Every year, Canadians throw away more than three million tons of waste of plastic, of which only 9% is recycled. Faced with this observation, both public authorities, environmental organizations and companies are trying to develop more circular business models and to change the way we produce, consume and dispose of our waste.
To fight against waste and promote a circular economy, Quebec would like to see the adoption of the Pan-Canadian Strategy aimed at achieving the goal of zero plastic waste by 2030. The movement is global: in France, the Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition, as well as national organizations, have implemented measures to raise awareness of waste and overconsumption in order to encourage a “sobriety” approach.
While this movement is gaining popularityit is legitimate to ask what this approach to sobriety consists of in otherwise ubiquitous brands, and how they can position themselves in this way in a society of overconsumption.
at theResponsible Consumption Observatory (OCR), and in its FCI Laboratory, the GreenUXlab of ESG UQAM, we carry out various research on consumption trends consistent with these sobriety movements. We have analyzed consumer reactions to the sobriety of brands.
Less, but better
Sobriety as an individual approach consists of move from instinctive consumption to more thoughtful consumption, favoring the satisfaction of necessary needs and the limitation of superfluous purchases. Generally, sobriety refers to “less, but better”, linking consumption, well-being, health, environment and quality of life. It requires a redefining our relationship to consumption and calls into question the systematic satisfaction of immediate desires.
The surveys conducted by the OCR in Quebec (Responsible consumption barometer, since 2010) reveal a growing desire for more responsible consumption and an aspiration to rethink our economic models. Proof of this is that “responsible consumption” consists above all for Quebecers in optimizing their consumption: 64.5% wish to avoid waste, waste, packaging and 63.1% to optimize the life of products (repair, reuse , second hand).
More than half (57.3%) say they have reduced their consumption in the last month, an increase of 9.2 points compared to 2021. And 59.4% say they have reduced the quantities of products they buy , and more than 79.8% reduced their impulse purchases.
Sometimes skeptical consumers
Sobriety, whose theoretical bases are based on “demarketing”, consists for brands of promote moderation in the consumption of the products they market themselves. Many brands are trying to reduce their impact on the environment. This is the case, for example, of the Attitude brand, with OCEANLY, a skincare line that offers innovative packaging that is completely recyclable and biodegradable. These products offer consumers an alternative to the usual cosmetics, responsible for 120 billion pieces of packaging every yearlargely unrecycled.
However, this choice could be risky. THE consumers are skeptical of companies and question their motives. To succeed, a sobriety approach must emerge from a deep reflection of a brand and must be anchored in all the decisions of the company.
Some brands do. Patagonia embodies this vision in its DNA and puts forward a message of awareness regarding its consumer choices and their impact on nature. In 2011, the brand became a benchmark for demarketing by discouraging the purchase of its products on Black Friday. In doing so, it promotes more responsible and minimalist consumption.
However, many brands find it difficult to have this positioning accepted, considering the duality between this message of reduction and the mercantile essence inherent in companies. Indeed, sobriety forces marketing to promote unnatural practices that promote more minimalist consumption. in a context where overconsumption is inherent to several lifestyles.
Sobriety remains a promising approach and should be studied further. Thus, we examined the consistency, for the consumer, between the brand image of different companies (responsible, non-responsible) and the tone used in their communication (optimistic, pessimistic).
Stronger attachment and purchase intention
Consumers consider brands that have opted for sobriety as relevant. They succeed not only in satisfying the utilitarian needs of consumers, but also to respond to the ecological issues that particularly affect them.
The sobriety strategy thus becomes a tool of differentiation for brands, guarantees their durability on the market and distinguishes them from their competitors.
According to our results, responsible brands that orient themselves towards sobriety are perceived as more consistent in their message of eco-responsibility and less hypocritical. Their positioning promotes a stronger attachment and a greater purchase intention to their brand. Considering that emotional attachment is the basis for lasting relationshipsthis impact is not negligible.
But this is not the case for all brands, especially those that have opted for a less responsible marketing strategy in the past and are now trying to reposition themselves towards sobriety.
Our experiment conducted with 700 people highlights the importance for these brands of effectively communicating their new positioning so as not to be associated with greenwashing. Communication based on emotion could make the difference.
Boosting optimism remains the key strategy for attracting customers
Repositioning a brand in a new market requires thinking ahead about how to communicate it effectively. The tone of the message adopted thus plays a decisive role.
According to research, the emotions motivate individuals to change their perception and intention to consume more responsibly.
The optimistic tone refers to positive emotion and a feeling of confidence in the outcome of a situation. For example, a brand can promote its efforts to protect the environment in a positive way by using messages oriented towards the possibility of a more favorable future. The company willwhich offers plastic-free body and cleansing products, strikes an optimistic tone by communicating the fun aspects of the products and their positive effect on the planet, with engaging messages.
Our research shows that the optimistic tone motivates the individual to consume more from brands that choose sobriety, regardless of their past marketing practices and actions.
The use of positive emotions in communication can therefore motivate individuals to change their negative perception of the brand and offer it a new chance to act in favor of the environment.