Sustainability through Status?
The Impact of Scarcity Appeals on Sustainable Consumption Behaviour
Master Thesis Business Administration - Consumer Marketing
Pauline De Ly (11709782)
Prof. dr. ir. Ruth Mugge - Full Professor in Design for Sustainable Consumer Behaviour
Dr. Carina Thuerridl - Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Amsterdam
Date of Submission (final version):
Ethical Approval: EC 20220428020424
Word Count: 15.103
Statement of Originality
This document is written by Student Pauline De Ly who declares to take full responsibility for the contents of this document.
I declare that the text and the work presented in this document are original and that no
sources other than those mentioned in the text and its references have been used in creating it.
The Faculty of Economics and Business is responsible solely for the supervision of completion of the work, not for the contents.
Table of Contents
Sustainability and Sustainable Consumption………...…..4
The Affluent Population……….6
Sufficiency Consumption ………..……….11
Sustainable Consumption Behaviour………...11
Barriers for Purchasing Green Products……….………..15
From Conspicuous Consumption to Conspicuous Conservation…………...17
An evolutionary perspective……….…18
Promotion Techniques of Green Products ……….……….……….19
Sustainability through Status..………...….22
Design, Procedure and Measures………..………...27
Descriptives and Correlations………..35
The (interaction) effects of ELS and green messages on purchase intention and WTP………..39
The mediation of status motive on purchase intention and WTP……….41
The moderation of greenness and income on the status motive mediation …...42
Limitations and Future Research……….….53
As consumers are driven by status motives when consuming to signal wealth, recent research has hypothesised that consumers are triggered to buy green products to signal prosociality. This effect that green products also trigger status has been found but not yet researched for marketing promotions. Therefore this study examines whether green products can function as status symbols by emphasizing uniqueness appeals that focus on the scarcity of a product, as those cues signal exclusivity, and thereby increase purchase intention and willingness to pay.
This study tests whether this effect is stronger for green products and can be explained by a status motive. An online experiment was performed in which the 271 respondents were presented a smartphone, either with no promotion message (control group), a supply scarcity appeal, a green promotion message or a combination of both, after which attitudinal responses were investigated. The results failed to support all hypotheses but other interesting findings were found. Supply scarcity messages negatively predicted purchase intention and willingness to pay for smartphones. This negative effect can be explained through the normalization of smartphones causing other motivations to be more important than the need for uniqueness.
However, this effect was mitigated for green products because of their prosocial character.
Also, this study confirmed previous research findings that an activated status motive positively predicts purchase behaviour. This study contributes to the theoretical understanding of marketing green products by suggesting that consumers are more motivated by social influences for which demand scarcity appeals might work better.
“The rich are primarily to blame for the global climate crisis” and “The climate issue is framed by us high emitters – the politicians, business people, journalists, academics. When we say there’s no appetite for higher taxes on flying, we mean WE don’t want to fly less”
(Harrabin, 2020). Sustainability and the climate crisis are ubiquitous in today’s society, yet still too little progress is made (Pörtner et al., 2022). This contradiction calls for urgent action on new ways to promote sustainable practices.
Sustainability and Sustainable Consumption
Human activities have caused immense impacts on the environment that outcompete natural processes, called ‘the anthropocene’ (Crutzen, 2006). Emissions are rising and planetary boundaries are overshot. An immense increase in greenhouse gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is one major cause of climate change (Arias et al., 2021). Climate change has major impacts on the world. Extreme weather casualties will cause scarce water and food availability, worsening health due to malnutrition, disease and air quality and affect human infrastructure and settlement by floodings and desertifications. It is therefore of great importance to reduce GHG emissions significantly to preserve the planet and all its living species including humans.
One of the major contributors to the emission of GHGs is the acceleration of consumption over the last decade (Toth & Szigeti, 2016). Humanity has increasingly been using natural resources for material consumption above the level of our own life-support system and by doing so exceeding nature’s capacity to regenerate (Princen, 1999). This overconsumption causes more goods to be produced, purchased and to be disposed of, which is extremely energy intensive and thereby the greatest cause of all for emissions of GHGs
(Ritchie & Roser, 2020). To reduce these emissions, the world needs to change how to think about consumption; there is a major need to consume differently. Overall, less consumption would be the only fair solution if emissions need to be reduced. For this reason, the promotion of reduced consumption is upcoming within marketing, called demarketing (Sekhon &
Armstrong Soule, 2020). However, even with consuming less, there still will be some level of consumption for a sufficient lifestyle. A balance of avoidance of both over- and underconsumption is needed, referred to as sufficient consumption (Gossen, Ziesemer, &
Schrader, 2019). For this avoidance of underconsumption and thus a minimum level of consumption, the concept of consuming differently is important. In this case, choosing the option that minimizes its environmental impact during its entire life-cycle is a good alternative for reducing emissions. Products that are designed with the goal to reduce waste and maximize resource efficiency and thus minimizing a products’ environmental impact are in this study referred to as ‘green products’ (Albino, Balice, & Dangelico, 2009; Durif, Boivin, & Julien, 2010, p.31). Different examples of green products are repaired, reused, refurbished and recycled products all with the goal of using as few new resources as possible and extending the product lifetime. Selecting green products is especially important for product categories that are not soon expected to fade away and will thus continue to be consumed on this minimal level. One major example of such a product category that is so integrated in our society and keeps developing at a fast pace are information technology communication (ICT) products.
ICT products are products by which individuals collect, process and exchange information through the use of technology and all the products supporting it (Rogers, 1986, p.2), such as a mobile phone or a laptop. ICT products have a major impact on the environment as they are responsible for approximately 3.7% GHG emissions globally and expected to increase to 14%
in 2040 (Belkhir & Elmeligi, 2018). In particular, the footprint of smartphones alone would by 2040 surpass the contribution of desktops, laptops and displays together (Belkhir & Elmeligi,
2018). There is thus much to gain environmentally when greener ICT options and more specifically smartphone options would be chosen more often. For a smartphone, this could mean choosing a smartphone out of recycled materials, which will be the focus of this study.
By choosing this option, consumers help to reduce emissions through choosing a product aimed at product longevity via waste reduction and resource efficiency.
The selection of green products for a minimum level of consumption links to the topic of sustainable consumption. Sustainable consumption namely is defined as “the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimising the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardise the needs of future generations” (United Nations, n.d.). This topic of sustainable consumption has gained much attention over the last years due to increasing awareness around climate change and the growing group of environmental conscious consumers. With this increasing awareness, sustainable marketing, the marketing of commercial goods in a responsible way that does not negatively impact environmental, economic and social aspects (Gordon, Carrigan, & Hastings, 2011), received a boost.
Even though the increasing awareness and sustainable marketing practices since the 1990’s (Peattie & Charter, 1992), it only has a weak influence on sustainable buying behaviours so far (do Paço, Shiel and Alves, 2019).
The Affluent Population
This is especially the case for the affluent population as the richest 10 percent of people globally are responsible for 49 percent of the total global emissions and even more, their emissions are 11 times higher than the average emissions of the poorest 50 percent (Gore 2015).
This affluent population of the richest 10 percent of people can mostly be found in Western countries for which the mean wealth per adult in United States dollars (USD) is above the
required wealth of 129.624 USD to be regarded as a member of this richest 10 percent of people globally (Credit Suisse, 2021). When translating this to income, in the Netherlands for example, having an average yearly income, means belonging to about the top 3.5% richest people worldwide (Beijen, 2018). Consumptive behaviour of this affluent Western population has the greatest significant ecological impact (Gore, 2015; Lynch, Long, Stretesky, & Barrett, 2019).
This finding is in line with the earlier stated quote that the rich are to blame for the global climate crisis. However, this is astonishing because environmental concern increases with income (Duroy, 2008) and socioeconomic status (Grandin, Guillou, Sater, Foucault, &
Chevallier, 2022), which would lead to expect that the affluent would be most sustainable. This contradiction calls for urgent action to find new strategies to change the consumption habits of the wealthy to become more sustainable. So what determines their excessive consumption behaviour?
Status. Evolutionarily, humans have a strong desire for status to enhance their reproduction and thereby to survive. Status in evolution has always been relative, for example which peacock has the biggest and most colourful feathers had the highest status and thus the best chance to reproduce. Today, people use products, especially showy goods, to function as a status symbol (Griskevicius, Cantu and van Vugt, 2012). This struggle to at least keep up and to maintain or improve one's status and the learning of new needs and wants has put a spur on consumption, especially in affluent societies (Thøgersen, 2014). The consumption of goods for the purpose of status-seeking has been referred to as conspicuous consumption and can be traditionally found most for wealthy, high income consumers buying luxury goods (Dubois &
Duquesne, 1993; Han, Nunes, & Drèze, 2010; Husic & Cicic, 2009). Luxury goods are “goods for which the mere use or display of a particular branded product confers prestige on their owners, apart from any utility deriving from their function” (Grossmann & Shapiro, 1998, p.
82). One of the reasons for excessive consumption of the wealthy is thus for status-
enhancement and this desire increases with income (Delhey, Schneickert, Hess, & Aplowski, 2022).Could status-enhancing cues then not be used to promote sustainable purchases amongst the affluent population?
Recent research indeed illustrated that the need for status can also lead consumers to choose green products as a means for demonstrating status (Johnson, Tariq, & Baker, 2018).
The activation of status motives can cause consumers to choose those green alternatives because it signals one’s willingness to incur costs of owning a product that benefits not only oneself but also the environment (and society)(Griskevicius, Tybur, & Van den Bergh, 2010).
Owning such a product is then in return perceived as prosocial by its altruistic act and wealthy by one’s ability to incur those costs (Griskevicius, Tybur, & Van den Bergh, 2010; Groening, Sarkis, & Zhu, 2018; Puska, Kurki, Lähdesmäki, Siltaoja, & Luomala, 2018; Sestino, Amatulli,
& Guido, 2021; Sexton & Sexton, 2014). The purchasing of green products with the purpose to attain status is in this sense a modern form conspicuous consumption and is referred to as
‘conspicuous conservation’ (Palomo-Vélez, Tybur, & van Vugt, 2021; Sexton & Sexton, 2014). Yet, to date which cues in advertisements can enhance those status motives related to sustainable consumption have not been researched. Therefore, the aim of this research is to investigate a type of cue in advertisements that could possibly evoke a person’s status motive, leading to an increase in selecting the green product option and thereby stimulating sustainable consumption.
One type of cue that has been linked to status are uniqueness appeals that focus on the distinctiveness of a product. This has been linked to status as consumers use new and unique products as a means to distinguish themselves from others in order to gain status (Ali, Xiaoling, Ali, Sherwani, & Muneeb, 2019). These uniqueness appeals in advertisements have however received limited attention in research for green products, whilst as seen before status enhancement could lead to more sustainable consumption. This leads to the question whether
uniqueness appeals as status enhancing messages could effectively be used for promoting green products?
In sum, uniqueness appeals trigger status motives for traditional products and consumers with higher incomes are more sensitive for status-enhancing products. These effects have not yet been researched for green products, which raises the question whether these uniqueness appeals could then not be used to shift conspicuous consumption behaviour to conspicuous conservation for consumers with higher incomes? This is summarised in the following research question:
“What effect does emphasising status-enhancing messages, focusing on uniqueness appeal, in the advertisements of green products have on sustainable consumption for different levels of income?”
The validation of a marketing tactic that could promote greener smartphone options via status to stimulate the wealthy to consume more sustainably would first of all be a major contributor to society and the planet as GHG emissions would be significantly reduced. Firstly because the affluent population is currently a major contributor of overconsumption, opting for the sustainable smartphone option, which is as described before also a major emitter of GHG, its GHG emissions could be reduced. Secondly because using a green product, whether intended to buy green or not, enhances its consumption experience, resulting in a higher likelihood of transitioning towards more green products (Tezer & Bodur, 2020). This happens because consumers perceive an increase in their social worth when using a green product, creating a feeling of warm glow, called the ‘greenconsumption effect’. This warm glow results in consumers becoming more likely to purchase to focal green product again and are also willing to pay more for it. Moreover, when the focal green product is important for other related products, the consumption experience and evaluation of the related products may also be enhanced (Tezer & Bodur, 2020). Choosing the sustainable smartphone option could thus in
return lead to more enjoyable consumption experiences, resulting in wanting to buy the greener option next time again and also related products, for example more sustainable ICT products, possibly creating a domino effect. Therefore, creating a promotion message that serves as a stimulant for purchasing a green smartphone, could potentially result in transitioning towards purchasing green products that aim at product longevity and thereby implicitly slightly contribute to consuming less in comparison to conventional products. However, it should be treated with caution that consuming the same amount but then green is not the purpose of sufficient consumption and thus mixed promotion techniques should be used, which will be discussed more elaborately in the discussion section.
Another additional benefit would be that pro environmental consumption behaviour of the affluent population sets an example for the rest of the population (Uren, Roberts, Dzidic,
& Leviston, 2021), which would lead to more sustainable choices population wide and thus a reduction of emissions in general.
The result of this research question would also be a contributor to the marketing field.
Practitioners and businesses of greener smartphones could, if the outcome is positive, use the researched uniqueness appeal to make these products more attractive for the affluent target group. This would in return lead to higher profits for sustainable businesses. Theoretically, the results of this research would contribute to creating more knowledge in how to market green smartphones. This acquired knowledge could provide insights for future research for other ICT products and possibly other industries with major GHG emissions as well and could create potential insights on how to bridge the so often mentioned attitude-behaviour gap in sustainable consumption.
In the next section, the literature surrounding sustainable consumption, sustainable marketing and status and uniqueness cues will be further discussed. Afterwards, the method section will describe in more detail how data was gathered and analysed to determine the effect
on purchasing behaviour. Consequently, the result section will illustrate important findings, followed by the discussion which consists of an evaluation of the findings, including its interpretations, implications, limitations and future research.
Consumers have a considerable impact on climate change by their consumption patterns. Current levels of overconsumption are emitting massive amounts of GHG emissions.
To reduce these emissions, consumption patterns need to shift towards more sustainable ones.
But which consumption patterns to shift to? How should this be promoted? And are consumers open to change?
Consuming less is the best solution to combat global warming, however according to Gossen et al. (2019) there will always be some levels of consumption. The aim is to find the balance between the two extremes of over- and underconsumption, called sufficient consumption. Both forms of consumption should be avoided, leading to a reduction of materials and emissions, whilst still ensuring human well-being. This theory is in line with the doughnut economy model by Raworth (2017), which emphasises that in order to achieve sustainable development, humanity needs to develop a balance between not overshooting planetary boundaries, whilst also providing a solid social foundation with rights for all, such as education, health services and food. Both models focus on the concept of ‘enough’. But how to shift consumers towards sufficient consumption patterns?
There are four types of consumption changes that contribute to a sufficient consumption lifestyle and therefore reducing ecological footprints (Sandberg, 2021). Firstly, consumers can
contribute by reducing their absolute amount of consumption. Two other possible consumption pattern changes are for consumers to shift to other consumption modes, being either a mode that is less resource intensive or a sharing mode in which intensity is shared and individual consumption thus decreases. The last one is for consumers to aim for extending product life spans and in this sense consume less. By adhering to these types, consumers can change their consumption patterns into a sufficient one. However, with all types, even with absolute reduction, there will still be a minimum level of consumption to create a social foundation ensuring no one is falling short on life’s essentials and for this minimum consumption level, green options should be created to prevent new materials entering the economy (Stahel, 2016).
One model that particularly focuses on how to approach product life cycles in a sustainable manner, is the circular economy. This economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design (MacArthur, 2013). This means that all goods once used should be repaired, reused, refurbished or recycled but in any case stay within a virtuous cycle. Green products that are designed accordingly are thus essential. But how to make consumers choose green products over traditional products when consuming?
Sustainable marketing and more specifically green marketing could be used to influence consumer’s purchase behaviour by encouraging them to buy green products.
Sustainable marketing, as described before, seeks a solution in which commercial goods can be marketed in a responsible and sustainable way (Gordon et al., 2011). More specifically, it focuses on how to transform traditional marketing based on continuous growth by promoting consumption into responsible consumption, taking into account ecological barriers. Sustainable marketing can be divided into three types of marketing (Gordon et al., 2011; Kemper &
Ballantine, 2019; Vock 2022b). The first one, social marketing (or reformative sustainability
marketing), focuses on promoting sustainable lifestyles amongst consumers in order to achieve sustainable and responsible consumption. For this type, consumers are thus perceived as the change agents. The last one, green marketing (or auxiliary marketing), is most traditional as its main focus is on the production and consumption of more green products through the whole marketing mix. The change occurs therefore within existing structures and firms are seen as the changemakers (Gordon et al., 2011; Kemper & Ballantine, 2019; Vock 2022b).
As previously mentioned, all consumption changes consumers can engage in to aim for a sufficient consumption pattern still require a minimum level of consumption. To minimize the environmental impact of that that minimum level, green products are important. Therefore, green marketing with its focus on the promotion of green products, is the marketing area of focus appropriate for this study.
Green marketing is the area that focuses on encouraging consumers to buy these green products (Mahmoud, 2018). Promotion is focused on communication techniques that stimulate consumer to buy a certain product (McCarthy, Shapiro, & Perreault, 1979). But which communication cues help consumers to shift towards choosing the green option when consuming a product?
Currently, many influencing strategies within green marketing’s promotion are aimed at illustrating the positive impact of a certain product on the environment (Kumar, 2017;
Leonidou, L.C., Leonidou, C.N., Palihawadana, & Hultman, 2011). For instance, Volvo’s
‘Ultimate Safety Test’ green marketing campaign focuses on the negative impact climate change has on the environment by showing melting ice caps and that therefore they are coming up with electric vehicles to combat climate change (Figure 1)(Volvo Cars, 2021).
Volvo Cars Green Advertisement - “The Ultimate Safety Test”
Another example of an advertisement focused on the impact on the environment is by H&M. This advertisement highlights the positive effect on the environment by using their conscious collection made from recycled PET bottles (Figure 2)(H&M, 2019).
H&M Green Advertisement - “Fashion Made from Recycled PET Bottles”
Both advertisements aim to persuade consumers to engage in sustainable consumption by illustrating the impact on the environment. Whilst there exist many more similar campaigns, green advertising only has a weak influence on green buying behaviours so far (do Paço, Shiel and Alves, 2019). What then keeps consumers from buying green products?
Barriers for Purchasing Green Products
As described, consumers are still quite reluctant to buy green products, even though green marketing practices. Literature finds multiple explanations of why this occurs, amongst which information complexity and the extended-self theory.
A first important barrier that has been found for green product purchasing behaviour is the availability, processing capacity and quality of green product information for consumers (Schlaile, Klein, & Böck, 2018). In current markets, information is asymmetrical, meaning that consumers do not possess complete information about a product’s true environmental impact to make well-considered purchase decisions. Even if consumers had all the relevant information available, people are limited in their time and information processing capacity, causing information overload. This complicates proper evaluation of green products. On top of that, even if all information was available and humans could process everything, then arises the question how reliable that provided information actually is and thus again whether real decisions can be made (Schlaile, Klein, & Böck, 2018). This information complexity causes consumer’s green purchase intentions to get lost when shopping and as a result letting other ethical concerns, habits or distractions interfere with green product purchasing (Carrington, Neville, & Whitwell, 2014).
Even though information complexity is an interesting barrier, the most important obstacle for adoption of green products found in the majority of studies is the extended-self theory. This theory states that humans are emotionally attached to belongings as those are perceived to be essential to one’s self identity and self-worth (Hood, 2016). The extended self also holds for belonging to a group, being their social identity (Scheepers & Ellemers, 2019).
People want to identify with certain social categories to adhere to their self-esteem and self- enhancement needs (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Objects have long been used to signal these self
or social identities (Hood, 2016). This desire for signalling identity by material enrichment is universal and positively linked to owning products that are perceived to enhance one’s status (Cleveland, Laroche, & Papadopoulos, 2009). The phenomenon of consuming with the need to symbolise is called conspicuous consumption (Corneo & Jeanne, 1997; Eastman, Goldsmith,
& Flynn, 1999). Traditionally, conspicuous consumption has been found for one particular group of status-enhancing products, namely for luxury goods (Husic & Cicic, 2009). Luxury goods are “goods for which the mere use or display of a particular branded product confers prestige on their owners, apart from any utility deriving from their function” (Grossmann &
Shapiro, 1998, p. 82). Consumers thus purchase luxury goods because of its prestigious character. This prestige can be derived from a distinctive mix of three dimensions (Vickers &
Renand, 2003). The first being functionalism, meaning the perceived premium or exceptional quality of the product (Sjostrom, Corsi, & Lockshin, 2016). An illustration of this are high quality, expensive products (from bags to sunglasses) from brands such as Gucci, Prada or Ray- Ban, which focus on having superior materials in their products. The next dimension is experientialism, indicating that products can be premium in having a favourable experience, for example cars such as Porsche or Ferrari, for which the acceleration speed and speed in general are an experience by itself which confers prestige. The last dimension that can elicit prestige is the symbolic aspect of the product. According to Sjostrom et al. (2016) an example of symbolism is to have a certain symbolic brand reputation by which usage of its products the consumer will be connected to that brand and symbol, for example Chanel as a symbol for femininity. Especially wealthy consumers high in need for status use loud luxury goods to signal to the less affluent that they are not one of them (Han et al., 2010). It is then not surprising that the biggest consumers of luxury goods are the wealthiest groups (Husic & Cicic, 2009) and that income is one major explanation for purchasing those goods (Dubois & Duquesne,
1993). Moreover, in general excessive consumption of the affluent with status reasons also increases with income.
As this extended-self via status traditionally worked, the problem found for green is that those products are often seen as inauthentic and valued less because of their restorative character, for example when the product is recycled, resulting in a mismatch with their extended self (Vock, 2022a; White, Hardisty, & Habib, 2019). Purchasing such an undervalued green products thus leads to compromise on one’s identity, not awakening any feelings of status and thus reluctance to buy green products (Hood, 2016). It should however be noted that research by Kamleitner, Thürridl and Martin (2019) showed that emphasizing the past identity of the repurposed product increases a product’s authenticity and makes it valued more.
Nevertheless, this effect has boundary conditions as emphasizing past-identity is not as favourable for all products, specifically it is less favourable for luxury products compared to non-luxury products (Hemonnet-Goujot, Kessous, & Magnoni, 2022), which is interesting as luxury products were traditionally the one’s eliciting feelings of status (Husic & Cicic, 2009).
Therefore, finding other ways to increase the status symbol of green products in order to be in line with the extended-self theory is of importance.
From Conspicuous Consumption to Conspicuous Conservation
So what then could trigger status in green products to make them more desirable? It has been found that when status motives are activated, the preference for green products increases because they signal one’s willingness to incur costs of owning a product that benefits not only oneself but also the environment (and society) (Griskevicius, Tybur, & Van den Bergh, 2010).
This is perceived as prosocial, which in turn is associated with one’s social status (Griskevicius, Tybur, & Van den Bergh, 2010; Groening, Sarkis, & Zhu, 2018; Puska, Kurki, Lähdesmäki, Siltaoja, & Luomala, 2018; Sestino, Amatulli, & Guido, 2021; Sexton & Sexton, 2014). This social status signalling of green products is also confirmed from the observer perspective,
because green consumers appear to external observers to have a higher social status (Kohlova
& Urban, 2020). This modern form of conspicuous consumption with the purpose to attain status by purchasing green goods is referred to as ‘conspicuous conservation’ (Palomo-Vélez, Tybur, & van Vugt, 2021; Sexton & Sexton, 2014) and can lead consumers to choose green products (Johnson, Tariq, & Baker, 2018). An example is buying a conspicuous electric car such as the Tesla, which is perceived as both an expensive and green product. Thereby the car choice is made in order to attain status by signalling wealth but on top of that pro-sociality (Noel, Sovacool, Kester, & Rubens, 2019).
An evolutionary perspective. This conspicuous behaviour both in traditional and environmental ways is logical from an evolutionary perspective as the desire for relative status is one of people’s most prominent ancestral motives for consumer behaviour. Ancestral motives are the motives that human species have evolved over time with an evolutionary base (Griskevicius & Kenrick, 2013). These motivations shape our modern decision-making, based on which motive is active. This process often occurs unconsciously and people have five prominent ancestral motives, namely the desire for relative status, the propensity for self- interest, the tendency to unconsciously copy behaviour of others, valuing the present over the future and disregarding impalpable concerns (Griskevicius et al., 2012).
The first, desire for relative status, stems from people wanting to signal health and thereby enhance their chance at reproduction. This change of reproduction is also the reason that humans have a propensity for self-interest as natural selection only cares about the survival of one’s own genes. The third ancestral motive of unconsciously copying others stems from that people who easily followed others had an adaptive advantage in uncertain situations and thus also increased the likelihood of survival. Both valuing the present over the future and disregarding impalpable concerns stem from the lack of experiencing immediate danger. When something is far in the future or intangible, no harm is experienced and thus nothing is
awakened for survival. The need for status is thus logical from an evolutionary but how is this currently promoted for green products?
Promotion Techniques of Green products
As seen before, current green marketing campaigns still have a limited influence on sustainable purchasing behaviours. Griskevicius et al (2012) argue that this might happen because those strategies actually go against our ancestral motives, rather than using those motives to their advantage to achieve full potential. For example, with the previously shown campaigns of Volvo Cars (Figure 1) and H&M (Figure 2), consumer behaviour is stimulated towards more sustainable purchases by pointing out the impact on the environment. Impact on the environment, however, is a cue that is usually either in the future, impalpable, as it is far from home, or both (Griskevicius et al. ,2012). It is therefore not directly related to the consumer, leading to absence of a feeling of immediate danger. This results in an absent trigger to action, which then could cause consumers not to actually buy green products.
The limited effectiveness of such distant environmental cues on green purchasing behaviour can also be explained by the construal level theory (CLT). This theory proposes that the reference point of an individual is in the here and now and the further an object is removed from that point, more mental construal is needed, meaning that it is more difficult to concretely evaluate that object (Trope & Liberman, 2010). According to the theory, this manifests itself in the level of abstraction by which an object is interpreted. The further away an object is, the more abstract the level of construal of that object. The state of being further away from the reference point of the self is called psychological distance and exists of four distances: in time, in space, in social and hypothetical (Trope & Liberman, 2010). The dimensions of time, space and social distance refer to how near or far an object or event is in time, physical location and between two or more social groups or individuals, respectively. Hypothetical distance is
somewhat different as it refers to how likely the event is to occur. As described before, current green marketing messages often focus on illustrating the impact on the environment, which is psychologically far away. The consequences on the environment are far away in time, because they illustrate consequences in the future and most often illustrate some other place on earth, which causes it also to be spatially distant. Moreover, poor countries and their people will suffer the majority of damages from climate change (Mendelsohn, Dinar, & Williams, 2006), which makes it also socially far away from the affluent self. The last one, hypothetically distance of the event, depends on the consumer as some people believe in climate change whereas other do not. When consumers do believe in climate change, this is then the only one psychologically close to oneself. However, few advertisements focus on the likelihood of the events in advertisements.
With distant cues thus being further away from the individual, resulting in absent triggers of action to buy green products, it seems contradictory that green marketing practices currently focus on those precise distant cues of the impact on the environment. Therefore, our current green marketing promotion messages might not be fully effective in stimulating sustainable practices as also suggested by Griskevicius et al (2012). Nevertheless, the shift towards green options when consuming is urgent to combat climate change. Consequently, new ways to promote green products need to be developed.
As earlier mentioned, conspicuous conservation has become an interesting avenue for promoting green products and is also in line with Griviskius et al. (2012) suggestion to take advantage of our ancestral motives, in this case our desire for relative status. Hence, one way to make green products more desirable could be to emphasize exclusivity in advertisements of green products in order to promote those options as status symbols (Hood, 2016; Jung &
Byoungho, 2016). The effect of eliciting status motives in promotion messages of green products has to date not been examined and will therefore be the focus of this study.
In order to let green products function as status symbols, it should be clear which promotion cues actually signal status. Our evolutionary status motivation is triggered by cues of competition, prestige and/or dominance (Griskevicius & Kenrick, 2013).
The first, competition stems from the theory of competitive altruism, which is the process of outcompeting others in terms of prosociality in order to gain a positive status and reputation (Hardy & van Vugt, 2006). This status would in turn lead to so-called selective benefits, such as a higher attractiveness, leading to higher reproduction chances (Olson, 2009).
Competitive altruism is therefore one way to trigger status motives and is activated by cues of prosociality. As green products themselves implicitly signals prosociality (Griskevicius et al., 2010) but is not enough to function as a status symbol due to perceived inauthenticity (Vock, 2022a; White et al., 2019), promotion messages should rather focus on the other two aspects, being prestige and dominance, to strengthen perceived status.
Prestige and dominance are two ways to elicit status motives. Both concepts are about gaining deference, however with prestige this is voluntarily, whilst with dominance this is forced (Cheng, Tracy, Foulsham, Kingstone, & Henrich, 2013). Prestige is about humans' tendency to want to be associated with prestigious people or objects in order to signal high- status. In this regard, others' perception of the individual is of great importance and can be linked back to the earlier mentioned social identity theory. This results in seeking products that signal prestige, such as exclusive or up-to-date features (Griskevicius & Kenrick, 2013).
Dominance on the other hand is about forcing respect by grandness. For example, when chimpanzees engaged in grandstanding, in this case displaying aggressive postures to signal their position (Henrich & Gil-White, 2001). This grandstanding can be found in today’s preference for larger sized options (Dubois, Rucker, & Galinsky, 2012). The combination of both prestige and dominance result in conspicuous consumption, mostly of luxury products.
But which are today’s luxury promotion cues that elicit these status motivators of prestige and dominance?
Uniqueness. Luxuriousness consists of five sub-dimensions, being conspicuousness, uniqueness, quality, hedonism, and extended self (Vigneron & Johnson, 2004). Of those five, uniqueness is most important for perceived luxuriousness (Kim, Lee, S., Lee, J.H., & Taylor, 2020). Uniqueness within luxury can be explained by consumers who want to acquire scarce or new products as a means to appear unique to others and thus gain status (Ali et al., 2019;
Lynn & Harris, 1997). It is therefore not a coincidence that scarcity cues are strongly associated with product uniqueness (Tian, Bearden, & Hunter, 2001). Scarcity appeals are appeals that focus on the scarcity of a product to increase demand (Wu & Lee, 2016). For conspicuous consumption goods, scarcity appeals focusing on limited supply increase product attitude, purchase intention and product desirability as they signal exclusivity (Gierl & Huettl, 2010;
Gierl, Plantsch, & Schweidler, 2008; Roy & Sharma, 2015). This exclusivity shows prestige, which was an important status activator for conspicuous products. Therefore, those messages that focus on extremely small quantities are most effective for the purchase intention and willingness to pay (WTP) for conspicuous products (Aggarwal, Jun, & Huh, 2011; Jang, Ko, Morris & Chang, 2015; Roy & Sharma, 2015). One type of supply scarcity appeals that has been effectively used in previous research is ‘Extremely Limited Stock’ (Roy & Sharma, 2015).
This effect was consistently found for different product categories, being fashion clothing and smartphones.
Sustainability through Status
Nonetheless, to date these supply-scarcity appeals as ‘Extremely Limited Stock’ as a uniqueness cue have not been researched in the promotion of green products. But if uniqueness cues traditionally elicited status and therefore conspicuous consumption, then it would be
expected that those cues would also elicit status for green products, resulting in conspicuous conservation. Additionally, it is even expected that those cues would strengthen sustainable consumption, defined as purchase intention and consumers’ WTP for green products, as when status motives are elicited, consumers more often choose green alternatives as those products themselves signal prosocial status (Griskevicius et al., 2010). This would result in a double intent to buy. Concretely, this would mean that when uniqueness cues are present, purchase intention and WTP are both higher than when uniqueness cues are absent and that this positive effect will be greater when the product is green in comparison to nongreen products. Figure 3 illustrates this interaction as both slopes increase for when uniqueness messages are present and when present and the difference in purchase intention and WTP between a nongreen and green product becomes larger for when a uniqueness message is present (versus absent), illustrating that purchase intention is higher for green products in combination with a uniqueness cue. Green products are expected to start lower as they as previously mentioned are valued less (Vock, 2022a; White et al., 2019).
Illustration of the expected interaction effect between uniqueness cues and product greenness on consumers purchase intention and WTP
First the main effect of uniqueness cues on purchase intention and WTP will be tested as this is the base for following argumentations, summarized as follows:
Uniqueness Absent Uniqueness Present
Purchase Intention and WTP Interaction effect of uniqueness cues and product greenness Nongreen Product Green Product
H1: A uniqueness message will positively influence a consumers’ purchase intention (H1a) and WTP (H1b) for a product.
Next, the expected interaction effect between uniqueness cues and product greenness on consumers’ purchase intention and WTP will be tested, resulting in hypotheses 2a and 2b:
H2: Product greenness moderates the strength of the relationship between a uniqueness message and consumers’ purchase intention (H2a) and WTP (H2b) for a product, such that the relationship will be stronger for green products than nongreen products.
Previous hypotheses are expected to occur because status motivation is activated. It is therefore expected that uniqueness cues will positively influence purchase intention and WTP because they trigger status motives and that this mediation is again moderated by whether the promoted product is green or not, resulting in hypothesis 3a, 3b, 4a and 4b:
H3: An elicited status motive mediates the effect of a uniqueness message on consumers’
purchase intention (H3a) and WTP (H3b) for a product.
H4: Product greenness moderates the strength of the mediated relationship between a uniqueness message and consumers’ purchase intention (H4a) and WTP (H4b) for a product via an elicited status motive, such that the mediated relationship will be stronger for green products than nongreen products.
As described before, the more affluent population are the ones that are most sensitive to wanting to signal status by purchasing goods, which increases with income (Delhey et al., 2022). As the combination of a uniqueness cue and a conspicuous green product is expected to have the highest status, it is therefore expected that this moderated mediation will be stronger when income increases, resulting in hypotheses 5a and 5b:
H5: Income conditions the moderated mediation of product greenness on the relationship between a uniqueness message and consumers’ purchase intention (H5a) and WTP (H5b) for a product via an elicited status motive, such that the moderated mediation will be stronger for higher incomes than lower incomes.
To sum up, the aim of this research is to investigate whether status-related marketing messages could effectively be used to promote sustainable consumption for conspicuous products, summarised in the conceptual model in Figure 4.
The aim of this research was to examine whether messages with cues of uniqueness appeals in advertisements of green products will lead consumers to engage more in conspicuous conservation because they illicit status motives. As described before, for consumers to take status into their consideration when buying a (green) product, the product should be visible to others to clearly influence one’s status (Griskeviciuset al., 2009). For this experiment, a product category was chosen that is clearly visible in today’s society and has been found to elicit feelings of self-expression, such as status, being high-technology products, or information ICT products (Lee, Ha, & Widdows, 2011). ICT products are products by which individuals collect, process and exchange information through the use of technology and all the products supporting it (Rogers, 1986, p.2), for example a smartphone. ICT products are worldwide responsible for a considerable amount of GHG emissions (approximately 3.7% today and expected to rise to 14% in 2040)(Belkhir & Elmeligi, 2018). Therefore, this product category is not only important because of its visibility but also for its sustainable impact. In particular, the footprint of smartphones alone are excelling all other ICT products (Belkhir & Elmeligi, 2018). Also, smartphones are one of the ICT products previously researched in the context of uniqueness cues (Roy & Sharma, 2015) and with the most visibility as they are ubiquitous in our society. In sum, because of their major footprint, previous success in research and visible character, smartphones were chosen for this experiment. Moreover, this study was ethically approved by the ethics committee economics and business (EBEC) of the University of Amsterdam.
Design, Procedure and Measures
Respondents were presented a smartphone either with or without a uniqueness and/or greenness message. As such, the design was a 2 (uniqueness: absent versus present) x 2 (greenness: absent versus present) between subjects. To mitigate effects of using a popular smartphone brand name, a fictitious brand name LuxPro was used. Respondents were instructed to imagine that they were in the market for buying a smartphone and came across the advertisement of LuxPro, being their favourite brand (Aggarwal et al., 2011; Roy &
Sharma, 2015). In the first condition, respondents saw a smartphone advertisement with a unique message based on scarcity appeals as those have proven effective for smartphones in previous research as discussed before, being “Extremely limited stock!” (Roy & Sharma, 2015). The second group saw the same smartphone advertisement but then with only a green message, being “Recycled Casing!”. This message was used because consumers perceive a mobile as more green when recycled materials are used for coating (Wu & Ho, 2015). Even though research focused on the terms ‘coat’ or ‘shell’, desktop research of websites such as www.coolblue.nl show that ‘casing’ is rather used for real-life selling and thus was used for this research as well to make it as understandable for respondents as possible. The third group saw a combination of the previous two messages, being “Recycled Casing AND Extremely limited stock!”, whereas the fourth group saw no message, being the control group. There was chosen for no message for two reasons. First, because this has been proven in previous research about scarcity messages to be an effective method (Aggarwal et al., 2011) and secondly, because when adding a neutral message (i.e. ‘Smartphone’) it might be perceived as strange, which could have even more strongly interfered with the results. Besides no message in comparison to a green, a scarcity or a combination message, all other elements (e.g. colour, font and pictures) were held constant. The colour chosen for the box in which the message
content was written was red to attract attention and thereby make sure respondents read the message and this drove the answer (Singh, 2006).
Stimuli used in experiment: uniqueness and/or greenness cues absent versus present
Note. From left to right: control condition, uniqueness condition, greenness condition, unique- and greenness condition.
Data was gathered through an online questionnaire via survey tool Qualtrics. The target group consisted of a sample amongst the Western working population, predominantly in the Netherlands. This segment was chosen firstly because of their stable lifestyle, which is important to determine real consumption patterns and secondly because the approach of this study was how to change consumption patterns of the affluent population, which are
responsible for a substantial part of GHG emissions (Gore, 2015; Lynch, Long, Stretesky, &
Barrett, 2019). During this study, affluent is considered being amongst the top 10% richest people worldwide, as for their major negative ecological impact. The Western working population was found to be appropriate for this goal as the mean wealth per adult in Western countries is enough to be regarded as a member of this richest 10 percent of people
worldwide and thus to be considered affluent (Credit Suisse, 2021). Moreover, specifically in the Netherlands as having an average income in the Netherlands, means belonging to about the top 3.5% richest people worldwide (Beijen, 2018) and thus for sure within the top 10%.
Therefore data was collected by purposive sampling. Respondents were recruited via three processes: the researcher’s network, online survey exchange platforms and asking people at the train station in rush hour. Yet, for all three processes it was clearly stated that a stable job was a prerequisite.
The questionnaire consisted of four parts. First, an informed consent with a cover story was given and complete anonymity was guaranteed to those respondents. Secondly, respondents were shown a smartphone advertisement with either uniqueness, greenness, a combination or no promotion appeal. After the exposure, the dependent variables, purchase intention and WTP, were measured first to make sure the effect was immediate and therefore strongest. The intention of consumers to buy the product was measured by purchase intention and WTP because research suggests that these indicators are the most proximate to actual purchasing behaviour (Beall, Boley, Landon, & Woosnam, 2021). Purchase intention was measured with a 7-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 = “extremely unlikely,” 7 = “extremely likely” with three items (α =.96): “the likelihood that I would consider buying the advertised smartphone is:”, “how likely are you to buy the advertised smartphone?”, “the likelihood that I would purchase the advertised smartphone is” (Aggarwal, et. al, 2011; Ali et al., 2019; Jang et. al, 2015; Wu & Lee, 2016). For WTP, the respondents were asked to provide their maximal WTP when the average price is given, as done before effectively by O’Donnell and Evers (2019). This was done by providing them with a slider with the following question: “If you could buy the previously shown advertised smartphone now, what is the most you would be willing to pay (in Euros) to get that smartphone, given that a smartphone on average cost 900 euros?”, with the slider ranging from 300 till 1500 (being 600 below and above). The prices were based on the most recent available average retail prices in the Netherlands as researched by Tweakers, a Dutch technology website featuring news and information about hardware,
software, games and the Internet (www.tweakers.net) and rounded to distract at least as possible.
After the dependent variables, the mediator status motive was measured based on the 5-item status consumption scale (α =.90) developed by Eastman et al. (1999) and its applicability and effectiveness in recent studies on investigating motives for sustainable consumption (Ali et al., 2019; Johnson, Tariq, & Baker, 2018). The items were measured using a 7-point Likert scale (1= strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree) and are presented in Table A.1.
Next, manipulation checks were performed to check whether the manipulation of unique- and greenness cues were also perceived as such and thus whether they were effective (Abbey & Melo, 2017). To measure respondents perceived product uniqueness the following questions with a 7-point Likert scale (1= strongly disagree, 7= strongly agree) were asked: “I perceived the advertised smartphone as highly unique.”, “I perceived the advertised smartphone as one of a kind.” and “I perceived the advertised smartphone as really special.”)(α
=.91)(Franke & Schreier, 2008; Wu & Lee, 2016). Perceived product greenness was measured with the following statements: “The advertised smartphone deserves to be labelled
‘environmentally friendly’”, “Purchasing the advertised smartphone is a good environmental choice” and “A person who cares about the environment would be likely to buy the advertised smartphone.”(α =.91)(Gershoff & Frels, 2015).
In addition, an attention check was performed to make sure the results are valid. This attention check was in the form of a directed query, which is an instruction to select an option and then move on, so in this research: “If you are paying attention, select “strongly disagree”
and move on to the next question.”(Abbey & Melo, 2017). This is a simple question by nature that will not distract the respondent too much nor take too much time to create possible frustrations.
Lastly, personal information was gathered amongst which age, gender, the moderator income, and the covariates level of education and environmental concern. Income was measured with fixed categories of different incomes to provide a feeling of privacy and comfort. For this, also an option to not answer was provided. The question was as follows:
“Which of the following income categories describes your personal income from last year (2021) best?”. The income categories were formed based on the average income in the Netherlands (€36.500 in 2021)(Centraal Planbureau, 2021), income distribution in the Netherlands (StatLine, 2021) and the purpose of this study to research the affluent target group.
All income categories above the average Dutch yearly income are considered as wealthy (Beijen, 2018), yet as desire for status amongst the affluent increases with income (Delhey et al., 2022), multiple degrees of income within this affluent target group were used. Therefore the income categories are aimed at the higher, affluent segment and divided as follows: less than €25.000, €25.000 - €39.999 (uptill +/- average income), €40.000 - €54.999 (slightly above average income), €55.000 - €69.999 (+/- 2 times average income), €70.000 - €84.999 (+/- 2.5 times average income), €85.000 - €99.999 ( +/- 3 times average income), €100.000 - €114.999 (still in the category +/- 3 times average income), €115.000 - €129.999 ( +/- 3.5 times average income), €130.000 - €144.999 (+/- 4 times average income), €145.000 - €159.999 (+/- 4.5 times average income), more than €160.000 and prefer not to say. There is chosen for an even number of options (twelve) so that two columns next to each other could be provided to create a better overview.
Covariates that were measured were respondent’s level of education and environmental concern as they are both often related to green purchasing behaviour (Chekima, Wafa, Igau, Chekima, & Sondoh, 2016; Dagher, Itani, & Kassar, 2015).
Education was measured with a fixed categories (“My highest degree or level of education I have completed (or I am currently enrolled in) is…”) including the following
options: elementary school, high school, intermediate vocational education (MBO), university of applied science (HBO), university bachelor’s degree (WO), university master’s degree (WO), PhD (doctor of philosophy) and prefer not to say.
To measure environmental concern, behavioural questions were used because attitudinal questions about environmental concern could cause a ceiling effect as its
awareness and popularity has increased so that most people probably would state they do care for the environment. This resulted in the following behavioural questions measured with a 7- point Likert scale (1= strongly disagree, 7= strongly agree): “I make a special effort to buy products that are made of sustainable materials.”, “I have changed which products I use because of sustainability reasons” and “I have avoided buying a product because it had potentially harmful effects to people/or the environment” (α =.88) (Magnier, Mugge, &
Schoormans, 2019). Table A.1. presents all items used in this study. Besides, all questions during the experiment were formulated as indirect and formal as possible to prevent social desirability bias from occurring.
An a priori power analysis for factorial analysis of variance that examines all main effects, interactions and covariates showed that 199 respondents would provide 80% power (a
= .05) to detect a small effect (Cohen’s f = .20) in the dependent measures of interest. In total, 323 respondents were gathered. Of those, 39 had to be removed as they failed the attention check. Another 18 had to be removed due to an error in the questionnaire for one condition in the first days resulting in no show of the advertisement and thus invalid results. However, of those 18 removed, were 5 that also failed the attention check, leading to just 13 additional removals and thus 52 removals in total. The final sample therefore consisted of 271 respondents (60.5% females, 37.3% males and 2.2% other and prefer not to say). The average age was 31.49
(SD = 12.34, age range: 18-67) and the (completed) educational level ranged from high school (1.1%) till a PhD (3.3%), with most individuals having an (completed) educational level of a University’s Master degree (52.4%) indicating that the majority of the sample consisted of well-educated people, possibly pointing towards affluence. However, income was more directed towards lower income categories, with 42.9% having an income below €25.000. The overall sample in terms of demographics (Table 1) was thus not that diverse as intended by means of purposive sampling. Moreover, the distribution of the 271 total respondents in the four experimental groups was nearly equal (Table 2).
Demographic characteristics of the sample
N Percentages Gender
Female Male Other
Prefer not to say
271 164 101 1 5
60.5 37.3 0.4 1.8 Education
Intermediate Vocational Education (MBO) University of Applied Sciences (HBO) University Bachelor’s degree (WO) University Master’s degree (W) PhD (Doctor of Philosophy(
Prefer not to say
271 3 7 38 70 142 9 2
1.1 2.6 14.0 25.8 52.4 3.3 0.7 Income
€25.000 - €39.999
€40.000 - €54.999
€55.000 - €69.999
€70.000 - €84.999
€85.000 - €99.999
€100.000 - €114.999
€115.000 - €129.999
€130.000 - €144.999
€145.000 - €159.999
> €160.000 Prefer not to say
271 119 53 29 13 15 4 4 3 4 4 5 18
43.9 19.6 10.7 4.8 5.5 1.5 1.5 1.1 1.5 1.5 1.8 6.6
Experimental Group Division
Control Group 66 24.4
Uniqueness Group 68 25.1
Green Group 65 24.0
Green and Uniqueness Group 72 26.6
All data were exported to and analysed in IBM SPSS Statistics 28. Before data analysis, the data was cleaned and screened.
As seen in Table 1, gender, education and income have data, being ‘other’ and/or ‘prefer not to say’ that cannot be fully used for analysis. However, as those respondents are still useful for analysing other effects including non-missing values, pairwise deletion was used in this study for analyses. For this to be effective, ‘other’ and ‘prefer not to say’ data were transformed into new variables with missing values as SPSS uses them. Actual missing data was found for WTP, being 17 cases, but those were detected by SPSS and thus were immediately ready for further analysis with pairwise deletion.
More re-coding happened for status motivation item 3 as this was a negatively-keyed item in comparison to the other positively-keyed item and for the independent variables as the outcome of Qualtrics was one variable, being condition, rather than two distinct ones, being unique- and greenness, which was needed for analysis.
Results Construct Evaluation
After data preparation, multiple analyses were performed. Firstly, an exploratory factor
measured constructs were truly distinct. The EFA showed that out of 17 input variables, 5 Eigenvalues are larger than 1 and after that the EVs drop drastically, meaning that there are 5 factors underlying the seventeen scale items (Appendix B). To see which items measure which factors, a component matrix was analysed. As some items were loaded onto multiple factors, varimax rotation was used to redistribute the loadings such that each item is distributed to one component. This resulted in a rotated component matrix, confirming high internal reliability of the variables measured in this study as the items intended to measure purchase intention, status motive, perceived product uniqueness perceived product greenness and environmental concern measure five distinct constructs (Appendix B). Reliability of the scales were sufficient as all Cronbach alpha’s were well above 0.70. Convergent and discriminant validity were both adequate as Composite reliability (CR) scores were all above 0.70 and average variance extracted (AVE) scores all above 0.50. Factor loadings, Cronbach alpha’s, CR and AVE numbers can be found in Table A.1. Moreover, discriminant validity was assessed and established by the criteria of Fornell and Larcker (1981) as the square root of AVE values were greater than the inter-construct correlations (Table 4). In conclusion, purchase intention, status motive, perceived product uniqueness, perceived product greenness and environmental concern are empirically distinct. The correlations between the constructs are displayed in Table 4.
Descriptives and Correlations
To determine the degree of correlation between the relevant variables in the model (Figure 4), a Pearson’s correlation coefficients matrix was run. The correlation analyses were used as a first indicator for the hypotheses proposed in this study and to prepare data for subsequent regression analyses. The significant results were as follows: perceived product unique- and greenness both were correlated with purchase intention (r =.47, p<.001 and r =.28, p<.001) and with WTP (r = .33, p<.001 and r = .15, p<.05). Moreover, status motive had a