Distrust Lowers Attitudinal Ambivalence: Why Watching Fox News Triggers More Extreme Product Attitudes

Anne-Sophie Chaxel, Yegyu Han, Dahee Han, and J. Edward Russo, 2019, 19-108-02

How does distrust impact consumer’s thoughts and behavior? Most research focuses on the targets of consumer distrust; this research looks at the downstream effects of evoking distrust.

Anne-Sophie Chaxel, Yegyu Han, Dahee Han, and J. Edward Russo propose the following:

  • A distrust mindset will induce consumers to activate opposite thoughts in a subsequent task. For instance, when evaluating a product they usually like (or dislike), consumers in a distrust mindset may think about potential reasons about why they should dislike (or like) it.
  • This dissonance – thinking about one thing and its opposite – will trigger more elaboration, driving consumers to think more in order to reconcile their opposing thoughts. This process of elaboration will reduce attitudinal ambivalence; that is, it will strengthen consumers’ existing product attitudes.
  • If consumers in a distrust mindset are unable or unwilling to think more deeply, they are left with inconsistent thoughts, which will increase their attitudinal ambivalence in comparison to a control condition.

To test their hypotheses, the authors ran four experimental studies. The first three supported their hypotheses. The last study replicated the findings in the more externally valid setting of distrust of a media source, i.e., Fox News. A commercial inserted after an extract from Fox News lessened consumers’ attitudinal ambivalence toward the advertised product, that is, it reinforced their preexisting attitudes towards the brand. Specifically, the commercial boosted the loyalty of actual buyers of the brand, but further decreased the likelihood of non-buyers of the brand to try the product.

Put into Practice

From a managerial perspective, these findings demonstrate that advertising on distrusting platforms will mostly reinforce consumer’s existing attitudes.

When brand advertisers can identify a platform whose patrons are mainly purchasers of their product, distrust should reinforce these consumers’ positive attitudes toward the brand. Further, by lowering attitudinal ambivalence, it may encourage chatter about the brand on social media by consumers who are already convinced of the benefits of the products.

For non-buyers, advertising on distrusted platforms will reinforce their negative attitudes towards the brand. This barrier may also be a challenge for new brands.

Anne-Sophie Chaxel is Assistant Professor of Marketing and Yegyu Han is a doctoral candidate in marketing, both at the Pamplin School of Business, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Dahee Han is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. J. Edward Russo is S.C. Johnson Family Professor of Management, Professor of Management and Organizations and of Marketing at the Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University.


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