Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Positive versus Negative Word-of-Mouth: Effects on Receivers

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Positive versus Negative Word-of-Mouth: Effects on Receivers

Article excerpt


Recent research is beginning to place particular emphasis on investigating how receivers of WOM make use of it in their decision making. Receivers have been found to be selective in determining how much value they place on information gathered from WOM incidents and whether they will make use of it (Martin & Lueg, 2013; Sen & Lerman, 2007; Sweeney, Soutar & Mazzarol, 2008 & 2012). As such, identifying the factors that impact receivers' use of WOM and their conditions and boundaries is key to understanding how WOM functions and how marketers' strategies should be tailored around WOM.

A key feature of WOM impacting receivers is valence, which refers to whether the focal product is endorsed or eschewed by the sender. However, conflicting results abound as to whether positive or negative WOM information has a greater impact on receivers. Some researchers have found evidence of a negativity bias whereby negative WOM has a greater effect on receivers than does positive WOM (Arndt, 1967; Herr, Kardes & Kim, 1991; Yang & Mai, 2010), others have observed a positivity bias (Gershoff, Mukherjee & Mukhopadhyay, 2003; Kim, Sung & Kang, 2014; Skowronski & Carlston, 1989; Sweeney et al., 2012; Wu, 2013; Xue & Zhou, 2010) and still others have concluded that the type of bias present is contextual and not universal (Ahluwalia, 2002; Laczniak, DeCarlo & Motley, 1996; Kim & Gupta, 2012; Zhang, Ye, Law & Li, 2010). This research aims to shed new light on the effects of WOM valence on receivers in two ways. First, rather than examine the impact of valence on a review's perceived helpfulness (e.g. Gilly, Graham, Wolfinbarger & Yale, 1998; Kim & Gupta, 2012; Wu, 2013) or brand attitudes (e.g. Herr et al., 1991), this study examines the impact of WOM valence on a framework of receivers' use of WOM in their decision-making processes (Martin and Lueg, 2013; Martin, 2014). This allows for more precise examination of the underpinnings of the effects of WOM valence. Specifically, by building on this framework of WOM usage, the impact of WOM valence on both the antecedents and effects of receivers' use of the WOM can be surveyed. Second, this study investigates WOM incidents actually experienced by receivers, which may lend greater external validity to the results than the hypothetical scenarios frequently used in WOM research (e.g. Herr et al., 1991; Kim & Gupta, 2012).


Humans are more attentive to negative information and this information tends to be more heavily weighted in their evaluations of objects than does positive information (Ito et al., 1998). Some researchers assert that a negativity bias is present among receivers of WOM, arguing that negative WOM is more influential due to its reduced occurrence compared to positive WOM (Herr et al., 1991; Yang & Mai, 2010). Additional support for this explanation is based on the finding that individuals are generally more attentive to negative than positive information; the threat of a potential loss is typically viewed as more influential than the hope of a potential gain (Kahneman & Tversky, 1984).

Others, arguing for a positivity bias, claim that positive WOM has greater accessibility and diagnosticity than negative WOM (Showronski & Carlson, 1989). Information which is extremely positive appears to have a greater impact on consumers' product evaluations than does extremely negative information (Gershoff et al., 2003). Further, as there is indeed robust evidence that positive WOM occurs more frequently in the marketplace than does negative WOM (East, Hammon & Lomax, 2007; Naylor & Kleiser, 2000), consumers appear to often be persuaded to carry a positive attitude toward products in general. In accordance with social judgment theory, the greater potential impact of negative WOM compared to positive WOM may be more than offset by consumers' preexisting positive attitude toward the focal product (Peterson & Wilson, 1992). …

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