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Whoa! You're Scaring Me.

September 3, 2008  

Careful how you say that! When introducing a new product whose usage may involve a slight risk, research is showing that a positive message is paramount.

Many new products carry some degree of risk. For example, most new drugs are risky, as they involve potential short- or long-term side-effects. Or even a new sunscreen could irritate some people's skin.

But fear not: recent research is showing that how consumers feel about slightly risky products may depend simply on how the risks associated with using them are described.

  • One study found that consumers were more receptive to a risky product that claimed to prevent skin cancer when the ad focused on the benefits of using the lotion.
  • However, when another message focused on potential losses from not using the product, the response was noticeably cooler.

The authors propose that this effect is attributable to the fact that talking about the benefits of using a product (positive framing) puts consumers in a good mood, and makes them less pessimistic about the likelihood of risks befalling them.

That good mood may also make consumers actually more willing to tolerate some degree of risk—in order to obtain the product's benefits.

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