Valéry Bezencon is a full professor of marketing at the Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Neuchâtel. The title of his talk is “Bad but ethical: The warm-glow power of ethical attributes for poorly rated products”.
Ethical attributes are common features of product offerings. The majority of research on ethical attributes has investigated their effect in different situations or compared the effect of products with and without ethical attributes. There is, however, limited knowledge regarding the incremental effects of ethical attributes as compared with other types of product attributes. In addition, no research addressed consumer response to ethical attributes in the context of product ratings, which is becoming a major source of information for decision-making. Across three studies and a replication (N = 2066), the authors show that ethical attributes have an incremental effect on product attitude and behavior compared to utilitarian attributes when the product is poorly rated. This incremental effect disappears when the product is better rated. The authors document a process by which consumers allocate more weight to ethical attributes than to utilitarian attributes when they evaluate a low-rated product. This weighting process leads consumers to anticipate more warm-glow feelings, generating better attitude and behavioral outcome. When the product has a better rating, utilitarian attributes get more weight in the evaluation process, which removes the incremental warm-glow effect of ethical attributes. The findings have implications for policy making, in particular on how to prevent unsubstantiated ethical attributes to be associated with low quality products.