If you read a number of positive reviews for a product or restaurant, one negative one might actually boost your regard, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. That is true as long as the negative information only creates a minor blemish and if you can't think deeply about it.
"Imagine that you are considering a new restaurant and reading reviews of it online," write authors Danit Ein-Gar (Tel-Aviv University) Baba Shiv, and Zakary L. Tormala (both Stanford Graduate School of Business). "Most of the reviews are very favorable: Great food, pleasant music, relaxed atmosphere. Then you come across a review that mentions that there is no parking nearby, a piece of information that is negative but not quite central to your value proposition for restaurants. How does this small dose of negative information influence the positive impression you have begun to form?"
The authors found that when consumers receive negative information after receiving positive information, especially if that negative information is relatively minor and just "blemishes" the product, it accentuates the positive information—if it's encountered after the positives and if the consumers are somewhat distracted.
In one study, the researchers presented consumers with information about a pair of hiking boots. The boots had many positive attributes (orthopedic soles, waterproof, warranty) but they came in a box that was slightly damaged. In another study, college undergrads were offered a chocolate bar on a hot summer day. The chocolate bar was a favorite and it was chilled, but broken in half.
The authors varied the amount of distraction participants faced. "Under low thought conditions—when participants were distracted or had fewer resources available for thinking about their decisions—we observed more favorable reactions to the products when participants received positive plus minor negative information rather than exclusively positive information," the authors write.
"In situations that encourage careful thinking, presenting exclusively positive information still does seem to be more compelling," the authors write. "But in settings that might make careful thought unlikely—as is true of most online ads—presenting some negative information has advantages."
Danit Ein-Gar, Baba Shiv, and Zakary L. Tormala. "When Blemishing Leads to Blossoming: The Positive Effect of Negative Information." Journal of Consumer Research: February 2012 (published online May 13, 2011).
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