Recycling messages used by bottled-water companies on overwrap for 24-pack cases aren't being noticed by 70 percent or more of shoppers, a survey shows, and many of those messages don't even resonate well with consumers.
That finding, based on recycling messages used by eight bottled-water brands, is a warning sign for all consumer-product companies to examine message content, placement and size.
“There is confusion with the messages on all consumer-product goods packaging, not just bottled water,” said Jonathan Asher, executive vice president of Perception Research Services International Inc., a Fort Lee, N.J., market research firm that specializes in packaging and shopper research.
“It seems to be a missed opportunity,” said Asher at the Bioplastek conference in Arlington, Va., earlier this year. “If you need to have a meaningful message to convey, you need to think about how to convey it. As a brand owner, you have to decide what's most important and change what you put on [the] front.”
Anne Reid, senior director of design realization in the Cincinnati office of San Francisco-based brand-consulting firm Landor Associates, agreed.
“Eighty percent of purchase decisions are made in 30 seconds or less,” she said. “So if you have too many messages, consumers won't get it. You have to do something really conspicuous so it pops off the page.”
The findings that environmental and recycling messages are both misunderstood and not noticed by most shoppers is even more troubling because another recent PRS survey found that most shoppers want to choose environmentally friendly packaging and that more than half of them are willing to pay more — especially those under the age of 40.
“The majority of shoppers want to select environmentally friendly packaging, but they are frustrated over how to do it,” added Asher. “They are confused and don't know which package is best for the environment.”
Part of the problem, he said, is that in many cases environmental claims are placed on the bottom of the packing, “and typically consumers do not pick up the packages and turn them over.”
But the bottled-water survey showed that, even when the recycling message was placed on the front of cases of bottled water, the majority of consumers didn't notice it, said Asher.
That survey examined eight different messages:
* 50 percent less plastic.
* 30 percent less plastic.
* 100 percent recycled bottle.
* One percent for the planet.
* Bottle made with 30 percent less material.
* Eco-shaped bottle.
* Up to 30 percent plant-based bottle.
“The claim that the bottle was 100 recyclable far and away is the one that resonated the best with consumers,” said Asher. “The 1 percent for the planet had the least impact. But none of the messages were noticed that much.”
The most-noticed message — 50 percent less plastic — was seen by 39 percent of the shoppers. The message of 30 percent less plastic, used by four different brands marketed by Greenwich, Conn.-based Nestlé Waters North America Inc., was noticed by 10-26 percent of shoppers, depending on the brand.
Asher also noted that the two PlantBottle claims “didn't resonate well with the consumer.”
“Coca-Cola has won a lot of awards [for the PlantBottle], but from what we're seeing, consumers and shoppers don't get it yet. It probably has something to do with credibility, and also their concerns over whether it really works, and whether the water or beverage will taste the same.”
In addition, the 100 percent recyclable claim, used in small print on the Coca-Cola Dasani water brand, was only noticed by 4 percent of shoppers, which is unfortunate because in general, consumers said environmental claims “having to do with recycling are the ones that they notice the most and the claim that they think is the best,” Asher said.
The survey also found that claims that products and packaging are made with less material “are losing their allure,” he said.
“People are less influenced by ‘less material' claims. They are concerned they are giving up performance,” he said. “Consumers are starting to question manufacturing's behaviors and motives and see those claims as self-serving, in order to increase sales and make profit gains rather than protect the environment.”
“You need to make the extra effort to communicate your recycling or environmental message well,” said Asher. “It has to be compelling and visible and you have to make sure you are in tune with what the shopper finds meaningful — and not just do what makes sense to the corporation.”
Jacquelyn Ottman, founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting Inc. in New York, agreed. “You have to avoid generalized environmental claims such as ‘eco-friendly,' “ said Ottman. “Be specific with your marketing claims because the wide variety of labels can be confusing to the consumer. But also make sure the packaging message doesn't overtake the product message.”
Darden Hood, president of Beta Analytic in Miami, thinks consumer-product companies should get stores to convey the environmental message they want to deliver to consumers.
“They need to engage the shoppers with banners or signs in the store that say ‘Recycle,' or, ‘Look for the PlantBottle,' “ Hood said. “They need to try to bring the message to the end of the aisle, to a banner that hangs from the ceiling, or to the storefront.”