Can Ethical Claims Promote Negative Impressions?

Abstract: Consumer research has demonstrated halo effects arising from advertising claims on food packaging (e.g., “organic,” “no cholesterol”) that promote misperceiving products more positively on other dimensions (e.g., low-calorie, low-fat). However, little research has explored the conditions under which such claims might give rise to more negative rather than positive evaluations. This paper highlights two domains of judgment in which an ethical or values-based claim (“organic”) can promote negative impressions. In Study 1, participants judged organic foods relative to conventional foods on healthfulness and expected taste quality. Results suggest that whereas organics are perceived as more healthful than conventional foods (consistent with previous findings), they are also perceived as less tasty, especially among participants low in environmental concern. In Study 2, participants judged the effectiveness of a formula drink intended to help alleviate malnourishment that was described as organic or not, depending on experimental condition. Results showed that participants high in environmental concern (who typically evaluate organic products positively) judged the drink more negatively (i.e., as less effective) when it was described as “organic.” Discussion focuses on possible mechanisms for these effects, as well as the moderating role of judgment type and perceivers’ values in halo effects more broadly.

Reference: Schuldt, J. P., and M. Hannahan (2013). When good deeds leave a bad taste: Negative inferences from ethical food claims. Appetite 62: 76-83. Available online at