Special Session Summary Portrayals of Environmental Myths and Images in European Adverts and the News Media


Susanne Friese and Lucia Reisch (2001) ,"Special Session Summary Portrayals of Environmental Myths and Images in European Adverts and the News Media", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Andrea Groeppel-Klien and Frank-Rudolf Esch, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 164-166.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2001      Pages 164-166



Susanne Friese, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Lucia Reisch, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany


The papers that comprise this special session all originate from an EU-wide project spanning research conducted in five countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain and The Netherlands). The focus of the project is on environmentally friendly consumer behaviour with a particular interest in the reciprocal transfer between consumer values and lifestyles, infrastructural components and the depiction of environmental myths and images in the media. A well-known fact is that favourable attitudes toward the environment often do not translate into corresponding behaviours. Our study sets out to test the hypothesis that non-ecological motivations, various lifestyle indicators and certain infrastructural drivers and obstacles can explain environmentally friendly consumer behaviours better than "matching" attitudes.

In term of analysing the media output, the following research questions were guiding our analysis: How are 'nature’ and 'environmental themes’ presented in advertising spots and the news media within and across different European countries? In particular, we looked at the following aspects:

a) To what extent is there an appeal to quality of life indicators and to images and myths of nature?

b) How is the appeal made?

The answer the first question, quantitative measures were employed; the 'how’ question was answered by carrying out a qualitative analysis with the aid of computer software that allowed for data input of various media types (here text, print and video data).

The papers that form the special session offer some insights into various aspects of the project, but do not aim at providing an exhaustive summary of all results. The first paper provides some background data in conjunction with the quantitative analysis of primary and secondary data; the second paper offers some insights into methodological tools that can be used to analyse multimedia data, and in the third and fourth paper results of the qualitative analysis (within and across countries) are presented.

To give the reader an overview of the kinds of data that were collected in all countries, below the data collection and analysis procedure is described briefly:

Data Collection. In addition to the secondary infrastructural, value and attitude data, newspaper articles and print advertisements, television advertising spots and - where available - infomercials advocating environmental friendly behaviours were collected by sampling a rolling week over a seven-week period in March to April 2000 (i.e., Monday of week 10, Tuesday of week 11, Wednesday of week 12, etc.). According to Hansen (1993), this method of data collection yields a representative sample of media output. In each country two major TV channels and two newspapers (one broadsheet, one tabloid were sampled). Advertising spots were videotaped during 3 hours of evening prime time between 6 and 9 pm. Newspapers were inspected for topics related to the environment including all sections from front page, over domestic news, foreign news, gossip, sport, culture, travel, science, economy to the society pages. The sending organisations of interest for both TV and print media were: governments (public), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and businesses (private).

Data Analysis. In a first step, an overview of the various infrastructural components with regard to recycling behaviour and facilities, organic food availability, purchase and labelling issues, matters of energy and transport, and legislative issues was prepared. The newspaper texts and advertising materials were then subjected to a quantitative and qualitative analysis. The quantitative findings provided us with a good overview of what there is in the data and allowed statistical comparisons across countries. The qualitative analysis offered a more in-depth understanding of how environment and nature are projected and reflected in newspaper articles and advertisements, how environmental messages are actually packaged, what cultural icons and symbols are drawn upon and what kind of textual and visual metaphors and metonyms are used. Even though the study was not designed as a Grounded Theory study, the various stages of coding described by Strauss and Corbin (1998) were nonetheless useful to follow. Thus, in addition to using the a-priori defined coding categories, we applied an open coding strategy, followed by axial and selective coding. Open coding is by definition "the analytic process through which concepts are identified and their properties anddimensions are discovered in the data" (Strauss and Corbin, 1998, p. 101)." Axial coding is "the process of relating categories to their subcategories [] at the level of properties and dimensions" (p. 123). Selective coding refers to "the process of integrating and refining the theory" (p. 143) that emerges from the data. For example, the myth that nature is a symbol of freedom is likely to unfold in various different ways. The qualitative analysis of the data can capture the variety of dimensions and their properties that are present in the data and we can map out when they are drawn upon, by which medium, in which context, by which culture, etc. This can then also be set in relation to the various value dimensions that are projected and reflected upon. The qualitative analysis thus provided the thick descriptions (Geertz, 1973) that are needed in order to develop the sought after deeper understanding of how consumers become socialised into certain views and beliefs about the environment and how this might affect and motivate their behaviour.

Via triangulation also including the secondary data, it then will be possible to draw the various threads together and to form a more comprehensive picture on how the various components play together to influence a consumers understanding of environmental issues.



Linda Steg, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Brigitta Gatersleben, University of Surrey, UK

As mentioned above, of particular interest to the present project is whether the various myths of nature in addition to various quality of life indicators can actually be detected in media messages, especially in newspaper articles and advertisements (print and televised). And if so, in which way they are reflected, supported and perpetuated. However, whilst we were using cultural theory as a starting point, we did not confine ourselves to the four cultural biases identified by the theory, each of which integrates the two myths in a specific way (for a critical discussion see Grendstad & Selle, 2000).

As a way to better understand how and why particular messages were sent and how meanings are produced, we considered it necessary to also take into account institutional and infrastructural frameworks within given cultural contexts. Recent studies suggest that such overall frameworks affect the ways in which consumers make sense of environmental meanings, especially with regards to messages transmitted by the media (Anderson, 1997; Bell, 1991; Douglas and Wildavsky, 1982; Gooch 1996).

Environmentally significant behaviour is influenced by many factors ranging from micro-level factors such as individual motivations, opportunities and abilities to macro-level (infrastructural) factors such as technological, economic, demographic, institutional and cultural factors (Gatersleben and Vlek, 1998). A wide range of data is available on the relevant infrastructural factors that influence individual behaviour such as data on the availability of consumer goods. Moreover, a substantial amount of data has been collected by various researchers on motivations, opportunities and abilities to perform (environmentally conscious and unconscious) consumer behaviour. Little information, however, is available on the cultural meaning of the environment within different societies and its relationship with infrastructural factors and environmentally significant behaviour. One way to examine the value of nature within a society is by means of analysing how the national media incorporates the environment in their advertisement and news coverage. The present paper examined data on environmentally significant behaviour in various European countries focussing on recycling, biological food consumption, and household energy use. This data is related to information on the economic, institutional and political climae within each country and to data on environmental attitudes and values. Moreover, specific attention is paid to how media coverage of the environment differs in these countries, and it is studied whether any consistent relationship can be found between media coverage, environmentally relevant behaviour and the countries political and institutional climate.



Susanne Friese, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

The opportunities and use of qualitative research can be expected to change drastically as the practical feasibility of using not only text data, but graphical materials and moving images in qualitative data analysis increases. Some of the computer programmes that have emerged over the past ten years that aid the process of analysing text data qualitatively have now been developed to incorporate the possibilities of working with multimedia material. As is the case with many of the IT solutions offered by the market, the opportunities are often provided before we have developed methods for implementing them (compare Friese, 2000). The data collected for the present project constituted ideal material for a provisional exploration of the new features offered by various software solutions. The recorded advertising spots were on average 30 seconds in length and therefore still manageable in terms of disk space and other current digital technology capabilities. The spots also contained significant variety to allow for more than just a basic experimental analysis. The aim of the presentation is to provide a 'hands on’ demonstration of how videotaped advertising spots can be analysed using a software solution. Whilst there are a number of programmes that offer features to analyse multimedia data, ATLAS.ti was chosen over other programmes because it firstly allows the analysis of streamed video data; secondly it facilitates the joint analysis of various media data including text, images, audio and video material, which was a necessary prerequisite for the current project; and thirdly the qualitative data analysis approach chosen for the project is best supported by ATLAS.ti when compared with other packages.



Lucia Reisch, University of Hohenheim, Germany

Marleen Strategier, Catholic University Brabant, Tilburg, The Netherlands

As outlined in the introduction of the special session report, a central research question was the investigation of representations of nature and environmental issues in the media. This paper presents the results of the in-depth qualitative analysis of the German data that followed the initial quantitative analysis. During a 7-week rolling sampling period data was collected from one of the leading German daily newspapers (the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung", FAZ) and from Germany’s largest tabloid (BILD Zeitung). The selection of these two media sources ensured that the data consisted of material designed for a varied readership with regards to education level and political interests. In addition, data was collected from the two largest (measured in audience quota) nation-wide television channelsBone public (ARD), one private (RTL). With regard to the choice of print media, the TV stations were selected with the objective of capturing key influential media outlets within German society, which have the potential of being important transmission means, agenda-setters and socialization agents.

The database of German media sources consisted of 19 newspaper advertisements, 55 television advertisement spots, and 64 newspaper articles, all of which explicitly or implicitly covered or used nature or ecological arguments. Also advertisements and articles which carried only subtle references to nature or ecology were included. The data was collected, recorded, and digitised (articles, video spots, an print adverts) in order to make it accessible for computer assisted qualitative data analysis (CAQDA) within ATLAS.ti. This presentation focuses on the qualitative analysis of the video spots.

In order to maintain the integrity of the data analysis, the starting point for the qualitative coding scheme were both the "myths of nature" and the "Quality of life" (QoL) aspects identified in the earlier quantitative stage of analysis. However, other categories were allowed to emerge. The initial quantitative analysis clearly showed that advertisers of television commercials extensively utilise both suggested concepts, the "image(s) of nature" and "quality of life aspects". The most frequently used "images of nature" were: 'human mastery/power over nature’ (8 ads), 'nature as intrinsically good’ (14), and the 'recreational function of nature’ (19). Only very few advertising spots portrayed nature explicitly as 'something to protect’. Concerning the "quality of life" (QoL) aspects, beauty (16), environmental quality (16), leisure time (16), family life (20), freedom and control (21), challenge and pleasure (29), and nature (33) were most frequently referred to.

In the qualitative analysis, it became clear that certain QoL aspects were used to reach certain target groups. For instance, ads for cars and alcoholic beverages usually targeted a male audience, employing the QoL aspect "challenge and pleasure". The challenge usually consisted of a man struggling with and conquering elements of natureBalone in a car or in a group of peers with a beer ("human master/power over nature"). Another example is food stuff, non-alcoholic drinks, and body products, which often target families. Here, the QoL aspect "family life" was generally employed portraying ideal and happy families with small children. Moreover, "family life" did play an important role for body related products such as shampoo or medicine, as well as for cleaning products, most frequently targeting women. What was striking in all commercials is the fact that the story was always presented in good and warm weather. "Nature" was mostly portrayed as something to be enjoyed (recreational function), or as something good in the sense that it was pointed out that the components of the product in question were pure natural ingredients (e.g., food, beverages, body products).

The final synthesis of the findings, also including the newspaper articles and print ads, will offer a thorough portrayal of how nature and environmental issues are presented in the German media. Based on these findings plus the background data, recommendations regarding strategies on how to better promote environmental friendly consumer behaviour will be outlined.



Anders Hansen, University of Leicester, UK

Alison Anderson, University of Plymouth, UK

Studies of advertising from the early to mid-1990s suggested a considerable surge in the inclusion of environmental appeals in advertising, a 'greening’ of marketing to match the increase in media news coverage and public concern about environmental issues characteristic of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Drawing on results from a comparative European study of Environmental Socialisation in the Mass Media, this paper presents findings from an analysis of television advertising in the Spring of 2000 in the United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark. The analysis demonstrates overall that overt environmental appeals are now comparatively rare in television advertising, although there are interesting differences from country to country. While explicit environmental appeals and green marketing as such are rare, nature imagery and appeals to the 'natural’ are prominently deployed. It is argued that advertising in this respect makes an important contribution to ongoing public definitions of the environment, consumption, and environmental categories. With an emphasis on product and country variations, the analysis shows how television advertising articulates and reworks deep-seated cultural categories and understandings of nature, the natural, and the environment, and in doing so, communicates important boundaries and public definitions of appropriate consumption and 'uses’ of the natural environment.


Anderson, A. (1997), Media, Culture and the Environment. London: UCL Press.

Bell, A. (1991), The Language of News Media. Oxford: Blackwell.

Douglas, M. and Wildavsky, A. (1982), Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technical and Environmental Dangers. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Friese, S. (2000), "The Multimedia revolution: Technological advances and methodological implication," in Social Science Methodology in the New Millennium. Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Logic and Methodology, J. Blasius, J. Hox, E. de Leeuw and P. Schmidt (eds.), CD Rom Publication. ISBN 90-801073-8-7.

Gatersleben, B. and Vlek, C. (1998), "Household consumption, quality of life, and environmental impacts: A psychological perspective and empirical study," in: Green households? Domestic Consumers, Environment and Sustainability, K. J. Noorman and A.J.M. Schoot Uiterkamp (eds.), London: Earthscan, 141-183.

Geertz, C. (1973), "Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture," in The interpretations of cultures: Selected essays, C. Geertz, New York: Basic Books. 3-32.

Gooch, G.D. (1996), "Environmental Concern and the Swedish Press: A Case Study of the Effects of Newspaper Reporting, Personal Experience and Social Interaction on the Public’s Perception of Environmental Risks," European Journal of Communication, 11, (1), 107-27.

Grendstad G. & Selle P. (2000), "Cultural myths of human and physical nature: Integrated or separated?" Risk Analysis, 20 (1), 27-39.

Strauss, A. & Corgin, J. (1998), Basics of qualitative research: techniques and procedures for developing a grounded theory. London: Sage.

Steg, L. and Sievers, I. (2000), "Cultural theory and individual perceptions of environmental risks," Environment and Behaviour, 32 (2), 250B269



Susanne Friese, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Lucia Reisch, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2001

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