Tom Webster, writing and speaking

Morals, Ethics and Exclusion Heuristics

Added on by Tom Webster.

A fascinating piece of research on language and exclusion heuristics here: Green marketers should take cue from ten commandments. A pair of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of South Carolina have found that when choosing products to buy, moral reasoning factors into exclusion more than inclusion--in other words, consumers who want to 'act ethically' think more in terms of what choices they don't want (or 'shouldn't buy') than what they do want. Given that moral and ethical codes are generally based more on the "Thou Shalt Nots" than the "Thou Shoulds" this makes a great deal of sense. The study's authors go on to point out that marketers of 'green' and other ethical products should recognize this phenomenon, and encourage exclusion with phrases like "say no to wasteful cars."

If this holds true across a broad spectrum of ethics and beliefs, I wonder if it might not be more effective to replace "Made In The USA" with "Not Made In China?" Or "Locally Grown" with "Not Factory Farmed?" Or, even more broadly, when marketing products that have some kind of moral or ethical factor in the decision set, is it then more important to message what you aren't than what you are? I know a lot of Reis-and-Trout-o-philes that would take issue with that, but I'll reserve judgement until the full study is published. And, as always, this blog does not harm animals--why would you read one that does?