Consumer ethical judgement of threat appeals

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution



Existing literature tends to examine ethical judgement in organizational contexts (Trevino 1992; Jones 1991), or the connection between ethical judgement and consumers’ own ethical or unethical behaviors (Hunt and Vitell 1986; Vitell et al. 2016). These debates under-represent consumers’ perspectives (Shabbir et al. 2018). Thus, we focus on unpacking the interconnections between consumer ethical judgment, consent and context. We do so by using Miller and Wertheimer’s (2010) theory of consent transactions to explore how consumers judge the morality of threat-based experiential marketing communication campaigns. An understanding of consent in ethical judgement is needed, where consumers might experience visceral emotions through marketing communications without being fully informed, and where the moral beliefs of marketers and consumers might clash (Wempe 2009). Given that ethical judgement involves the degree to which something is morally acceptable to a consumer (Reidenbach and Robin 1990), lack of perceived consent can lead to negative consumer ethical judgement. Therefore, there is a need to explore how consumers judge threat-based experiential communications.

We examine how consumers judge the morality of such marketing communication campaigns in the context of horror film marketing, given the congruency between the genre’s threat appeals and the emotional responses horror communication campaigns elicit from their audiences, for hedonic consumption purposes (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982). The three-stage qualitative research included 27 participants and we used a thematic approach to data analysis (King and Horrocks 2010; Braun and Clarke 2006).

Our findings demonstrate that consumers can feel positively about being shocked, judging threat appeals as more or less ethical depending on the kinds of negative emotions they experience. Data also show that the intersection between ethical judgement, consent and context lies where perceptions of fairness and consequences lead to contextualized normative approval of marketing communication practice.

Our research makes three contributions to relevant literature. First, it extends theory in the area of ethical judgement, by focusing on the significance of consent for eliciting positive consumer moral responses to experiential communications. Second, this research adds to research on emotions in consumer ethical judgement (Singh et al. 2016), by determining that negative emotions can elicit positive consumer ethical judgement. Third, this research contributes an original perspective to prior works in marketing ethics by illuminating the criteria that can make experienced shock positive or negative, boring or risky.

Bibliographic note

Moraes, C., Kerrigan, F. and McCann, R. (2019) “Consumer Ethical Judgement of Threat Appeals,” 22nd Academy of Marketing Science World Marketing Congress, July 9-12, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK. This is an abstract that is due to be published in 'Developments in Marketing Science: Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science'.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDevelopments in Marketing Science
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 Jan 2018
Event22nd AMS World Marketing Congress: Enlightened Marketing in Challenging Times - University of Edinburgh, John McIntyre Conference Centre and South Hall Complex, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Jul 201912 Jul 2019

Publication series

NameDevelopments in Marketing Science: Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science
ISSN (Print)2363-6165


Conference22nd AMS World Marketing Congress
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Threat appeals, Ethical Judgement, Consent, Consumer Ethics, Advertising Ethics