Special Session Summary Under Siege: How Consumers Respond and Marketers React to Negative Information

Jill G. Klein, Northwestern University
Baba Shiv, Duke University
[ to cite ]:
Jill G. Klein and Baba Shiv (1996) ,"Special Session Summary Under Siege: How Consumers Respond and Marketers React to Negative Information", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 456.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Page 456



Jill G. Klein, Northwestern University

Baba Shiv, Duke University

A well documented finding in the behavioral decision theory and impression formation literatures is the tendency for negative information to be weighted more heavily than positive information (e.g., Fiske 1980; Kanouse and Hanson 1972; Kahneman and Tversky 1979). However, the effects of negative information on consumers are not well understood. Further, our knowledge of how to effectively manage the impact of negative information is limited.

Negative publicity is becoming a major cause for concern among marketing managers as the ability is disseminate such information to large and geographically dispersed consumers is rapidly increasing. While research in social contexts suggests that a number of factors can influence the impact of negative information (Skowronski and Carlston 1989), little work has been done in the context of negative publicity concerning consumer products. This issue was addressed by the authors of the first paper, Jean Romeo, Marc C. Weinberger and David Antes. Their research develops a conceptual model based on risk theory as a framework for integrating and explaining the effects of negative safety information on perceived risk and brand evaluation. A factorial survey (conjoint) analysis was used to asses the importance given to news of potential product hazards. The effectiveness of company response to negative product information was also examined.

The use of "attack" ads by marketers has been growing in popularity both in political (Advertising Age 1987; Devlin 1993) and in consumer product contexts (Business Marketing 1992). However, research findings on the effectiveness of these ads is mixed. On one hand, there is evidence that negative advertising can effectively lower evaluations of the target of the ad (e.g., Homer and Batra 1994). On the other hand, Herstein (1981) and Tinkman and Weaver-Lariscy (1991) suggest that negative advertising can result in a backlash effect against the sponsor.

The second paper, co-authored by Jill Klein and Bridgette Braig, focused on these issues in the context of political advertising. They reported the results of an experiment that examined the relative impact of attacks on an opponent's morality or ability. In addition, their research investigated the effectiveness of positive, negative, and comparative advertisements. Their findings showed that morality attacks were more damaging to the opponent's image than were ability attacks. In addition, comparative advertisements were found to protect the attacking candidate from a backlash effect.

Another issue that we examined in the session was, "If negative advertising has deleterious effects on one's brand, how does the brand manager go about countering these effects?" Baba Shiv presented the results of a series of experiments he conducted with Julie Edell that focus on the effects of negative advertising on brand choice. They first investigated the effects of "attack" advertising on brand choice and found that the effects depend on how elaborate the processing is between ad exposure and choice. They then examined the viability of the "firing back" response (versus a positive non-comparative response) to an attack ad within the context of a "media brawl", such as the current on-air war between MCI and AT&T. Results indicated that a positive response is more effective than a "firing back" response only when the ad directs the consumer's attention to the tactics used by the initiator. Also, the findings suggested that a "firing back" response actually tarnishes the image of the responding firm.


Advertising Age (1987), "Negative Spots Likely to Return in Election '88," September 14, 70-78.

Business Marketing (1992), "Mudwrestling: Microsoft's Ads Highlight New Prominence of Negative Marketing in Business, Vol. 77 (September), 28-29, 32.

Devlin, L. Patrick (1993), "Contrasts in Presidential Campaign Commercials of 1992," American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 37, 272 - 290.

Fiske, Susan (1980), "Attention and Weight in Person Perception: The Impact of Negative and Extreme Behavior," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 38, 889-906.

Herstein, John A. (1981), "Keeping the Voter's Limits in Mind: A Cognitive Process Analysis of Decision Making in Voting," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 40, 843-861.

Homer, Pamela and Rajeev Batra (1994), "Attitudinal Effects of Character-Based Versus Competence-Based Negative Political Communications," Journal of Consumer Psychology, Vol. 3. No. 2, 163-185.

Kahneman, Daniel and Amos Tversky (1979), "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk," Econometrica, Vol. 47 (March), 263-91.

Kanouse, David E., and Reid L. Hanson Jr. (1972), "Negativity in Evaluations," in Attribution: Perceiving the Causes of Behavior, Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press, 47-62.

Tinkham, Spencer F. and Ruth Ann Weaver-Lariscy (1991), "Advertising Message Strategy in U.S. Congressional Campaigns: Its Impact on Election Outcome," Current Issues in Research in Advertising, Vol. 13, Nos. 1&2, 207-226.