New findings are in from the Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability (LOHAS) Consumer Trends Database: people pay more for 'socially responsible' products. They're more loyal, too. Ok, before you’re sent into shock over the possibility that thousands of years of human behavior have just been reversed, take a breath. The findings track responses to a survey about brands, not reality. So you can ignore it. In predictable fashion, the research asked 2,000 adults via the web about their feelings and intentions toward 'socially responsible' companies. 57% of the respondents said they'd 'feel more loyal to companies that are socially responsible.' 38% said they would 'pay extra for products.' These findings yielded a list of top-rated companies, and lots of interpretations on what it meant. What it meant, of course, is that companies should spend more money on social programs, and spend even more money on marketing them to consumers. The problem is that it's just not true. I'm all for companies tithing back to the planet and to the communities from which they draw sustenance, but consumers have never been willing to pay for it. Experience says that they'll ante up a few percentage points at most, and only if a product offers an additional functional benefit. Interestingly, just as often, they'll suspect that a 'green' product isn't as effective as the competition (and want to pay less for it). Folks won't accept much if any inconvenience in using responsible products, and don't go out of their way to find them. Socially responsible stocks don't do better than irresponsible ones. Charity doesn't pay, and it's not supposed to. Ranking companies on the marketability of good works is sort of gross, and so is asking people if they'll pay more for it, as if it should be a pass-through cost. Charity is something we expect every company to demonstrate in some way, isn’t it? And we want it bequeathed not just to far-flung, obvious sufferers who look good in good works ads, but to the employees and communities that help create the stuff we buy. Does Coca-Cola's Kenyan drinking water project make its brand more valuable, or make it more likely that more people in Iowa will drink Coke? The LOHAS findings say yes. And the hard-core 'deep green' market of <2% of American consumers might initially agree, although I bet most of them would find other reasons to disqualify colas as a food group entirely. The survey is an exercise in branding fantasy. The questions it asked people were no different than asking them 'should there be no more wars in the world?' or 'are you a good parent?' Forget research on social responsibility; the survey gauged political acceptable answers, and, as such, I'm surprised that more people didn’t say yes. Business and politics are full of examples of surveys that got one answer, and then shoppers or voters went out and acted differently. Personally, I'm a vocal supporter of ever-greater funding for public schools, but do I vote for every property tax increase when I can hide behind the booth curtain? Er, well... The DOHAS conclusions go on to suggest that people aren't aware of the socially responsible work that most companies undertake, and that this is a problem worth remedying. You can just imagine corporate branding campaigns intended to raise client rankings on what will obviously become an annual listing. In this sense, the survey itself is some very smart branding. Too bad it won't sell anything, except lots of marketing services. Let's hope at least it does some good in the world.