How Does Perceived Effectiveness Affect Adults’ Ethical Acceptance of Anti-obesity Threat Appeals to Children? When the Going Gets Tough, the Audience Gets Going

Journal of Business Ethics 124 (2):243-257 (2014)
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Little is known on the appraisal of ethically questionable not- for-profit actions such as social marketing advertising campaigns. The present study evaluates the ethical acceptance by adults of anti-obesity threat appeals targeting children, depending on the claimed effectiveness of the campaign. An experiment conducted among 176 Belgian participants by means of an online survey shows that individuals’ acceptance of social marketing practices increases along with the claimed effectiveness of the campaign. As such it demonstrates that the audience adopts a pragmatic perspective, challenging the non-consequentialist stance of social marketers who refrain themselves from using these ‘questionable’ techniques although highly effective. The trade-off between ethical judgment and claimed effectiveness varies depending on whether the threats focus on the child’s physical integrity or social life. Individual characteristics such as parenthood and age also influence the relationship. All in all, it seems that people with stronger connections to the issue such as parents are more ready to compromise. These findings enrich our insights into consequentialism in social marketing campaigns, how people respond to controversial messages targeted at vulnerable group, and open new venues to social managers and public policy makers. Managerial implications and concrete advice on how to communicate with the various audiences are proposed, as well as suggestions for future studies.



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