Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Mortality Salience and Product Evaluation: Role of Self versus Loved Ones

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Mortality Salience and Product Evaluation: Role of Self versus Loved Ones

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Marketing communications can activate a consumer's thought about his own death, or the death of his loved one. For example, while watching a television ad for the Heart & Stroke Foundation, an individual may become increasingly aware of his own mortality if he has a heart condition, or he may become increasingly aware of the possible death of a loved one if the person has chronic heart disease. How the different death-related thoughts influence consumers' follow-up behaviour has not been fully disclosed in consumer studies. Past research has largely focused on thoughts about one's own death, which has been termed mortality salience (Greenberg, Solomon, and Pyszczynski 1997). Studies have shown that mortality salience may have two distinct types--namely mortality salience of self (MSS) and mortality salience of a loved one (MSLO), which can have different effect on consumer behavior (Wang 2015). In this research, we specifically examine the effects of MSS and MSLO on two types of product choices, namely social status choice and social experience choice. Here, social status choice refers to a choice whereby consumers' primary intention is to gain social status, whereas social experience choice refers to a choice whereby consumers' primary intention is to obtain social experience (Van Boven and Gilovich 2003).

We hypothesize and find that MSS individuals are more likely to favour social status choice options over social experience choice options; in contrast, MSLO individuals are more likely to prefer social experience choice options over social status choice options. We argue that a need salience mechanism may underlay these effects, such that preference for social status choice options are driven by the need for self-esteem bolstering, while preference for social experience choice options are driven by the need for social connection. Based on this mechanism, we propose that individuals' self-construal moderate the effect of type of mortality salience on type of choice. We test hypotheses in four studies, which also assess robustness of results across different product categories and measures of product evaluation.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

Mortality salience has been defined as an individual's awareness of his or her eventual death (Becker 1973; Greenberg et al. 1997). It has been researched to considerate extent in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and to a lesser extent, in consumer behaviour (Burke, Marten and Faucher 2010). Two underlying mechanisms have been proposed in past research to explain the effects of mortality salience, namely cultural worldview validation and self-esteem bolstering (Greenberg et al., 1997). Cultural worldview consists of shared beliefs about the nature of reality that provide meaningful explanations of life and the world (Greenberg, et al. 1997). Worldview validation suggests that when mortality is salient, individuals are more likely to express cultural values and engage in culturally prescribed behavior to buffer the fear of death (Greenberg et al. 1990). Self-esteem refers to a person's overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth (Hewitt 2009, 217-224). The mortality salience literature suggests that people are motivated to deal with death concerns by bolstering self-esteem from sources such as material possessions, physical appearance, and risky behaviors (Greenberg et al. 1990, Arndt et al. 2004). Notably, mortality salience has largely been considered as a single construct representing awareness of one's own death. Recent research has shown that there may be two distinct types of mortality salience, namely mortality salience of self (MSS) and mortality salience of a loved one (MSLO) which lead to different effects on certain consumption behaviors (Wang 2014b).

Type of Mortality Salience

In consistent with past research (Wang 2014a), we define type of mortality salience in terms of the person whose mortality is salient, the person being either the self or a loved one. …

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