Warning labels don't always have the intended effect. Sometimes, they encourage people to buy products.
Credit: Warning label image via Shutterstock
Could warning consumers of a product's serious side effects actually increase sales of that product?
A new study, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that consumers are more likely to purchase a potentially hazardous product if there is a delay between when they view the warning and when they decide to buy the product. That discovery, in turn, led to some surprising findings.
"We were struck by just how detailed, clear and scary many warnings had become with regard to potential negative side effects of products," said psychological scientist Ziv Carmon of INSEAD. "It then occurred to us that such warnings might perversely boost, rather than detract, from the appeal of the risky product."
In one experiment, smokers were exposed to a warning that linked smoking to lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema. The study found that smokers who purchased cigarettes a few days after seeing the ad actually bought more cigarettes if the ad included a warning.
Carmon explained that the psychological distance that occurred between the consumer's exposure to the ad and their decision to purchase the product made the side effects seem abstract. Consumers viewed the warnings as a sign of the company's honesty about the product.
Researchers also found that certain hazardous pharmaceuticals were actually viewed as more trustworthy if the participants were told the products were yet to be available on shelves.
"This effect may fly under the radar, since people who try to protect the public — regulatory agencies, for example — tend to test the impact of a warning shortly after consumers are exposed to it," Carmon noted. "By doing so, they miss out on the worrisome delayed outcome."
Carmon hopes to continue to bring greater attention to this issue.
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.