Is There an Expected Trade-Off Between a Product’S Ethical Value and Its Effectiveness?: Exposing Latent Intuitions About Ethical Products

Michael Luchs, The University of Texas at Austin
Rebecca Walker Naylor, University of South Carolina
Julie Irwin, The University of Texas at Austin
Rajagopal Raghunathan, The University of Texas at Austin
This research seeks to demonstrate consumers’ intuition that there is an inherent tradeoff between a given product’s “ethical attributes” and the product’s effectiveness, or functional performance. Ethical attributes are those attributes that reflect a person’s conscience and which may relate to a variety of environmental, individual and societal issues. We demonstrate in our first two studies, using toothpaste (Study 1) and laundry detergent (Study 2) as a product context, that the “ethical = less effective” intuition is moderated by the degree to which the consumer believes that the focal ethical issues are important overall. Those consumers who place the highest importance on these ethical issues infer that these products will actually be more effective. This halo effect, however, disappears and ultimately reverses such that the less importance the consumer places on the ethical issues, the less effective they believe the product will be, i.e. products rated “superb” on ethical attributes were rated significantly lower in effectiveness than products rated “poor” on ethical attributes. We also intend to replicate these studies using a broad, nationally representative sample, as well as test moderators of the intuition such as self/other judgments and precommitment to the intuition.  
[ to cite ]:
Michael Luchs, Rebecca Walker Naylor, Julie Irwin, and Rajagopal Raghunathan (2007) ,"Is There an Expected Trade-Off Between a Product’S Ethical Value and Its Effectiveness?: Exposing Latent Intuitions About Ethical Products", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 34, eds. Gavan Fitzsimons and Vicki Morwitz, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 357-359.