Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Warnings of Adverse Side Effects Can Backfire Over Time

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Psychological Science 24, 9 (2013) 1842-1847

Warning that a promoted product can have adverse-side-effects (e.g., smoking the advertised cigarettes can cause cancer), should dampen its allure. We predict that with temporal-distance (e.g., the promotional-message relates to future-consumption, or was viewed some-time-earlier), this common type of warning can have a worrisome alternative consequence: presence (vs. absence) of the warning in a promotional message can ironically boost the product’s appeal. This is because temporal-distance evokes high-level-construal (per construal-level-theory), deemphasizing side-effects (a secondary-feature) and emphasizing message trustworthiness (a primary-feature, driven by presence-of-a-warning, per two-sided-communication-research). Four studies demonstrate this phenomenon, and support our account. For example, study participants could buy cigarettes or artificial-sweeteners after viewing an ad promoting the product. Soon thereafter, participants predictably bought less if the ad they saw included a warning. With temporal-distance (product-to-be-delivered-3-months-later, or choice-made-2-weeks-after-ad-viewed), however, those seeing an ad noting benefits and warning of risky-side-effects bought more than those seeing the ad noting only benefits.