Special Session Summary Cynical Consumers: Skepticism and Faith in the Marketplace

Christine Moorman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
[ to cite ]:
Christine Moorman (1998) ,"Special Session Summary Cynical Consumers: Skepticism and Faith in the Marketplace", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 215.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Page 215



Christine Moorman, University of Wisconsin-Madison

This session included three papers about the nature of skepticism and its antecedents and consequences. A discussion led by Valerie Folkes (University of Southern California) followed the presentations.

In "Triggers of Suspicion in Encounters with Marketers," KaRin Turner (Stanford University), Peter Wright (University of Oregon), and Marian Friestad (University of Oregon) began the session by suggesting that the activation of persuasion knowledge (Friestad and Wright, 1994; Wright, 1985) underlies consumer skepticism of marketers. They presented a framework that examines the cognitive and affective effects of the activation of different types of persuasion knowledge in advertising or sales encounters. The authors reported a series of experiments in which several hundred individuals were placed in situations varying in the levels and types of persuasion knowledge primings provided by prior exposure to messages. They examined the effects of those primings on the memory of and attitude toward persuasion messages. Results indicate that the primings from the prior stream of communications strongly influence encoding of tactics in a target ad and feelings toward that ad.

Kent Grayson (London Business School) and Sonya Grier (Stanford University) followed with "Altruism and Self-Interest: Consumer Evaluations of Socially Responsible Advertising." Their work examined why consumers are willing to suspend skepticism of advertising with a social dimension when intuition suggests consumers should respond with skepticism to such marketing tactics. Attribution theory predicts that consumers will rate campaigns they believe are internally-motivated (e.g., a manager’s decision) more favorably than campaigns they believe are externally motivated (e.g., a sareholder demand). Kent and Sonya also predicted that consumers would be less skeptical when they believed marketer motives to be non-economic or mixed as opposed to economic (Drumwright 1996). Findings from an experiment manipulating these two factors and measuring consumer skepticism involving 190 subjects suggest that attribution theory is useful for explaining consumer reactions to advertising with a social dimension. In particular, they reported that prompting consumers to make dual attributions (i.e. both economic or noneconomic motives), particularly skeptical consumers, may result in more favorable evaluations.

Finally, in "Is Skepticism Healthy?: How Market Interventions Influence Consumer Food Selections," Chris Moorman (University of Wisconsin-Madison) examined the impact of interventions to increase the level of truthful information in the marketplace (e.g., the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act [NLEA]) on consumer skepticism. She predicted that consumers operating in a more truthful information environment would be less skeptical of marketers and more confident in the marketplace. As a result, they would be more satisfied with their choices, but search for less information leading potentially to poorer quality choices. Results from a longitudinal quasi-experiment involving 1000 consumers within supermarket settings indicate lower consumer skepticism and decision quality levels and higher satisfaction levels pre-NLEA compared to post-NLEA. Skepticism also promoted more search and less satisfaction pre-NLEA but had no effect post-NLEA. These results indicate that making diagnostic information more accessible does not ameliorate all market inefficiencies. Market interventions need to also address consumers’ beliefs about markets and marketers.


Drumwright, Minette E. (1996), "Company Advertising with a Social Dimension: The Role of Noneconomic Criteria," Journal of Marketing, 60 (October), 71-87.

Friestad, Marian and Peter Wright (1994), "The Persuasion Knowledge Model: How People Cope with Persuasion Attempts," Journal of Consumer Research, 21 (June), 1-31.

Wright, Peter (1985), "Schemer Schema: Consumers’ Intuitive Theories about Marketers’ Influence Tactics," in Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 134, ed. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 1-3.