The Cause Matters! How Cause Marketing Campaigns Can Increase the Demand for Conventional over Green Products

Executive Summary

Some companies use cause marketing to counteract their customers’ potential guilt for buying discretionary products which damage the environment (e.g., coffee, which is associated with allegedly damaging rainforests and animal habitats), 

The idea behind this approach is related to moral regulation (Mazar and Zhong 2010): If customers’ moral self-concept is threatened through guilt experienced with the purchase or consumption of a product that goes against their sense of social responsibility and morality, customers will be motivated to engage in a morally good act such as a donation to compensate for the “bad” act (Renetzky 2015).

To test that theory, the Cause Matters! researchers did one field experiment and one laboratory experiment to show that customers are more likely to buy a conventional product over a green product when the former is bundled with a campaign that is offsetting an unrelated problem rather than a problem caused by the product – unless the donation offsets the specific damage caused by the customers’ own consumption.

Research Notes

It’s tempting for companies to support causes which would mitigate the guilt-inducing problems created or intensified by their products. Such intervention would make consumption of the product appear less harmful; and less harm should seemingly translate into less consumption guilt.

However, cause marketing to counteract a product’s consequences can backfire by increasing awareness or saliency of the product’s damage. That can lead a customer to reduce or discontinue consumption, due to feelings of hypocrisy for using a discretionary product which is so harmful that its damage needs to be offset by the manufacturer or retailer.

Publication Date



Journal of the Association for Consumer Research


SS Müller, N Mazar, AJ Fries

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