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Abstract

Research on the effects of ethical attributes has recently gained traction. However, limited research has addressed consumer response to ethical attributes in the current context where product ratings have become of primary importance to make decisions. Specifically, this study examines the relative effect of ethical attributes on product evaluations across different product ratings. Building on cue consistency theory and the negativity bias, we suggest that ethical attributes gain weight when consumers evaluate a low‐rated product. This process leads consumers to anticipate more warm‐glow feelings, generating better evaluations for such low‐rated products featuring an ethical attribute (vs. another type of attribute). Two experiments provide consistent empirical support for this prediction, and demonstrate that, compared to other attributes or no attribute, an ethical attribute increases product evaluations to a larger extent when the product received low (vs. higher) ratings. We show that this effect occurs because of warm‐glow feelings: when product ratings are low, consumers anticipate more warm‐glow feelings from purchasing a product with an ethical attribute (vs. another type of attribute), leading to better product evaluations. These findings have direct managerial and ethical implications for practitioners.

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