different fronts. For example, with regard to advertiser profile, we observed a growing appreciation by international firms of the role of advertising in developing a green image. This is particularly true of large multinational corporations in industries often accused of polluting the environment. However, most of these firms exhibited an irregular green

Green advertising practices 23

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advertising pattern, reflecting a reactive response to external and/or internal events related to the environment. From a country perspective, we also noted different, but changing, patterns in green advertising, with US and British firms gradually taking the lead from their German counterparts. Although the manufacturing sector (particularly producers of industrial goods) has predominantly used green advertising, other types of organizations (e.g. suppliers) and other sectors of economic activity (e.g. mining) have only recently embraced it. The thrust of green advertising activity mostly pertaining to heavy industry goods (e.g. energy, transport equipment, metal/non-metallic) demonstrates firms attempts to alleviate (and, in some cases, mask) environmental accusations made against them by various parties. Our study also shows that there is a gradual shift of emphasis in green advertising from business to consumer buyers, stressing the growing importance of environmental marketing in consumer markets. In addition, the tendency in green advertisements to increasingly stress issues related to consumption, rather than production, aspects of the product cycle highlights advertisers response to increasing criticism about product emission levels, recycling problems, and after-product life solutions. The trend observed to increase the amount of detail in green advertisements could mirror:

the heavy investment made by many firms in environmental equipment and processes; the need to differentiate from the competition by communicating a green image to current and prospective buyers; and the multiplicity of environment-related problems, requiring more extensive and in-depth handling.

The greater focus of green advertisements on product-oriented claims than on processoriented, image-oriented, or environmental fact-based claims, denotes firms tendency to enhance green claims that are more easily observable, clearly understood, and practically useful for protecting the environment. In addition, firms inclination to design messages that are more specific and detailed on environmental matters, place stronger emphasis on the environment, and contain less ambiguity, expresses a more responsible approach to green advertising. To a great extent, this could be attributed to repeated accusations made against several firms by regulatory bodies (e.g. Federal Trade Commission), stakeholder groups (e.g. Greenpeace), and independent agencies (e.g. Enviromedia Social Marketing Corporation) for green-washing practices. Copy-related dimensions of green advertising also exhibited distinct features and trends. For example, headlines (and sub-headings) were largely declarative and informative, while body copy adopted mainly a descriptive mode and a rational tone. These findings show that the environmental topic is new and complex and thus, it is important to:
. .

provide explicit information on the issues; stress the benefits associated with protection of the environment accruing from the adoption of green methods and procedures; emphasize the firms environmental activities, which allows buyers to draw comparisons with non-green competitors; and stress the importance and seriousness of the topic for the company and all stakeholders involved.

Situation points of green advertising also reflected the idiosyncratic nature of environmental issues. For example, illustrations mainly showed external environmentfocused scenes, whether natural, artificial, or industrial. One striking result is the complete absence of presenters in more than half of green advertisements. However, in cases in which presenters were used, they were mainly human beings and animals, which symbolize the need to preserve life on the planet. In contrast to other dimensions of green advertising, illustration characteristics did not reveal any clear-cut tendency. With the exception of environmental websites, identification marks associated with green characteristics were virtually absent. To some extent, this could be due to the time required to obtain these marks such as green awards, environmental certification, and green trademarks. The study also revealed the existence of many interaction effects among the different dimensions of the advertisements (i.e. advertiser profile, targeting features, message aspects, copy characteristics, and situation points). For example, the advertiser and the country in which it is based seem to determine the design and the execution of international green advertisements. The nature of the products advertised also had an important effect on the message, copy, and situation points of green advertisements. Some strong inter-relationships among the items of each advertising dimension also existed, as in the case of deep green advertisements, which were associated with specific, strong, and acceptable claims. Managerial implications The role of international green advertising in communicating a firms environmentally friendly practices to various audiences is important. This study shows that international organizations with a long and successful presence in the market have used this form of advertising extensively to build a pro-environmental image. However, it is important to adopt a systematic, proactive, and well-planned approach to green advertising, rather than merely reacting to internal crisis situations, ecological disasters, or environmental public criticisms. Green advertising should be regarded as an indispensable part of the firms overall environmental marketing strategy that can help it gain sustainable competitive advantage and achieve superior performance. International environmental advertising is too idiomorphic in conceiving, designing, and executing message, copy, and situation points. The unique, complex, and sensitive character of issues related to the environment requires cautious handling to achieve maximum effectiveness. Therefore, firms should formulate an advertising strategy that considers various stakeholders environmental concerns, and subsequently should turn these into reasons for making the company more attractive than its competitors. However, our study showed that, to win the credibility and trust of both consumers and stakeholders, a firms environmental claims should be detailed, specific, and truthful. This is particularly relevant today because of repeated accusations of misleading green advertising claims. This study shows that green advertising is not static but rather is constantly evolving as a result of changes in firms internal and external forces. Therefore, it is important to carefully monitor trends in the market, and adopt ideas from best practice in the field (e.g. Advertising Standards Authoritys guidelines for environmental claims). Firms also need to foresee future developments with regard to environmental issues and take proactive measures when designing green advertising campaigns. Finally, and most important, firms environmental claims should be clear, understandable, and considered valid by the receivers of the message.

Green advertising practices 25

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The multifarious nature of the international green advertisements examined stresses the need to design different environmental advertising campaigns targeted at groups of buyers with different environmental involvement. For example, although an increasing number of buyers choose products by relying solely on their environmental credentials, firms should take extra care to attract the attention of people who tend to ignore environmental claims by conveying advertising messages that combine green attributes (e.g. recyclable packaging) with other product attributes (e.g. quality). Limitations and future research The findings of this study should be viewed within the context of certain limitations, which could provide the basis for further research on the subject. First, as a result of the content analysis method used to evaluate international green advertisements, we could not trace various external factors (e.g. political-legal, socio-economic, technological) with a potential effect on shaping firms green advertising strategies. Although inherent difficulties exist in carrying out such an investigation because of the heterogeneity, complexity, and volatility of the international business environment, it is crucial to understand the specific conditions surrounding green advertising. It would also be beneficial to trace whether green advertisements were designed in response to external stakeholders or were the result of firms proactive environmental behaviour (Polonsky and Hyman, 2007). Second, the content analysis did not enable us to measure the communication effectiveness of green advertisements. It is vital to understand the opinion of the audiences targeted by these advertisements directly in terms of the degree of involvement, likability, and persuasion. It would also be insightful if the results of this survey were combined with the characteristics (e.g. environmental claims, execution styles, presentation types) of the green advertisements extracted from the analysis undertaken. This would also help identify the exact profile (e.g. demographic, psychographic, behavioural) of the people targeted and better understand their requirements with regard to the design, execution, and presentation of environmental advertisements. Third, it might be useful to combine the information collected for this study with secondary data pertaining to the performance of the specific company/product advertised. Here, research could carry out three types of analyses: (1) (2) compare and contrast performance indicators (e.g. sales, market share, customer satisfaction) before and after the green advertisement is launched; examine whether specific message, copy, and situation aspects of the green advertisement are conducive to superior market and/or financial performance; and identify potential moderating effects on the link between advertising characteristics and company performance.


Although our study covered a wide array of issues pertaining to international advertising, other important dimensions warrant attention such as the degree of a firms standardization/adaptation of green advertisements in different countries (Christmann, 2004), the effectiveness of green advertising claims across cultures (Sriram and Forman, 1993), the way consumers across cultures perceive environmental claims (Hartmann and Apaolaza-Ibanez, 2009), the level of consistency between

international green claims and actual environmental marketing behaviour (Polonsky et al., 1997), and the impact of home country environmental values on international green advertising implementation (Rugman and Verbeke, 1998). The focus of our study was on a single international advertising medium, The Economist. Thus, further research might incorporate additional international magazines, as well as draw comparisons between green advertisements appearing in international business magazines and those in international consumer magazines. Subsequent research should also extend its investigation on green advertisements to other international advertising media, such as television, radio, and the Internet. Our study focused exclusively on international green advertisements, though further research could examine their effectiveness in comparison with non-green advertisements. In this context, it would also be useful to determine whether consumers in different countries consider environmental claims more convincing than product performance claims when making their purchasing decisions. Further research might also determine whether green or non-green advertisements are more effective among buyers who are environmentally conscious than among buyers who have low sensitivity toward ecological issues. It would also be worthwhile to examine the nature and effectiveness of ethical, social and environmental advertising claims in different cultural settings (Polonsky and Jevons, 2009; Mogele and Tropp, 2010). The legal and regulatory climate prevailing in a country sets the boundaries within which firms formulate their green advertisements (Welch and Wilkinson, 2004). As such, it would be useful to examine how this influences the way firms communicate their environmental commitment in foreign markets (Carlson et al., 1996). Furthermore, various regulatory and self-regulatory organizations have repeatedly requested greater clarity of environmental claims in green advertisements (Polonsky et al., 1997). Future research could investigate how organizations in various countries evaluate the veracity of the claims made, a well as determine their role in adjusting green advertisements of international firms across countries. Finally, it would be illuminating to identify how a firms green advertising strategy differs relative to its approach to foreign markets such as its international strategic perspective (e.g. multi-domestic versus global), the number of countries it serves (e.g. concentration versus spreading), and its mode of operating in each country (e.g. exporting versus direct investment). It would also be useful if such analysis could draw comparisons between international firms located in developed countries and those originating from emerging economies (Yin and Ma, 2009). Differences in green advertising practices could also be identified according to whether the foreign market is mature or developing.
Notes 1. We attributed the inconsistencies observed in selecting the remaining advertisements to several factors:

Green advertising practices 27

they included technical terms that were of a general nature rather than providing specific or relevant environmental claims; they referred to corporate social responsibility issues, without making a clear focus on environmental matters; they presented natural environments, without making any particular reference to green issues and/or sustainability; and they were more or less the same as other advertisements published in previous periods, with only slight differences.

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2. To a great extent, this advertising pattern comes as a response to specific environmental events that marked the world society. For example, during the 1988-1994 period, the Environmental Assessment Directive was implemented across Europe, the inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change was established, and the UN Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio de Janeiro (Easterling et al., 1996; Iyer, 1995). The 1995-2001 period experienced a sharp decline in green advertising activity, probably because of elevated fears that green positioning was becoming an anti-issue, increasing concerns about green-washing claims, and the growing number of green product failures (Corbett, 2002; Neff, 2000). This situation was reversed during the 2002-2007 period, when intense political discussion and revived consumer interest re-emerged as a result of events such as the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the publication of the first Environmental Performance Index, and the initiation of reviews of green marketing guidelines and environmental products (Visser, 2009).

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Year 1988 1988 1988 1989 1990 1990 1990 1990 1991 1991 1991 1992

Event Implementation across Europe of Environmental Assessment Directive Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established Assassination of the well known ecological activist Chico Mendez Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska Principle of integrated pollution control in United Kingdom Environmental Protection Act London Agreement on ozone depletion material phase out Defeat of California big green environmental legislation; local adoption of many aspects 1st IPCC report finds 0.51C warming Proposal for European Environmental Agency Draft Eco-Audit Directive, Europe Petrobras P36 oil platform sinks off Brazilian coast In opposition to local environmental regulation, many California companies in deep recession threaten removal to less regulated states GATT publishes report on world free trade and environmental issues UN Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) Banking Initiative launched The Business Council for Sustainable Development publishes Changing Course FTC publishes green marketing guidelines for the first time Forrest Stewardship Council (FSC) established Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) enacted by the EU Green Globe standard for travel and tourism launched Shell Brent Spar and Nigeria crises Second IPCC report predicts significant socioeconomic impacts ISO 14001 environmental management standard launched FTC revises green marketing guidelines Kyoto Protocol sets targets for 34 major economies (enforced in 2005 and ratified by 187 states by 2009) Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) established UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) Insurance Industry Initiative (III) formed Fair trade standard launched internationally Asian ecological and financial chaos Oil pipeline explosion at Jesse, Nigeria Cement Sustainability Initiative launched

Nature Policy initiatives Climate change Crisis event Crisis event Policy initiatives Policy initiatives Green opposition Climate change Policy initiatives Policy initiatives Crisis event Green opposition

Green advertising practices 31

1992 1992 1992 1992 1992 1993 1993 1994 1995 1995 1996 1996 1997 1997 1997 1997 1997 1998 1998

Policy initiatives World summits; Climate change Industry initiatives Industry initiatives Practice guidelines Industry initiatives Codes and standards Industry initiatives Crisis event Climate change Codes and standards Practice guidelines Climate change Industry initiatives Industry initiatives Codes and standards Crisis event Crisis event Industry initiatives Table AI. Landmark events related to environmental issues during the 1988-2007 period


IMR 28,1

Year 1998 2000

Event FTC revises green marketing guidelines Mining and Minerals for Sustainable Development (MMSD) project started GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines launched Carbon Disclosure Project established Environmental Sustainability index first published Third IPCC report shows rising temperatures and sea levels UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (the Earth Summit 10 in Johannesburg, South Africa Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil created Gas explosion in Daping coal mine in Henan province in China EU GHG Emission Trading Scheme begins trading Millennium Ecosystem Assessment published Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change issues first open letter Stern Review on Economics of Climate Change published ISO 14064 standard on GHG accounting and verification launched Environmental Performance Index first published Fourth IPCC report shows 90% certainty of human cause of climate change FTC initiates review of green marketing guidelines and environmental products, including carbon offsets

Nature Practice guidelines Industry initiatives Codes and Standards Sustainability reporting State of the planet Climate change World summits Industry initiatives Crisis event Climate change State of the planet Leadership initiatives Climate change Codes and standards State of the planet Climate change Practice guidelines


2000 2000 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2005 2005 2006 2006 2006 2007 2007

Table AI.

Source: Compiled from Peattie (1995, 2001), IISD (2010), and Visser (2009)

About the authors Leonidas C. Leonidou (PhD, MSc, University of Bath) is a Professor of Marketing at the School of Economics and Management of the University of Cyprus. His current research interests are in the areas of international marketing/purchasing, relationship marketing, strategic marketing, and marketing in emerging economies. He has published extensively in these fields and his articles appear in various journals such as the European Journal of Marketing, Industrial Marketing Management, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Business Research, Journal of International Business Studies, Journal of International Marketing, and Journal of World Business. Constantinos N. Leonidou (PhD, University of Leeds; MBA, Cardiff University) is a Lecturer in Marketing at Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds, UK. His main research interests focus on sustainability, international marketing, consumer behaviour, and advertising. His research has appeared in various journals such as the European Journal of Marketing, Industrial Marketing Management, and Journal of International Marketing. Constantinos N. Leonidou is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: C.Leonidou@leeds.ac.uk Dayananda Palihawadana (PhD, MSc, University of Strathclyde) is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds, UK. His research interests

are mainly in international marketing, electronic marketing, and relationship marketing. He has published in various journals, including the European Journal of Marketing, Journal of Advertising Research, and International Marketing Review. Magnus Hultman (PhD, MSc, Lulea University of Technology) is a Lecturer in Marketing at Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds, UK. Although his research centres on international marketing strategy and export performance, he writes on a range of topics including electronic supply chain management, marketing communications, and brand management. His research has appeared in journals such as Journal of International Marketing and Tourism Management among others.

Green advertising practices 33

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