From ‘nudge’ to ‘shove’: a case study of the failure of social marketing (Tesco’s carbon labelling initiative)

May, Claire and Fearne, Andrew (2014) From ‘nudge’ to ‘shove’: a case study of the failure of social marketing (Tesco’s carbon labelling initiative). In: 'Broadening the Scope' ISM-Open Institute for Social Marketing Conference, 29th September 2014, Milton Keynes.

May Fearne SM 29_9_14 2.pptx
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May Fearne SM 29_9_14 2.pptx

Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Presentation)
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Climate change is an increasingly prevalent and urgent topic of debate and there is little dispute that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are required. The food system contributes almost 20% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it a significant area on which to focus in terms of reduction targets, therefore changes in food consumption are fundamental (Garnett 2008). Understanding how to change consumer food purchasing behaviour to become more environmentally sustainable is undeniably an important social issue and a challenge for social marketers to address.
Carbon labelling is an innovative approach to influencing consumer food purchasing behaviour, in which the amount of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) emitted over its lifecycle is displayed on pack (The Carbon Trust 2009). Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket began carbon labelling in April 2008 following the announcement of their intention to carbon label their own brand products in the anticipation that it would allow consumers to “compare their carbon footprint as easily as they….compare their price or their nutritional profile” (Leahy 2007). There was considerable debate as to the validity and efficacy of carbon labelling, particularly with regard to the impact on consumer behaviour (for example Berry, Crossley et. al, 2008; Upham and Bleda, 2009; Newcastle Business School, 2010; Vision TwentyOne, 2008).
This paper presents the results of a study conducted in 2010 which highlights the barriers to achieving behaviour change through the use of conventional marketing methods in a mainstream (supermarket) environment. The research involved a mixed method case study approach. A mixed methods approach is strongly advocated by Carrington, Neville et al. (2010), who suggest the combination of methods leads to a more significant understanding. Having multiple sources of evidence and developing a “chain of evidence” also increases the construct validity of the research (Yin 2009 p. 41). The first phase of the case study involved exploratory focus groups, designed to provide an understanding of the reasons behind current food shopping habits and patterns and to gain an appreciation of current levels of awareness, understanding and use of carbon labelling. Focus groups were considered an appropriate tool to use since their purpose is to obtain information on how people think or feel about a specific issue/product (Kruger & Casey 2000) and systematic procedures were followed to overcome some of the criticisms of this methodology (Tull & Hawkins 1993; Krueger and Casey 2000). Results paved the way for phase two of the case study, a series of social marketing interventions both pre-store (working with schools) and in-store (various activities) designed to raise awareness and understanding of carbon labelling, and ultimately to create an environment more conducive to purchasing of a carbon labelled product. The key element of the pre-store interventions was to work with a significant number of primary schools to run a ‘Carbon Footprint Week’, engaging children and parents in carbon footprinting/labelling topics. In designing the in-store interventions, there was consideration of all elements of the marketing mix but most scope for intervention was in the area of promotion. Various merchandising activities were designed, centred on carbon labelling, such as floor stickers, shelf talkers and leaflets. The interventions were specifically targeted towards young families. Young families were the lifestage chosen because it is a diverse group, amenable to change (due to the influence of their children), facing a range of constraints (stay at home versus working mums, shopping with/without children) and often demonstrating a higher level of involvement with food in general and supermarket shopping in particular. The experimental design was intended to assess the effectiveness of the different combinations of interventions – pre-store only, in-store only and both pre-store and in-store interventions. Comparable stores with no interventions were used as control. Whilst other laboratory experiments, which could have provided greater control, were considered, these interventions represented an opportunity to gain ‘real’ consumer behaviour data and research done in natural settings such as the supermarket have higher external validity (Meiselman 2007).

Results of the interventions were evaluated using several sources of evidence – interviews with teachers, two questionnaires (designed using principles such as those described by Tull and Hawkins 1993) and, most significantly, using actual purchasing behaviour data through the use of supermarket loyalty card data. Using this data is an important element of this research, bringing strength to the quality of the research by providing actual purchasing behaviour data, void of social desirability bias (Carrington, Neville et al. 2010). This was particularly salient given that most of the sustainable consumption literature uses self-reported or intended behaviour measures (for example Schwepker and Cornwell 1991; Shrum, McCarty et al. 1995; Robinson and Smith 2002; Selfa, Jussaume et al. 2008; Vermeir and Verbeke 2008).

Results from the study showed some impact on raising awareness, understanding and claimed behaviour, but no discernible impact on actual purchasing behaviour.

This research highlights the challenges associated with changing behaviour in the face of competing and often conflicting drivers of supermarket purchasing behaviour. It highlights the benefits of mixed methods in understanding behaviour and evaluating impacts of targeted interventions, particularly in such complex contexts as sustainability, consumption and the supermarket shopping mission. This paper also makes a contribution in understanding the role of and challenges presented to social marketers as they embark on activity involving industry, academic, independent advisory and education partners.

Keywords:carbon labelling, social marketing
Subjects:N Business and Administrative studies > N500 Marketing
Divisions:Lincoln International Business School
ID Code:16429
Deposited On:10 Sep 2015 12:41

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