Consumer motivations for mainstream "ethical" consumption

Davies, Iain Andrew and Gutsche, Sabrina (2016) Consumer motivations for mainstream "ethical" consumption. European Journal of Marketing, 50 (7-8). pp. 1326-1347. ISSN 0309-0566 (

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Purpose: This paper aims to explore why consumers absorb ethical habits into their daily consumption, despite having little interest or understanding of the ethics they are buying into, by looking at the motivation behind mainstream ethical consumption. Design/methodology/approach: Fifty in-depth field interviews at point of purchase capture actual ethical consumption behavior, tied with a progressive-laddering interview technique yields over 400 consumption units of analysis. Findings: Ethical attitudes, values and rational information processing have limited veracity for mainstream ethical consumption. Habit and constrained choice, as well as self-gratification, peer influence and an interpretivist understanding of what ethics are being purchased provide the primary drivers for consumption. Research limitations/implications: Use of qualitative sampling and analysis limits the generalizability of this paper. However, the quantitative representation of data demonstrates the strength with which motivations were perceived to influence consumption choice. Practical implications: Ethical brands which focus on explicit altruistic ethical messaging at the expense of hedonistic messaging, or ambiguous pseudo ethics-as-quality messaging, limit their appeal to mainstream consumers. Retailers, however, benefit from the halo effect of ethical brands in store. Social implications: The paper highlights the importance of retailer engagement with ethical products as a precursor to normalizing ethical consumption, and the importance of normative messaging in changing habits. Originality/value: The paper provides original robust critique of the current field of ethical consumption and an insight into new theoretical themes of urgent general interest to the field.