Award winning research into influencing sustainable consumer behaviour through priming
Bonnie Simpson is an Assistant Professor with Management and Organizational Studies; her research focuses on consumer behaviour, specifically how our behaviour is influenced by the behaviour of others.
Her paper, “When Do (and Don’t) Normative Appeals Influence Sustainable Consumer Behaviors? (co-authored with Katherine White at University of British Columbia), was published in the Journal of Marketing, and received an Emerald Citations of Excellence award for 2016. These awards recognize the most outstanding articles published by the top 300 management journals in the world.
Partnering with the City of Calgary, Simpson and White studied how best to get people to change their behaviour around an issue of sustainability, specifically how to reduce ‘grass-cycling,’ or throwing grass clippings into the garbage.
The study showed that while marketers use three strategies for appealing to an audience – benefit appeal, (highlighting the benefits to the individual), descriptive appeal, (describing what others are doing), and injunctive appeal, (highlighting what others think one should do) – the response of the audience depends on their mindset, and whether they are thinking of the individual or the collective.
The study also showed that it was possible for marketers to prime consumers to think one way or the other, through the use of individual or collective language. In general, when marketers use individual-focused messaging, consumers are most likely to adopt a sustainable activity if the message uses a descriptive or benefit appeal. For messaging targeted at a collective, the research suggests using either descriptive or injunctive appeals. Activating these different views of the self could be done quite easily, and could happen intentionally or unintentionally.
The paper has received many citations, and Simpson described that this paper was an initial look at how effectively you can prime an individual or collective mindset within an appeal, and there has been an increasing amount of literature on this construct since, earning it the Emerald Citation of Excellence.
Along with the award, the paper has been referenced by organizations working on increasing sustainability practices, such as the University of Michigan, and has been featured by the Network for Business Sustainability, which has a wide reach for sustainability practitioners.
Simpson is continuing to research social influence, looking at what different aspects will help moderate and increase sustainable behaviour.