How negative messages affect consumers


No saturated fat. Less filling. No MSG added. No trans fats. No sugar added…

Called negations, advertising messages that contain terms like 'not' or 'no' are meant to highlight some distinctive characteristic about the product being sold. How consumers process these messages is another story says an article in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Susan Jung Grant, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and her colleagues explain the focus of their research, stating, "product benefits are sometimes expressed as negations to differentiate a brand, as in 'no added sugar' or 'not difficult to use.' Given the frequent use of negations, it would be informative to examine how their use in advertising affects the learning of brand benefits and influences brand evaluations."

In fact, the researchers explain that consumers sometimes take more time to process negative messages, which leads to focusing on the root of the negative message rather than the negation itself. "For instance, when resources are restricted, a claim for a low-fat dessert that asserts 'less fattening than ice cream' might lead to an evaluation that reflects a belief that dieters should avoid the product because only the assertion presented in the message 'fattening [as] ice cream' is accessed, which is opposite to what was intended," note the authors.

Jung Grant and her colleagues explain that their "findings provide evidence that the processing of a negation follows a specific sequence such that the affirmation ("difficult to use") is elaborated first, and then the negator tag ("not") is incorporated in judgment."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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