Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Cause Cue Effect: Cause-Related Marketing and Consumer Health Perceptions

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Cause Cue Effect: Cause-Related Marketing and Consumer Health Perceptions

Article excerpt

Many for-profit companies (e.g., Kraft, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Keebler, 5-Hour Energy) are partnering with health-oriented nonprofits (e.g., Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Susan G. Komen for Breast Cancer Research, American Red Cross) to make purchase-contingent donations. Companies use cause-related marketing to improve brand image and goodwill for their food products and companies. Prior research has examined how food-related cues can create consumer misperceptions; however, consumer perceptions related to corporate communications (e.g., the use of cause cues) has received little research attention. This research explores consumer reactions to cause cues and finds that adding a health cause to a food package significantly increases product health perceptions, and, usually, product attitude, and purchase intentions (i.e., the cause cue effect) in both a student sample (Studies 1 and 2) and an adult sample on Amazon's m Turk (Study 3). Implications for cueing and inference-making literature, and for consumer health, and policymakers are discussed.


Keebler introduced new cookie packaging that featured a logo for the American Red Cross along with a call to action to "give blood today." Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has featured a pink bucket of chicken and 5-Hour Energy a pink energy blend, with both brands donating a portion of the proceeds to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Similarly, Kraft partnered with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to put a "Kids Eat Right" logo on Kraft singles cheese products; however, this partnership was abandoned after nutrition experts argued that this effort would be perceived as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics endorsing an unhealthy product (Bunge 2015). These examples are representative of a much more pervasive phenomenon that puts consumers at risk. Many food companies are using cause-related marketing initiatives as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) effort to improve brand image (Connolly 2011). Unfortunately, when cause-related marketing initiatives pair a health-oriented cause with unhealthy packaged foods, there is the possibility of these goods being perceived as healthier than they are. This research seeks to understand how cause cues on food packaging that indicate purchase-contingent donations influence consumer perceptions, attitudes, and purchase intentions.


Review of Health Cue Research

A growing body of research has investigated various health cues and related policy implications to encourage healthy decisions. Recent research on health cues has spawned from the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 to determine the influence of package labeling on food purchase decisions (Silverglade 1996); see Hieke and Taylor (2012) for a review of prior research. The current research on packaging uses cueing theory, whereby a specific piece of information may manipulate or increase activation of knowledge to produce specific outcomes (Meyers-Levy 1989). More specifically, one of the most used cueing theories in the marketing literature, spreading activation theory, suggests that a cue activates a target which then causes a faster and more accurate response to the target and associated knowledge (Collins and Loftus 1975). In other words, a cue relating to healthiness activates information in the mind associated with health. In turn, the consumer may evaluate packaged foods while health cues are more available in their mind, which has been shown to lead consumers to perceive foods as healthier than they actually are.

Early health cue research focused on fat and calorie information as health cues. For example. Andrews, Netemeyer, and Burton (1998) found that food shoppers generalized healthy food traits (e.g., low fat) in an advertisement to other healthy traits of a product. Wansink and Chandon (2006) showed disturbing findings that placing a "low fat" label next to a bowl of M&Ms led to significantly greater consumption than when no label was present. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.