Unhealthy Food

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Journal of Health Communication, 12:173–185, 2007
Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1081-0730 print/1087-0415 online
DOI: 10.1080/10810730601152755

Healthy or Unhealthy Slogans:
That’s the Question. . .
LEEN ADAMS
Department of Marketing, Ghent University, Belgium

MAGGIE GEUENS
Ghent University and Vlerick Leuven Ghent Management School, Belgium
An experiment was conducted to examine the effect on adolescents of different health appeals (healthy versus unhealthy) in ads for healthy and unhealthy perceived foods. The results did not reveal a main effect of product or slogan, but indicated a significant interaction effect between slogan and product. The healthy slogan only led to significantly more positive attitudes and purchase intentions when it promoted a healthy food product. An unhealthy food product received better results in combination with an unhealthy slogan than with a healthy one. This indicates that adolescents react better to ads in which the health appeal is congruent with the health perception of the product. Moreover, we took into account gender and health concern as potential moderators in the relationship between slogan and ad responses. Gender did not lead to different responses to healthy or unhealthy food ads, whereas health concern did interact significantly with the slogan type. Highly concerned adolescents responded more favorably to a healthy slogan in terms of attitudes. A necessary first step seems to be making adolescents more health conscious. A following step is to reinforce their positive attitudes toward healthy foods and turn these into real behavior.

In response to a growing health consciousness in adult consumers, companies started to position their products as being healthy (Byrd-Bredbenner & Grasso, 1999; Klassen & Wauer, 1990=1991). Recently, the food industry has expanded this health strategy to younger segments (e.g., Sultana cookies, Kellogg’s cereal bars, etc.). But how effective is this? The objective of the current article is threefold. First, we would like to explore how adolescents respond to healthy versus unhealthy perceived food products and to healthy versus unhealthy slogans. Second, we would like to find out whether the nature of the product (healthy versus unhealthy image) serves as a moderator in the reaction to health slogans used in food ads. And, finally, we are interested in personal variables, namely, gender and health concern, as potential moderators of the relationship between food ad and ad=product evaluations.

We thank Caroline Verdegem for her assistance in the library research as well as with the data collection.
Address correspondence to Leen Adams, Department of Marketing, Tweekerkenstraat 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. E-mail: Leen.Adams@Ugent.be

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L. Adams and M. Geuens

Processing of Health Claims
Previous research shows that promoting a food product as being healthy leads adult consumers to change their product beliefs. They perceive the food product as healthier, they generate more positive attitudes toward the product, and their purchase intentions toward the product increase (Andrews, Burton, & Netemeyer, 2000; Andrews, Netemeyer, & Burton, 1998; Levy, Derby, & Roe, 1997; Roe, Levy, & Derby, 1999). The perception and processing of new information (such as new advertisements and claims), however, depends on, among other things, (1) the ad characteristics, (2) the characteristics of the product category, and (3) individual characteristics (Andrews et al., 1998, 2000; Brucks, Mitchell, & Staelin, 1984). Ad Characteristics. Overall, health claims in food ads seem to generate positive outcomes, but the specific health claim type is also important to consider. Looking at the general and overused nutrition claims in ads (such as ‘‘healthy’’), we note that it appears that they do not always translate into more positive attitudes and could lead consumers to discount the nutritional information (Andrews et al., 1998,...
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