The role of ethical position and product knowledge in consumer ethical evaluations of advertising content

Jeffrey John Maciejewski, Marquette University


One venue of ethical inquiry concerning advertising content consists of the "dichotomy" between two content types: rational content, enabling consumers to make logical buying decisions and emotional content, rendering buying decisions irrational. Despite research on this content dichotomy, few studies have provided a theoretical foundation for the debate, addressed the morality of the dichotomy from a consumer's perspective, or discovered how moderating variables may affect consumer perceptions of rational and emotional advertising content. Given this paucity of research, the study asked the following question: How do product knowledge and ethical position influence consumer ethical evaluations of informative and emotional advertising content? To answer the question, a survey was administered to a sample of 400 university students that examined the ethical pre-dispositions of individuals and measured their level of product knowledge in an effort to determine how knowledge influenced ethical evaluations of rational and emotional ad stimuli. The ad stimuli were developed based on the results of a content analysis of 467 print ads sampled from four different magazines. The data supported a number of findings, each of which serve as contributions to the literature. First, the data suggested that individuals with opposite ethical ideologies evaluated the emotional ad stimulus differently. Moreover, it was found that level of product knowledge moderated the ethical judgments of some individuals in some circumstances. Last, it was found that men and women had profoundly different assessments of the sexual appeal used in the emotional ad stimulus. A number of avenues for future research are suggested, including experimentally manipulating ethical ideologies in order to strengthen the correlation between ideology and moral appraisals and repeating the study among practitioners.

Recommended Citation

Maciejewski, Jeffrey John, "The role of ethical position and product knowledge in consumer ethical evaluations of advertising content" (2000). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9991611.