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Promoting a Product’s Multiple Risks Causes People to Perceive It As Less Risky Says Marketing Study

February 02, 2017
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The laundry list of possible side effects that typically accompanies advertisements for prescription drugs makes consumers less concerned about a drug’s possible harm according to a new study from the School’s Department of Marketing. For instance, a drug with a potential side effect of seizures is viewed as less threatening if its smaller potential side effects – like fatigue and congestion – are also highlighted, the study found.

The research, published in the February 2017 issue Journal of Consumer Research, explains that the effect arises because people believe that larger outcomes are less likely than smaller ones.

“For example, people think that they are less likely to have seizures than to catch a cold, and are less likely to win an iPad than to win a T-shirt,” said researcher Uzma Khan, an associate professor of marketing at the School of Business. “Including smaller potential outcomes therefore makes the larger ones appear less likely in comparison and hence dilutes the overall risk perceived in a product,” she continued.

The research found that the effect holds true for other products with potential risks or rewards. For example, study participants considered travel insurance more attractive when it only covered serious injury than when it also covered minor illness like cold and flu. Similarly, people found a lottery more attractive when it offered an opportunity to win an iPad than when it offered an opportunity to win an iPad and other smaller prizes. Furthermore, people preferred a screen protector more when it protected only against large impacts than when it was advertised to also protect against small spills.

The research offers tips for marketers, advertisers as well as policy makers operating in risk oriented industries.

“If you want to deter consumers from engaging in a product or activity such as smoking, focus on the major risks rather than throwing in the kitchen sink,” Khan recommends. “Conversely, if you want to encourage customers to buy a product or partake in a risky activity, like a lottery or a promotion, leave out the smaller potential gains and focus on the large ones.”

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