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 / Spring 2011 / Issue 62(originally published by Booz & Company)


Values vs. Value

For more ethically oriented consumption to really take hold, the consumer needs to become a knowledgeable participant, not a reader of labels. Rather than relying on traditional market research techniques, firms need to help their existing and future consumers become more socially conscious in their purchasing. This will require giving consumers more tangible, reliable information about the health, social, and environmental benefits of their products and services, in the context of the many choices consumers have to make. Product labels will have to explain why a certain company’s production footprint, packaging techniques, or ingredients are better than those of the competition — and have that superiority verified, ideally by independent sources that are accessible through the Web or social media, conceivably through a shopper’s smartphone. Bit by bit, this type of information is becoming more available, and people are starting to bring their values not just to the survey but to the checkout counter. But that movement will be gradual, and such behavior is still far from being second nature. It is possible that 10 or 20 years from now people will be purchasing ethically as a matter of habit, but corporations (along with third-party information providers) must first make the social merit of their products and services tangible to the pragmatic consumers who dominate the market.

Reprint No. 11103

Author Profiles:

  • Timothy Devinney is a professor of strategy at the University of Technology, Sydney. He is the author of seven books and more than 80 articles in academic journals.
  • Pat Auger is an associate professor and the academic director of the executive MBA program at the Melbourne Business School. He has published extensively on ethical consumerism and e-commerce in leading academic journals.
  • Giana M. Eckhardt is an associate professor of marketing at Suffolk University in Boston. She has published widely on global branding and consumer behavior in academic journals and books.
  • This article was adapted from Devinney, Auger, and Eckhardt’s book, The Myth of the Ethical Consumer (Cambridge University Press, 2010). 
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