Consumers frequently encounter claims in the marketplace that may be deceptive. For example, television advertisements tout the health benefits of cereal, salespeople state that their product is less expensive than a competitor’s, and pharmaceutical advertisements in physicians’ offices report low occurrences of side effects for medications. Existing research in marketing suggests that a consumer’s response to persuasion and potential deception will depend on the availability of cognitive resources to process claims made by persuasive others. Unfortunately, traditional behavioral experiments are limited in their ability to capture real-time processes and cognitive mechanisms that underlie consumers’ acceptance or rejection of such claims.
In an effort to explore these cognitive mechanisms, the authors utilize a combination of brain-imaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and traditional behavioral experimentation to gain insight into how consumers respond to ad claims that differ in how deceptive they seem. The studies identify two distinct cognitive stages that utilize different brain regions: an initial screening stage in which processing is directed toward highly deceptive material, followed by a verification stage for moderately deceptive claims. Together, these results support a cognitive framework called theory of mind (a theory that describes processes of directed attention and belief reasoning) and show how certain regions may help consumers recognize deceptive advertising claims. Surprisingly, the authors observe that advertisements that are perceived as moderately deceptive (somewhere between advertisements seen as “believable” and “very deceptive”) garner greater mental activation across both stages. However, the data from a second behavioral study suggest that when consumers have the time and resources, second-stage processing is not used to increase the persuasiveness of these “maybe claims” but instead leads to greater critical discrimination.
This research has several implications. While the data show that firms might be tempted to give their ad claims an edge by being a bit debatable or hard to believe, this is only likely to be a promising practice when consumers do not have time and cognitive resources to fully consider claims. From a policy standpoint, this research raises questions regarding the ability to mentalize about the intentions of advertisers or other marketers in situations in which trustworthiness must be assessed. The data here suggest that people facing limits in cognitive resources (e.g., through injury, aging) may be more at risk from deceptive advertising and that more research to assess this danger is critical.
Adam W. Craig is Assistant Professor of Marketing in the College of Business at the University of South Florida. He received his PhD in Marketing from the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina in 2011. He studies consumer behavior, social information processing, and decision neuroscience.
Yuliya Komarova Loureiro is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Fordham University. She received her PhD in Marketing from the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina in 2010. She studies emotion-related influences on consumer judgment and decision making, as well as ethics in advertising.
Stacy Wood is the Langdon Distinguished University Professor of Marketing at North Carolina State University. She received her PhD in Marketing from the University of Florida and studies consumer behavior as it relates to consumer learning, change, and innovation.
Jennifer M.C. Vendemia is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of South Carolina and is Director of the Center for Advanced Technologies for Deception Detection. She received her PhD in Psychology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and studies the mechanisms underlying deception.Journal of Marketing Research, Volume 49, Number 3, June 2012
View Table of Contents