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RESEARCH INSIGHT | Changing the Mind of an Anti-GM Consumer—Impossible?

The Research

Genetically modified (GM) foods have attracted a great deal of controversy: some consumers and organizations regard GM foods as safe, but many others remain concerned about their potential health risks. The authors find that consumers respond differently to persuasive messages according to their preexisting attitudes: weak anti-GM consumers tend to comply with a variety of pro-GM messages, but strong anti-GM consumers exhibit message-opposing behavior and respond just as negatively to a safety message (claiming that GM foods are safe) as to a risk message (claiming that GM foods are unsafe). The most effective message for these strong anti-GM consumers was a message emphasizing the nutritious value of GM foods.

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What You Need to Know

  • A message that GM foods are beneficial (e.g., more nutritious than their conventional counterparts) is a better alternative for strong anti-GM consumers than a safety message.
  • These findings can work in other contexts: Marketers can use these guidelines when crafting messages aimed toward convincing people staunchly opposed to their product, service, or idea.
 

Abstract

Genetically modified (GM) foods have attracted a great deal of controversy. While some consumers and organizations regard GM foods as safe, many other consumers and organizations remain concerned about their potential health risks. The results of three studies suggest that consumers respond differently to persuasive messages regarding GM foods on the basis of their preexisting attitudes. Weak anti-GM consumers tend to comply with a variety of pro-GM messages. In contrast, strong anti-GM consumers exhibit message-opposing behavior. Moreover, they respond just as negatively to a safety message (claiming that GM foods are safe) as to a risk message (claiming that GM foods are unsafe). The mechanism underlying these effects is consumers’ perceived health risk. A benefit message claiming that GM foods are beneficial (e.g., more nutritious than their conventional counterparts) is a better alternative for strong anti-GM consumers. Finally, the results suggest that persuasive messages do not significantly change pro-GM consumers’ evaluations of these foods.

Nguyen Pham and Naomi Mandel (2019), “What Influences Consumer Evaluation of Genetically Modified Foods?” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 38 (April), 263–79.