Seize the Day or Save the World? The Importance of Ethical Claims and Product Nature Congruity

Abstract

Consumers have shown increasing interest in products that reflect social and environmental concerns—so-called “sustainable products.” Although consumers typically view sustainability positively, the ethical attributes of products do not always drive their preferences, which implies a trade-off between ethical attributes and other valued attributes. In the current research, we examine how consumers implicitly judge products and services that are more or less congruent with social and environmental concerns and how incongruity between ethical claims and a product’s nature may influence consumers to behave responsibly. The results from two experimental studies show that increasing the strength of ethical claims impairs sophisticated products’ evaluation but enhances simple products’ evaluation. Additionally, the findings reveal that the strength of ethicality on sophisticated products may impair perceptions of product enjoyment to a point at which products are evaluated more favorably when less-ethical claims are used to promote them. For managers, the results highlight an important business consideration, as they reveal the circumstances under which it is worth emphasizing the strength of the sustainability appeal of products or services. Results show that not all consumers are willing to sacrifice taste or quality in their leisure time preferring to seize the day rather than saving the world.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The results from the sample including participants who failed the manipulation check were similar to those when we excluded these participants: a significant ethical claim main effect for the product quality perceptions dependent variable (F(1, 207) = 21.76, p < .001), a significant product category main effect for the three dependent variables (product quality perceptions (F(1, 207) = 21.06, p < .001), enjoyment perceptions ((F(1, 207) = 10.51, p < .001), and WTP (F(1, 207) = 11.51, p < .001)), and significant ethical claim*product category interaction for product quality perceptions (F(1, 207) = 6.08, p < .05) and enjoyment perceptions ((F(1, 207) = 6.02, p < .05) also emerged in the full data set.

  2. 2.

    The results from the sample including participants who failed the manipulation check were similar to those when we excluded these participants: a significant ethical claim main effect for the product quality perceptions dependent variable (F(1, 146) = 42.93, p < .001) and a significant ethical claim × product category interaction for product quality perceptions (F(1, 146) = 2.52, p = 1), enjoyment perceptions ((F(1, 146) = 2.78, p = .09), and WTP ((F(1, 146) = 9.50, p < .01) also emerged in the full data set.

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Acknowlegments

The authors acknowledge financial support from the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT Portugal) through the Multi-Year Funding Program for R&D Units (UID/ GES/00407/2013) and the grant SFRH/BD68358/2010. We thank the support from Sofia Berto Villas-Boas. The authors gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments and suggestions from the editor-inchief and two anonymous referees on earlier versions of this paper.

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Correspondence to Vera Herédia-Colaço.

Appendices

Appendix A

Stimuli for the evaluation of products framed with high/low ethical claims—Study 1.

figurea

Appendix B

Stimuli for the evaluation of services framed with high/low ethical claims—Study 2.

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Herédia-Colaço, V., Coelho do Vale, R. Seize the Day or Save the World? The Importance of Ethical Claims and Product Nature Congruity. J Bus Ethics 152, 783–801 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3342-0

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Keywords

  • Sustainability
  • Sustainable consumption
  • Ethical attribute trade-offs
  • Hedonic enjoyment
  • Ethical advertising claims
  • Product congruity