In another cautionary tale about the danger of latching onto a perceived market trend, those in consumer products are seeing sales drop in being green or environmentally safe products.

That was predictable.

Although the New York Times story is attributing this to a down economy, it really hints at a more important reason why “green” is rarely a true switching trigger.

It’s just not emotionally important to consumers.

being green

Most of us do care about the environment and will occasionally make choices based on that. But being green is just not emotionally intensive for most of us. The hard truth is that we, as consumers, are more self-interested than that, which is why other values often reign. Or, as a consultant said in the NYT piece, “There is a discrepancy between what people say and what they do.”

That’s why, for example, “healthy” rarely stakes the highest emotional intensity position in the food market, as we can see by the industry being dominated by fast food chains and our population becoming increasingly overweight.

In the case of “green,” it can be a marketing message, but once the brand becomes all about what you are saying it is the most important reason to choose among target audiences. What marketers forget is that the most important reasons are usually selfish. While price is being cited as the main reason to choose, it is most likely other emotional values that are related to price such as “taking care of my family” or “being smart” (which is why sales of the Prius are still strong) that are driving the market.

The lesson here is to beware of trendy values, which marketers often grab because they do not want to be left behind. The key is to understand the emotional (and selfish) drivers that may make that trend important. Once you understand those, then you can make the decision on whether those trends have the highest emotional intensity in the market or not.