Date

2021

Major

Fashion Merchandising & Apparel Design (B.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Faculty Mentor

Christin Seifert

Abstract

The importance of sustainability is rising as consumers make more environmentally conscious purchases (Neilson, 2018). Despite the growing demand for sustainable products, there is still a consumer attitude-behavior gap concerning sustainability. Social media has proven to be an effective way to promote sustainability (Saeed, Farooq, & Kersten, 2019), and social media influencers are more effective advertising agents compared to traditional advertising (Araujo, Neijens, & Vliegenthart, 2016). However, the best way to advertise sustainable products through social media-based advertising has not yet been studied. This study examines the different content marketing strategies on social media - owned social media posts and earned social media posts to explore the most effective marketing content strategy to promote a brand’s sustainable products. The findings of this study indicate that consumers generate similar attitudes toward the sustainable product regardless of the type of advertising method used, but there are significant differences in brand trust and source credibility.

Thesis Summary

Background: The importance of sustainability is steadily rising as consumers make more environmentally conscious purchases (Neilson, 2018). Despite the growing demand for sustainable products, there is still a consumer attitude-behavior gap concerning sustainability. That is, despite consumers adopting a positive attitude towards sustainable products, they are still hesitant to purchase them (Jacobs et al., 2019). Social media has proven to be an effective way to promote sustainability (Saeed, Farooq, & Kersten, 2019), and social media influencers (SMIs) are more effective advertising agents compared to traditional advertising (print, radio, television, etc.) (Araujo, Neijens, & Vliegenthart, 2016). However, the best way to bring sustainable products closer to consumers through social media-based advertising has not yet been studied. Thus, this study examines the different content marketing strategies on social media - OSMs (owned social media posts such as sponsored influencer posts or brand-generated content) and ESMs (earned social media posts such as non-sponsored influencer posts or user-generated content) to explore the most effective marketing content strategy to promote a brand’s sustainable products and practices. The purpose of this study is to examine the impact of different Instagram content marketing strategies on product attitude, brand trust, and source credibility, thereby influencing purchase intention.

Theoretical Framework and Hypothesis: The reactance theory states that when a person experiences a perceived threat to their behavioral freedom, they will purposely act against any behavior perceived to be coercive (Brehm, 1966). Specifically, consumers who become aware of the intent of sponsored content develop negative views of the brand and report reactance, leading to avoidance behavior (Van Dam & van Reijmersdal, 2019). Therefore, if the social media post is owned, the consumer will respond with reactance. A study by Boerman, Willemsen, and Van Der Aa (2017) compared brand-generated content, disclosed-sponsored celebrity content and undisclosed-sponsored celebrity content and found that the brand content is more likely to activate persuasion knowledge in participants, followed by the disclosed-sponsored post, and the undisclosed-sponsored post. Thus, consumers are more likely to view brand-generated content as advertising, generating higher reactance. Conversely, consumers have more positive responses to non-sponsored posts in general, and do not view sponsored posts made by SMIs as genuine product reviews (Boerman, Willemsen, Van Der A, 2017). In addition, there is strong source credibility associated with ESMs (Bantra & Keller, 2016). Based on the above, the hypotheses are as follows: H1: a) Product attitude, b) brand trust and c) source credibility will be higher for a non-sponsored SMI post, followed by a sponsored SMI post and a brand-generated post; H2: a) Product attitude, b) brand trust and c) source credibility will positively influence purchase intention toward the sustainable product promoted on social media.

Method: Hypotheses were tested through an experimental design with three levels of types of Instagram content marketing (sponsored, non-sponsored, brand-generated post) as the between-subjects factor. The posts were manipulated through the creation of fictional Instagram posts including different captions and hashtags: the non-sponsored influencer post was disclosed with #notsponsored, the sponsored influencer post was disclosed with #sponsored, and a brand-generated post was disclosed with #brand . All three stimuli used the same image of a woman wearing a denim jacket, and each post mentioned the same fictional sustainable brand’s name and product description (jacket made of recycled fibers). An Internet experiment was conducted using Qualtrics with a nationwide sample of 300 female consumers (19-34 years) who identified as Instagram users. Pre-existing reliable scales measuring product attitude (3 items), brand trust (3 items), source credibility (3 items), and purchase intention (3 items) appeared after the stimuli. All measures were rated on 7-point Likert scales.

Conclusion: The findings of this study indicate that consumers generate similar attitudes toward the sustainable product, regardless of whether the different content marketing strategies on social media have a clear intent to advertise and are earned versus owned, leading to greater purchase intention. However, the brand-generated post was perceived to be more credible than the sponsored and non-sponsored Influencer posts, resulting in the lowest level of reactance. The source credibility did not differ between the sponsored and non-sponsored Influencer posts. There was also a significant difference in the brand trust. Therefore, retailers and brands, especially unknown or start-up brands, who want to advertise sustainable products on social media are advised to create brand-generated Instagram content as a more effective way to increase purchase intention. This study provides important insights on how sustainable products are perceived through Instagram-based advertisements.

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