Speak Slowly or Carry a Trusted Brand, says Professor Kenny Herbst

6.16.2011 Article, Faculty News, General

Hasty disclaimers can turn off consumers

Reposted from Canada.com PostMedia News | by Misty Harris

This exciting new product will make you look and feel 10 years younger. Side-effects may include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, rectal itching, homicidal urges, paralysis, the urge to listen to Celine Dion ballads, coma and death.

When it comes to disclaimers, content is king. But a forthcoming study in the Journal of Consumer Research finds the speed at which they're recited can be just as important, particularly with unfamiliar brands.

Across a number of experiments with more than 200 people, researchers demonstrate that when an unfamiliar or mistrusted company's end-of-advertisement disclaimer is read quickly, as opposed to a regular pace, it undermines purchase intentions. Listeners believe the brands are, quite literally, "trying to pull a fast one."

Notably, this effect occurs regardless of whether the information in the disclaimer is positive or negative. That is, the speed of the proviso appears to directly undermine buyer intent rather than prompt consumers to scrutinize the content more carefully.

If the brand is trusted, however, this effect disappears. The researchers conclude that motivation to evaluate an ad's trustworthiness is evident only in situations where consumers are presented with material from unknown or dubious organizations.

In other words, the precious seconds of airtime saved by a lightning-fast disclaimer come at a high price for fledgling brands.

"If you're promoting a brand consumers don't know or don't trust, use a slow disclaimer. Because consumers don't know whether they can trust you, you have to be careful to avoid seeming sneaky," says Kenny Herbst, assistant professor of marketing at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

"In contrast, if you're promoting a trusted brand, feel free to save time by using a fast disclaimer. Because consumers already trust you, you don't have to worry about them thinking you're being sneaky."

The implications of the study go beyond practical advice for advertisers. Herbst notes that policymakers, too, must consider the biases that disclaimer regulations create against new or struggling brands.

According to the findings, trusted companies could devote just 13 per cent of an ad's duration to a disclaimer — four seconds in a 30-second spot — whereas newer brands would need to allot 23 per cent of the ad's time: seven seconds in a 30-second spot.

"Regulation of disclaimer content but not disclaimer speed may systematically disadvantage some companies over others," says Herbst.

The study was co-authored by Northwestern University's Eli Finkel, Duke University's Grainne Fitzsimons — a Canada Research Chair — and Saint Joseph's University's David Allan.