What automotive can teach us about brand sustainability

Key lessons brands can leverage to create greater environmental and business impact.
28 March 2024
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Elizabeth Katsadouros

Commercial Partner, Sustainable Transformation Practice, North America

Jordan Herrington

Commercial Partner, Sustainable Transformation Practice, North America

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Over the past few months, the trajectory of Electric and Hybrid Vehicles has been widely discussed. While automakers planned for increased adoption of these clean air options, consumer demand fell short of 2023 forecasts. However, consumers continue to express a sentiment in support of the transition, with 57% stating a desire to “shift away from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles” according to Kantar’s U.S. MONITOR data fielded in Q4 of 2023.

This juxtaposition between the value consumers place on sustainability and the actions taken presents a challenge for the auto industry and beyond. By identifying and understanding both the sticking points that prevent sustainable action and the drivers of positive behaviors, referred to as frictions and fuels, auto manufacturers can enable transformative change.

Navigating frictions

Kantar’s Sustainable Sector Index (SSI), a study that provides sector specific insights around consumer attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions of brands’ sustainability initiatives and actions, explores the discrepancy between what consumers say they want and how they behave at retail—referred to at Kantar as the Value-Action Gap. For the Motor Vehicles sector, our research finds a Value-Action Gap of 55%. Meaning that though a large majority (90%) of category consumers agree they’d like to act more sustainably, only 35% of category consumers have adapted their behaviors to do so. 

With such a sizeable gap, enabling greater adoption of Electric Vehicles (EV) would help make behaving sustainably easier for consumers. Yet, there are clear barriers that stand in the way of buying EVs—most notably cost, range, and lifestyle fit. With cost and range more dependent on technological advancements, marketers have an opportunity to combat the challenge of lifestyle fit through meaningful storytelling. 

Stories that help consumers visualize the role EVs or Hybrids can play within their everyday lives, as well as their overall sense of identity, is a great starting point—Kantar US MONITOR finds 64% of Americans agree the vehicle you drive says a lot about you. Additionally, sustainability focused marketers would do well to consider how inclusive, diverse, and accessible their campaigns are to ensure everyone is along for the ride. 

Understanding greenwashing 

As marketers develop their communication strategy, it is critical to acknowledge consumers’ overall sensitivity to branded communications today. Within the EV / Hybrid space alone, Kantar’s SSI reports that 52% of category users agree they have seen or heard false and misleading information about sustainable brand actions. Careful consideration of branded claims and terminology is required, even within an industry seen as environmentally innovative, to reduce the risk of greenwashing. To instigate behavior change and avoid greenwashing claims, brands should prioritize effective messaging that builds trust and credibility. 

By leading with informative and actionable messaging, brands have a greater chance of empowering consumers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles. Reckitt, a leading global healthcare brand, leveraged trust and transparent messaging to create impact in their category. The principles and insights shared within this cross-category example remain true for the auto industry.  

Brands doing it right – Case Study 

Reckitt, a multi-national hygiene, health, and nutrition brand, partnered with Kantar to identify ways in which they could make health and hygiene communications more personable. The exploration of factors helping and impeding better hygiene behaviors underpinned the #SkipTheRinse campaign for Reckitt’s Finish product line to alleviate consumer concerns regarding water scarcity.

Branded communications for Finish products resonate with consumers on a human level, as they help reduce the time needed to do dishes, alleviate water scarcity concerns, and make the world a greener place. 

Beyond connecting with consumers’ lifestyles, Finish also provides helpful information to consumers about how their personal behaviors are leading to positive impact, with a live tracker on their website indicating over 24 million gallons of water being saved to date.

Embracing opportunity - How marketing can help 

Although auto manufacturers are presented with the challenges of navigating frictions and greenwashing, there is ample opportunity to increase resonance in the market by creating an effective marketing strategy that credibly displays the brand’s sustainability initiatives while targeting the issues that matter. Kantar’s SSI data shares that people are actively looking for more information about how their decisions are bettering the planet but discover that ‘it is impossible to find out what environmental or social impact’ of a purchase truly is. Consumers want more sustainable options – they need to know they exist and understand their true impact. In auto specifically, communication and data around how these products reduce air pollution would help break down barriers and create glide paths.

What it all means

Electric and hybrid vehicles stand at the forefront of a transformative shift in the American automotive landscape. The frictions and trends highlighted in the SSI study expose an opportunity for marketers to leverage communications to drive relevance and resonance to the category – and hold key lessons for sustainable brands and innovation in other industries.  Identifying frictions and synergies help marketers and brands better understand the opportunities that exist within each category and create a clear roadmap to success.

By leading with informative and actionable messaging, brands have a greater chance of empowering consumers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.

To learn more about what the future holds for automotive and the state of sustainability in Kantar's LinkedIn Live session – Sustainable Auto: Beyond the Drive.

For more information on Kantar Sustainable Sector Index, click here.

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