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Consumer motivations for mainstream “ethical” consumption

Iain Andrew Davies (University of Bath, Bath, UK)
Sabrina Gutsche (University of Bath, Bath, UK)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 11 July 2016

13085

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to explore why consumers absorb ethical habits into their daily consumption, despite having little interest or understanding of the ethics they are buying into, by looking at the motivation behind mainstream ethical consumption.

Design/methodology/approach

Fifty in-depth field interviews at point of purchase capture actual ethical consumption behavior, tied with a progressive-laddering interview technique yields over 400 consumption units of analysis.

Findings

Ethical attitudes, values and rational information processing have limited veracity for mainstream ethical consumption. Habit and constrained choice, as well as self-gratification, peer influence and an interpretivist understanding of what ethics are being purchased provide the primary drivers for consumption.

Research limitations/implications

Use of qualitative sampling and analysis limits the generalizability of this paper. However, the quantitative representation of data demonstrates the strength with which motivations were perceived to influence consumption choice.

Practical implications

Ethical brands which focus on explicit altruistic ethical messaging at the expense of hedonistic messaging, or ambiguous pseudo ethics-as-quality messaging, limit their appeal to mainstream consumers. Retailers, however, benefit from the halo effect of ethical brands in store.

Social implications

The paper highlights the importance of retailer engagement with ethical products as a precursor to normalizing ethical consumption, and the importance of normative messaging in changing habits.

Originality/value

The paper provides original robust critique of the current field of ethical consumption and an insight into new theoretical themes of urgent general interest to the field.

Keywords

Citation

Davies, I.A. and Gutsche, S. (2016), "Consumer motivations for mainstream “ethical” consumption", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 50 No. 7/8, pp. 1326-1347. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-11-2015-0795

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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