“Going Green or Growing Greed:
A Content-Analysis of Green Advertising in Popular Magazines”
by Ashley Bruce
Global warming, going green, and environmental awareness are all terms that have
become familiar with the American people in recent years. Awareness of the damage the
world’s natural environment and resources has grown. As a result, there are efforts to develop
more environmentally friendly products, create alternative energy sources that are renewable,
and develop better strategies to sustain the nation. This new awareness about the environment
can be seen in new government policies, in schools curriculum, and in business practices.
New “green” products are being sold; thus, allowing people to make changes in their
daily lives that are environmentally friendly. Reusable canvas bags, recycled paper, energy-
efficient appliances, and many other products allow individuals to do their part to be “green”.
However, questions do arise about the environmental usefulness of certain green products. Are
companies producing products that are truly green? The increase in green advertisements has
sparked a debate about the impact of these “green” products. This project employs a content-
analysis of green advertisements in popular magazines to analyze how corporations use green
advertising to attract audiences.
History of Green Movement
The history of the green movement is disputed and sources cite the beginnings of the
green movement differently. Some argue that the green movement began with the release of
Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Springs in 1962 which brought awareness to the destruction
pesticides have caused to the natural environment. Others argue that the green movement
actually began in the early 1840s when philosophers like Thoreau wrote about how to conserve
and appreciate nature (Kovarik 2008). Clearly, the late 1960s and early 1970s marked a rise in
the modern green movement. As the United States entered into the 21st century, awareness of
environmentalism was heightened by issues, such as climate change, dwindling energy
resources, and chemically-treated food. Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, heightened
awareness by showing the destruction that humans have caused by their wasteful use of
Herndly and Brown (1996:3) argue, “the values and beliefs we hold about the
environment are established through the discourses of a bewildering variety of genres,
institutions, and media.” How people view the environment is shaped by several areas including
culture. Herndly and Brown stress that environmental discourse occurs on a large-scale and
across a wide spectrum, so while some may call for social activism and the need for large-scale
movements to preserve the natural environment, others take an emotional view and focus on
personal relationships with nature.
Killingsworth and Palmer (1992) point out that several institutions’ agendas have little
interest in the long-term well being of the environment such as the media, government, and
organizations who are economically motivated. They argue that policies stressing small actions
and personal agendas ignore the general public’s need for more sustainable resources.
Killingsworth and Palmer (1992: 399) call for a “massive shift in government policy and
curtailments of large scale industrial activity.”
Mastry (2003) argues that there has been a recent interest for more environmentally
friendly products and habits by consumers and institutions throughout the United States. The
recent interest has stemmed from a dramatic increase in global consumption and the impact
increased consumption has had on the natural environment. People’s desire to consume more
products involves using resources that are not always renewable. Mastry (2003:5) calls for
consumers and institutions to purchase more “environmentally friendly alternatives” that help the
ecosystem. This can largely be done by purchasing green products that are safer on the natural
environment and by using resources that are renewable.
“Green purchasing” involves purchasing “products that are more environmentally sound
and socially just” (Mastry 2003: 9). The U.S. government, businesses, and consumers all partake
in green purchasing to some extent. Mastry notes that most of green purchasing today occurs in
areas like paper and office supplies, energy, and construction. However, there are still many
areas in which more green products could be used. Mastry (2003:7) points out that each year
more than 50,000 new products are introduced into the marketplace; this is a significant increase
from the few thousand that were introduced annually in the 1970s.
Role of Advertising and Marketing
Meyers (1999: 216) defines advertising as, “the promotion of goods and services for sale
through impersonal media.” Advertisements add values to the product by creating an association
between the brand and the social or personal meaning associated with the branding (Meyers
1999; Fowles 1996). Thus branding allows a product to become lifelike, with social meanings
Fowles (1996: 17) argues that advertising is a “product of culture industries” whose
actions are made solely for the profit. Meyers (1999: 8) points out that advertising uses different
social, economic, and cultural factors to create a social value that consumers desire. Meyers
(1999: 8) also notes that advertising, “divides meanings into two categories—true needs, having
to do with essentials for survival, comfort, and belonging, and false needs that are created by the
ads” (1999: 8). Fowles (1996: 18) argues that an advertisement’s success is ultimately
dependent upon the consumer’s interpretation of the advertisement.
Meyers (1999) discusses how marketing strategies generally focus on the four “P’s” to
develop successful marketing campaigns of various products: product, placement, promotion,
and price. Product involves creating a product image through processing, packaging, and
presentation to create a distinctive brand. Branding a product is important within advertising
because it attaches a social meaning (e.g. success, happiness, love, commitment, etc.) to the
labeled products that the consumer recognizes. Promotion involves using various marketing
strategies to promote a brand such as sweepstakes, the use of celebrities, and sponsorships.
Placement of a product involves determining distinct locations to market a particular product.
One examples of placement is the target audience (e.g. moms, teens, the elderly, homeowners,
etc.) of the advertisement; different ads target different groups of people in order to sell a
product. Finally, price refers to determining the optimal price that a consumer will pay for the
added meaning and value associated with the product.
Women as a Target Audience
In the early 1920s, advertising agencies realized that their most important and profitable
target audience was women. Hill (2002:8) argues that, “across the socioeconomic and
geopolitical spectrum of America, advertisers trained their sights on women consumers”
(2002:8). Womens’ role as homemaker influenced the marketing as the image of the woman as
the primary shopper who provides for her family became a theme in advertisements. According
to Hill (2002: 18) the theme of the woman as primary shopper persisted well past the 1980s.
Significant market research was devoted to marketing strategies to attract women.
Products like washing machines, dishwashers, canned goods, and household cleaners were
positioned to tap into the homemaker mentality that women were constantly encountering in the
media. Hill (2002: 270) notes another image used to attract women audiences were the use of
children at play. Images of children linked to women’s responsibilities as a mother. Images of
men were also used to target women.
The introduction of popular lifestyle magazines into popular culture allowed advertisers
to reach broader audiences, including more women. Fowels (1996:37) notes, if magazines could
create larger readerships, they could sell advertisements in their magazine for a higher price.
This relationship is significant because the need for more advertising revenue creates a need for
more pages containing full advertisements. A symbiotic relationship between magazine
publishers and businesses allows each to profit.
In Theory of the Leisure Class (1912), Thorstein Veblen discusses the rise of the leisure
class and their conspicuous consumptions of goods in the late 1800s. He argues that while there
has always been some differentiation among classes, there was an increase of class differences
largely due to the accumulation of industrial wealth. In order to visibly show wealth, individuals
partake in the consumption of luxuries that are “beyond the minimum required for subsistence
and physical efficiency” (Veblen 1899: 41). The consumption of these luxury goods becomes a
sign for wealth and those who fail to “consumer in due quantity and quality become a mark of
inferiority and demerit” (Veblen 1899: 42). Conspicuous consumption has increased with the
number of products designed for personal comfort rather than immediate survival.
While Veblen focuses on the leisure class, this theory can be applied to all classes in
American society today due to the increase of convenience goods and other products that can be
mass-produced at lower prices. In American society today people often consume beyond their
means in order to appear wealthy. Conspicuous consumption is easier today than in Veblen’s
time because of the accessibility of credit cards and credit lines that allow people to buy now and
pay later. To take advantage of the philosophy of conspicuous consumption, businesses develop
marketing strategies to advertise new products as fulfilling the cultural value of “keeping up with
the Jones.” Conspicuous consumption is a “waste,” according to Veblen (1899: 55), because
“this expenditure does not serve human life or human well-being on the whole.”
Social theorists today build upon Veblen’s critique of conspicuous consumption when
they ask, “When is enough, enough?” In “Voluntary Simplicity and the New Global Challenge”,
Elgin (1993) discusses voluntary simplicity and the importance of people living more
purposefully. Voluntary simplicity, according to Elgin (1993: 397), is to “acknowledge explicitly
that simpler living integrates both inner and outer aspects of life into an organic and purposeful
whole.” To live more purposely is to, “live more deliberately, intentionally, and purposefully—in
short, it is to live more consciously” (Elgin 1993:397). In order for people to live more
purposefully, Elgin argues they must establish a more direct, personal relationship without
Elgin believes that living simply involves balancing the means of living with a
“meaningful existence.” According to Elgin, it is possible for someone to live simply and still
fulfill their needs without over-indulging in the commodities that surround them in society.
Simple living involves developing a lifestyle that gives one the means of survival while
simultaneously embracing purpose within her life. In order to begin to live simply, Elgin
suggests that individuals must reevaluate the way in which they live. Elgin’s theory can,
arguably, be a solution to the wastefulness apparent with conspicuous consumption evident in
American society. Elgin acknowledges that individuals need to partake in the consumption of
some goods to fulfill our basic needs but must learn to recognize when enough is enough.
Both Veblen and Elgin help us to understand the problem surrounding the green
movement in American society. In recent years, some Americans have realized that hyper-
consumption is using more resources than is needed for survival. However, this paper asks what
happens when marketers use the green movement as a marketing strategy? More specifically,
how often are green advertisements used to sell products?
A content analysis of green advertisements within magazines was used to obtain data for
this study. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (1997) defines a content
analysis as, “a set of procedures for collecting and organizing nonstructured information into a
standardized format that allows one to make inferences about the characteristics and meaning of
written and otherwise recorded material.” Two magazines were selected: Better Homes and
Garden and Sports Illustrated. The first magazine’s audience is primarily women while the later
is largely men. The magazines were purposely selected based on the demographics of the
targeted audience. Additionally, the magazines selected must have been in existence in 1998 and
must still be published in 2008. All magazine advertisements pertaining to “green” products from
1998 to 2008 constitute the sample population.
The starting year of 1998 was selected in order to have a time period long enough to
show any fluctuations in the number of green advertisements appearing in each magazine. For
purposes of this research a “green advertisement” was defined as the marketing of any product
that is described as environmentally friendly but excludes food products labeled as “organic.”
The sample for analysis included in Better Homes & Gardens was every other month
and, since Sports Illustrated is a weekly magazine, two or three weeks per month were included
depending on the actual number of pages of each issue in order to have an equivalent number of
pages when compared to the monthly Better Homes & Garden issue. Advertisements that
appeared more than once were noted but not included in the data set. The total sample of green
advertisements was 88, 57 from Better Homes and Gardens and 31 from Sports Illustrated.
Strengths and Weaknesses
This research is one of the first to analyze the ways in which corporations market “green”
products. One particular strength of this research is that both magazines feature advertisements
from several different product categories so that a comparison can be made as to whether green
products are being marketed to women more than men, or vice versa. Another advantage of the
research conducted here is that a content analysis enables the tracking of media trends, in this
case of green advertising, over a period of time. Future researchers can easily replicate this
project to assess future changes in green advertisements. Using a content analysis for data
collection is also inexpensive and allows the research to track several different factors pertaining
to the advertisement at once (e.g. the age, race, and class of the ad characters).
It should be noted that while collecting data, issues arose that created a less than ideal
data set. One issue was the amount of time allowed to collect data. Because this research was
conducted for a senior comprehensive, only a few weeks were allowed for data collection.
Another limitation was the resources available for data collection. Data was obtained from the
public library in South Bend, Indiana; however, many magazines carried at the library only date
back three years. This factor limited the number of choices for selecting a representative men’s
magazine and women’s magazine. This issue also forced me to change my starting date from
1962 to 1998 because the library did not archive magazines as old as 1962.
The data obtained from Better Homes & Gardens and Sports Illustrated reveals several
patterns including: (1) a rise in green advertisements, (2) women as a target audience, and (3)
“green” as a marketing strategy.
Rise in “Green” Advertising from 2005-2008.
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From 1998 through 2008, 88 green advertisements were found. The data from the sample
shows a significant increase in green advertising after 2005 (See Figure 1). Both Sports
Illustrated and Better Homes & Gardens show a steady increase although a greater increase
occurred in Better Homes & Gardens. For the seven years prior to 2005, 15 green
advertisements were found in Sports Illustrated and 18 in Better Homes and Gardens. From
2005 to 2008 a total of 16 green advertisements were found in Sports Illustrated and 39 in Better
Homes & Gardens. This increase in advertisements coincides with the release and popularity of
Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvient Truth
The increase in green advertising from 2005 to 2008 was coupled with a shift of focus for
green in advertisements. A total of 60 green advertisements were found that used green as the
subject of their advertisements, only 15 of these green ads were found between 1998 through
2004. Prior to 2005, the majority of green advertisements that mentioned how the product was
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environmentally friendly did so as an extra feature or side note to the main reason for purchasing
a particular product; the main focus of the advertisement lay elsewhere such as how much room
a new van had or how many clothes could fit in a new model of washer and dryer. After 2005,
the environmental usefulness of the product became the subject or focal point of the
advertisement for 45 ads (75%). For example, an ad for Shaw Flooring in Better Homes &
Gardens in October, 2007 read, “I want a floor that is designed to be recycled. Because I care
about more than just the beauty of my home.” Another advertisement feature in Better Homes
&Gardens in July, 2008 was that of Ice Mountain, a brand of bottled water. The key phrase of
the advertisement read, “When it comes to the environment, we’re doing less.” This shift to
green focused advertising is significant because it indicates an increased awareness by marketers
to use “being green” as a marketing strategy in order to increase profit.
The data also finds that green advertising is used more frequently with some categories of
products than others (See Table 1). Green advertisements within a particular product category
occurred most frequently in automobiles. Marketers used green advertising to sell their cars,
trucks, and SUVs by labeling the products as environmentally friendly in a variety of ways. Of
the 39 total automobile advertisements, 13 appeared in the female-centered Better Homes &
Gardens and 26 in the male-centered Sports Illustrated. This is also the highest frequency of
green advertisements within a product category for Sports Illustrated. The second most frequent
product type was appliances. All 13 green advertisements for appliances were found in Better
Homes & Gardens. This is followed by nine home remodeling green advertisements and nine
cleaning green advertisements. Appliances, home remodeling, and cleaning are all categories that
deal with the household which is primarily seen as a woman’s domain.
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Table 1: Frequency of Product Categories from Female and Male Popular
Product Better Homes Sports Illustrated Total/ %
Automotive 13 26 39/ 44%
Appliances 13 0 13/ 15%
Home Remodeling/Decor 9 0 9/ 10%
Cleaning Products 9 0 9/ 10%
Paper Products 7 0 7/ 8%
Food 3 3 6/ 7%
Recycling 2 0 2/ 2%
Banking 1 1 2/ 2%
Jewelry/Watches 0 1 1/ 2%
Total 57/65% 31/35% 88/100%
Women as Target Audience
As noted previously, a total of 57 green ads were found in Better Homes & Garden
compared to 31 in Sports Illustrated. Additionally, there was a greater variety of green product
categories advertised within Better Homes & Gardens. The greater number of green
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advertisements in Better Homes & Gardens compared to Sports Illustrated suggests that women
are the primarily target audience for green adverting. As Table 1 shows, Better Homes &
Gardens had six categories that contained five green advertisements or more: automotive,
appliances, home remodeling/décor, cleaning products, paper products, and food. The variety of
products and number of ads may be due to the fact that women have been seen as the primary
shoppers within the household. Many advertisers focus their target audience on women because
they know women are likely to decide on the types of products being purchased for the
Advertisers focus on women as a target audience for green advertising is also illustrated
in the types of people depicted in green ads (See Table 2). In Sports Illustrated, only nine
persons were used within the green advertisement, three male children and five adult males. By
comparison the total number of people in green ads within Better Homes & Gardens was 52,
including 18 adult females, 16 adult males, and 18 children. The majority of people depicted in
the green advertisements were part of families which might remind the female viewer of her own
family and her responsibilities to protect them.
Table 2: Type of Persons Featured in Green Advertisements
Better Homes & Garden Sports Illustrated Total/ %
Female 18 1 19/31%
Male 16 5 21/34.5%
Child 18 3 21/34.5%
Total 52 9 61/100%
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While the green advertisements were coded for race, it is important to note the small
number of people from racial groups other than whites (See Figure 2). There were only six
people of color depicted within all green ads, three who were African-American children that
were shown in conjunction with a charity that was sponsored by the product. A male of color
shown was a celebrity basketball player used to sell an eco-friendly watch.
“Green” as a Marketing Strategy
As mentioned previously, a shift occurs after 2005 in the way a green product is
marketed. Prior to 2005, only 15 advertisements mentioned how their products were “green” as
the main subject of the advertisement. After 2005, 45 green ads used green as the main subject
of their advertisements which, for the purposes of this study, marks the start of using “green” as
a marketing strategy to sell a product. Some advertisers market “green” to consumers in the
pitch lines within green advertising. For example, an advertisement for Mohawk carpets says,
“From Green to Clean,” while another ad from Clorox Green Works states, “Just what the world
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needs, another dishwashing liquid. It’s made from plants, but cleans with the power you expect
from Clorox. Actually, it’s exactly what the world needs.” The Mohawk advertisement focuses
on how their lines of carpets are made with renewable polymer and are made using less energy
and fewer emissions. Mohawk’s carpets claims to use 37% recycled carpet and that they save a
gallon of gas for every seven yards of carpet manufactured. This particular product makes an
actual impact on the environment, while it can be argued that the Clorox Green Works product is
just a marketing strategy because most home cleaners use plants in their formulas.
Another tactic used to sell an environmentally friendly product is the use of celebrities
within the advertisement. For example, an ad by Citizen Watches in an issue of Sports
Illustrated claimed that their new line of watches, “Eco-Drive”, are fueled by light and are said
to be better for the environment. Different variations of the this ad are shown featuring
celebrities like Eli Manning, Michael Waltrip, and Emeka Okafor who are “unstoppable” like the
watch itself. The actual environmental impact this product has on the environment is
questionable. Another advertisement featuring a celebrity, Matt Damon, was an ad for Ethos, a
brand of water. Ethos paired up with an organization to help provide clean water to the more
than 1 billion people worldwide who do not have access.
Another market strategy used in “green” advertising is the labeling of an already existing
product as environmentally friendly. For example, an advertisement developed by Wells Fargo
for their Home Equity Account shows a woman in her out-of-fashion kitchen with a bubble
quote that reads, “Someday our green kitchen will be a “green” kitchen. The ad later states that
Wells Fargo will provide “eco-friendly remodeling tips and more” when people open an account.
Another example comes from a Dawn dishwashing soap advertisement that claims Dawn allows
a woman to use ten times less water when they use Dawn.
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One final note, the data shows that the use of the color green as the color palette of the
advertisement is another marketing strategy used to take advantage of the recent “green”
movement; 44% of green advertisements use a green color palette. The use of green is symbolic
for the green movement. Forty-nine percent of green advertisements used the outdoors as the
setting for their advertisement, thus the outdoor environment is a selling point for the product.
The various ways marketers use green to sell their products and target particular audiences
appears to be increasingly a marketing strategy that aims to increase profits rather than to
promote environmental consciousness.
Green advertising has significantly risen from 2005 to the present as illustrated by both
the increase in the number of green advertisements and the shift of the subject of the
advertisement to focus on the environmental impact of the product itself. This rise in green
advertising can be potentially beneficial to society if such ads create more environmental
conscious among viewers, thus creating changes in the way individuals purchase commodities.
However, as corporations using “green” as simply another marketing pitch to achieve profit,
green advertisements may potentially inhibit the future growth of the green movement that is so
vital to the future of the planet if consumers become skeptical of all claims of “green” products.
This tension between consumers using green to create actual environmental change or
corporations using “green” as a marketing strategy could have several potential outcomes that
would effect society.
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One potential outcome from the rise in green advertising is that the movement will spread
and lead corporations to create more products that are environmentally friendly. If companies
producing environmentally conscious products experience increased profits, this may potentially
push other corporations to adapt to the green market in order to compete. Innovation is vital if
humans are to find a way to conserve natural resources and to create alternative energy resources
that are largely renewable. These goals could also impact the way an individual makes a
purchase, shifting from buying commodities she wants to purchasing items that she actually
Another potential outcome due to the increase in green advertising is that corporations
will use the green movement merely as a marketing strategy for products that will have little or
no positive impact on the environment. This corruption of “green” marketing may ruin the true
purpose of the green movement and, thus, prohibit the movement from spreading. Consumers
looking at different “green” advertisements may dismiss the entire green movement as another
marketing pitch and, therefore, will not increase their purchase of green products.
A third possible outcome of the rise in green advertising is that many consumers will see
the difference in the ways “green” products, as a marketing strategy, are being positioned in
advertisements and demand those products that use more renewable resources. In this case,
consumer demand would facilitate businesses to market new environmentally friendly products.
As some consumers demand more eco-friendly products perhaps this will create a significant
change in the ways other people make purchases, thus shifting consumer mentality in the process
from “wants” to “needs”. In the end, this shift in attitude is needed if we are truly concerned
about future generations’ ability to sustain themselves and the world.
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