How Encouraging Niceness Can Incentivize Nastiness: An Unintended Consequence of Advertising Reform
Minah H. Jung
University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business
Clayton R. Critcher
University of California, Berkeley - Marketing Group
June 9, 2014
Enacted in an effort to discourage negative political advertising, American regulations mandate that candidates endorse their ads (“My name is _____, and I approve this message…”). Field and experimental evidence converge to suggest that mandatory endorsements ironically incentivize (some) negative ads by enhancing their credibility, thereby boosting evaluations of the sponsoring candidates. We test when (i.e., for what types of ads) and why (by distinguishing six accounts) mandatory endorsements have this effect. Mandatory endorsements boosted evaluations of policy-focused attack ads — those that voters find informative if they can be encouraged to set aside their mild skepticism — but had no consistent effect on positive or character-focused ads. After ruling out four alternative explanations, we found clearest support that mandatory endorsements boost ads because of their legitimizing association with regulation, and weaker evidence that the specific endorsement language (“I approve this message”) also encourages confidence in ads’ believability. We compare these findings to previously-documented unintended effects of communications requirements and discuss new ideas for how to best promote the greater good by informing (without misleading) the electorate.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 46
Date posted: June 11, 2014 ; Last revised: January 4, 2015
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