Deceptive advertising, or advertising that intends to mislead consumers by false claims or incomplete disclosure, is ubiquitous in the marketplace. Though prior research has shown that consumers generally view companies’ deceptive communication as unethical and react to it negatively, anecdotal evidence suggests that some consumers are more accepting of such misleading tactics than others. Delving deeper into this phenomenon, this research examines the role of self-construal on consumers’ responses toward deceptive advertising. Three studies provide converging evidence that interdependent (vs. independent) consumers are more tolerant of deceptive advertising, which is mediated by their attribution styles. Moreover, we further demonstrate the self-construal effect on lie acceptability decreases as the firm becomes smaller, when it is easier for consumers to pinpoint who should be responsible for the misconduct and thus are more likely to make internal attribution.
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Following Spiller et al. (2013), we further conducted a floodlight analysis using the Johnson-Neyman technique. This analysis revealed a significant negative effect of the dishonest ad on lie acceptability for those who scored 5.19 (B=−1.01, SE=.52, p=.05) or below on the self-construal scale but not for those who scored above 5.19 on the interdependent self-construal. These results confirm our expectations by demonstrating that participants with low interdependent self-construal were less likely to accept a firm’s dishonest ad.
We conducted an additional study to rule out alternative mechanisms (e.g., perceived controllability, perceived intention, sense of entitlement) as well as to examine the effects of other cultural dimensions (e.g., long-term orientation, power-distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity) on lie acceptability (see Appendix A in MDA for more detail).
Please see Appendix C in MDA for more detail.
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This research was supported by a Hong Kong SAR General Research Fund (HKBU12501617) awarded to the first author, the Start-up Research Fund awarded by Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, and Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (#JBK2001068; #JBK2107164) to the second author.
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The authors declare no competing interests.
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Sohyun Bae, Xiaoyan Liu and Sharon Ng contributed equally to this paper.
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Bae, S., Liu, X. & Ng, S. We are more tolerant than I: self-construal and consumer responses toward deceptive advertising. Mark Lett (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11002-021-09593-5
- Deceptive advertising
- Lie acceptability
- Causal attribution
- Firm size