Certification Seals. The more, the better, or too much of a good thing?

The effect of the number of certification seals on consumers’ purchase intention and willingness to pay


Master's Thesis, 2013

228 Pages, Grade: 8.5 (out of 10.0)


Excerpt

Table of Contents

Preface

Executive Summary

List of Figures

List of Tables

List of Appendices

1. Introduction
1.1 The dilemma of brand managers
1.2 Research objective
1.3 Research relevance
1.3.1 Academic relevance
1.3.2 Managerial relevance
1.4 Research outline

2. Theoretical background
2.1 The role of certification seals as signals
2.2 The impact of multiple certification seals
2.2.1 The effect on purchase intention and willingness to pay
2.2.2 The mediating role of product quality perception
2.2.3 The mediating role of manufacturer conscientiousness perception
2.3 The impact of a product benefit claim
2.3.1 The effect on purchase intention and willingness to pay
2.3.2 The mediating role of product quality perception
2.3.3 The mediating role of manufacturer conscientiousness perception
2.4 The combined impact of multiple certification seals and a product benefit claim
2.4.1 The effect on purchase intention and willingness to pay
2.4.2 The mediating role of product quality perception
2.4.3 The mediating role of manufacturer conscientiousness perception

3. Methodology
3.1 Research method and general research design
3.2 Pre-test
3.2.1 Determination of research stimuli
3.2.2 Data collection pre-test
3.2.3 Pre-test results

3.3 Main Experiment

3.3.1 Specific research design and main experiment stimuli

3.3.2 Data collection main experiment

3.3.3 Measurement of variables

4. Research results
4.1 Sample description and data preparation
4.2 Data reduction and exploration
4.2.1 Establishment and purification of scales
4.2.2 Comparison of questionnaire versions
4.2.3 Comparison of demographics, psychographics, product usage behaviour across experiment groups
4.2.4 Comparison of main research variables across demographics, psychographics, product usage behaviour
4.2.5 Comparison of main research variables across experiment groups
4.3 Testing the Conceptual Model
4.3.1 The direct impact of extrinsic product attributes
4.3.2 The mediating role of product quality perception
4.3.3 The mediating role of manufacturer conscientiousness perception
4.3.4 The overall cause-effect chain from extrinsic product attributes to behavioural intentions
4.4 Additional research findings
4.4.1 The impact of extrinsic product attributes on taste perception
4.4.2 The impact of extrinsic product attributes on ‘Manufacturer credibility perception’, ‘Price perception’, ‘Organicness perception’ and ‘Amount of product information’
4.4.3 Additional qualitative results

5. General discussion and conclusion
5.1 Discussion of research findings
5.1.1 The impact of multiple certification seals
5.1.2 The impact of a product benefit claim
5.1.3 The combined impact of multiple certification seals and a product benefit claim
5.2 Research implications
5.2.1 Academic implications
5.2.2 Managerial implications
5.3 Research limitations and recommendations for future research
5.4 The more the better, or too much of a good thing?

References

Appendix

Preface

"Nicht nur Vortreffliches gilt es zu erzeugen, sondern auch zur Geltung muss es kommen"

(Max Eyth, Gründer Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (DLG) e.V.)

This Master thesis constitutes the completion of my Master studies of Marketing Management at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. It also means the end of my time as a student and thus assumes considerable importance in my journey through life. Writing this thesis was a challenging yet interesting experience that has fostered my personal development. After months of intensive research and field work it is my pleasure to present the end result and thereby to contribute to the body of knowledge about product certification.

This topic has sparked my interest because of both my personal involvement in sustainability, ethical conduct, and healthy food, and the rising relevance of certification seals as a marketing instrument in the recent past. I myself consider environmental protection, a responsible use of resources and a respectful treatment of human beings major societal issues and key challenges of today’s corporate world. In a world where natural resources are diminishing, pollution is constantly increasing, exploitation of humans is still present, and one food scandal follows the other, it is the duty of every individual as well as every organisation to make a contribution to a more sustainable and secure future. For individuals one way to comply with this obligation and simultaneously to reduce the risk of noxious food products is to consume responsibly sourced products from companies committed to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This, on the other hand, presupposes that organizations not only act as good corporate citizens but also communicate their sustainability efforts and trusted product quality to the public. Certification seals constitute one increasingly popular means to this end.

I would like to thank the people that have supported me during the creation process of this Master thesis. First and foremost, my thesis coach Dr. Johan van Rekom and my co-reader Dr. ir. Henk de Vries, who always had a sympathetic ear for my questions and provided me with valuable feedback and food for thought. My special thanks also go to my family for its continuous unconditional assistance and encouragement. Last but not least, I would like to express my gratitude to the management of the EDEKA Schwaben Center in Augsburg-Herrenbach for the permission to conduct my pre-test and main experiment in their supermarket branch, and the over 1,100 consumers that took the time to fill in my questionnaires and thus helped me graduate.

Rotterdam, August 2013

Stefanie Eimesser

The author declares that the text and work presented in this Master thesis is original and that no sources other than those mentioned in the text and its references have been used in creating the Master thesis. The copyright of the Master thesis rests with the author. The author is responsible for its contents. RSM Erasmus University is only responsible for the educational coaching and beyond that cannot be held liable for the content.

Executive Summary

The more, the better, or too much of a good thing?

This thesis is the first to investigate whether and how consumers’ purchase intention and willingness to pay for food products are affected by the number of certification seals and the level of pretension of a product benefit claim presented on the product packaging. Its objective was to find the ideal number of seals and level of claim pretentiousness where purchase intention and willingness to pay are highest and to give an explanation about consumers’ thought processes that may lead to this outcome. To this end, the role of consumers’ perception of the product quality and the manufacturer conscientiousness has been taken into consideration.

With reference to existing literature on product certification as well as concepts originating from human information processing theory and advertising research this study suspected that consumer attitudes and purchase intentions first increase up to a maximum point before decreasing again as the number of certification seals being employed simultaneously rises. The author furthermore hypothesized that consumers react negatively to a more pretentious benefit claim in terms of less favourable product and manufacturer attitudes and lower purchase intentions. The interaction effect of the number of seals and the pretentiousness of a benefit claim on manufacturer conscientiousness perception, product quality perception, purchase intention and willingness to pay was assumed to be likewise of inverted-U nature after the presence of a certification seal has offset the negative effect of a pretentious claim.

These hypotheses about the direct impact of the two types of extrinsic product attributes as well as additional hypotheses about the mediating role of product quality perception and manufacturer conscientiousness perception in the relationships between the extrinsic product attributes and consumers’ purchase intentions have been tested by means of a survey-based framed field experiment in a real-world retail environment. A factorial 5 (number of seals: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4) x 2 (claim: modest, pretentious) between-subject research design exposed 415 grocery shoppers over 18 years old randomly to one of ten different experiment conditions consisting of jars of jam of a fictive brand with a different number and combination of the four seals ‘BIO’ (German governmental organic seal), ‘Bioland’, ‘Demeter’ and ‘Naturland’, and the two organic claims “Simply organic” and “More organic does not exist!”. The selection of the seals and the claim pair was based upon a survey-based pre-test among 690 grocery shoppers above 18 years of age in the same shopping setting as the main experiment. The collected primary data has been analysed by means of multivariate Analysis of Variance and Regression Analysis.

The research results show that in the main a multi-seal endeavour is not effective in influencing consumer perceptions and purchase intentions - irrespective of the strength of the accompanying product benefit claim. All but one of the postulated hypotheses that dealt with the direct or mediated effect of the extrinsic product attributes have had to be rejected. According to this study, the optimal number of certification seals on a food product is zero.

As the number of certification seals on the product package rises, consumers’ manufacturer conscientiousness perception, product quality perception, purchase intention and willingness to pay do not first increase, reach a maximum, and then decrease - neither do they rise in an exclusively linear way. On the other hand, consumers do not react with less favourable product quality and manufacturer conscientiousness perceptions and lower purchase intentions to a higher level of claim pretentiousness. The relationship between the combination of the number of seals with the strength of a benefit claim and manufacturer conscientiousness perception, purchase intention or willingness to pay is not a quadratic relationship with a negative slope coefficient or a linear relationship either. The combination of an increasing number of seals with a puffed claim solely increases consumers’ perceived product quality, yet not in a quadratic but a linear way. Since the combination of an increasing number of seals with a modest claim does not achieve this outcome, a significant interaction effect of the number of certification seals and the pretension of a benefit claim on product quality perception occurs.

Mostly denying differences in consumers’ product and company attitudes as well as purchase intention and willingness to pay for a different number of certification seals and benefit claim strength, this study highlights the significance of a high manufacturer conscientiousness perception for the development of a positive product quality perception, as well as the significance of both a high manufacturer conscientiousness perception and a positive product quality perception for the development of an advantageous purchase intention and willingness to pay. These circumstances might lead to the result that the combination of an increasing number of seals with a puffed claim in the end exerts an indirect influence on purchase intention and willingness to pay via the linking element product quality perception. Moreover, the study demonstrates that personal consumer characteristics in terms of product and product category involvement as well as product purchase behaviour are more important determinants of purchase intentions than extrinsic product attributes.

Additional research findings are presented and theoretical and practical implications of this research are discussed.

Keywords: certification seal, benefit claim, signalling, consumer decision process, purchase intention, willingness to pay, product quality perception, manufacturer conscientiousness perception

List of Figures

Figure 1: Seal-like, manufacturer-made icons

Figure 2: Hypothesized relationship between Number of seals and Purchase intention or Willingness to pay

Figure 3: Hypothesized relationship between Product quality perception and Purchase intention or Willingness to pay

Figure 4: Hypothesized relationship between Number of seals and Product quality perception

Figure 5: Hypothesized relationship between Manufacturer conscientiousness perception and Product quality perception

Figure 6: Hypothesized relationship between Number of seals and Manufacturer conscientiousness perception

Figure 7: Hypothesized relationship between Claim pretentiousness and Purchase intention or Willingness to pay

Figure 8: Hypothesized relationship between Claim pretentiousness and Product quality perception

Figure 9: Hypothesized relationship between Claim pretentiousness and Manufacturer conscientiousness perception

Figure 10: Hypothesized relationship between the combination of Number of seals plus Claim pretentiousness and Purchase intention or Willingness to pay

Figure 11: Hypothesized relationship between the combination of Number of seals plus Claim pretentiousness and Product quality perception

Figure 12: Hypothesized relationship between the combination of Number of seals plus Claim pretentiousness and Manufacturer conscientiousness perception

Figure 13: Conceptual Model

Figure 14: General experiment groups

Figure 15: Possible certification seal candidates for the present research

Figure 16: Means of constructs ‘Familiarity’, ‘Trustworthiness’ and ‘Expertise’ per certification seal

Figure 17: Means of assumed seal content per certification seal

Figure 18: Means of additional seal perceptions and seal-related search behaviour per certification seal

Figure 19: Distribution of seal-related purchase behaviour and willingness to pay per certification seal

Figure 20: Means of constructs ‘Exaggeration’ and ‘Trustworthiness’ per benefit claim

Figure 21: Means of additional benefit claim perceptions per benefit claim

Figure 22: Specific experiment conditions

Figure 23: Main effect of Number of seals on Purchase intention compared to hypothesized effect

Figure 24: Interaction effect of combination of Number of seals and Claim pretentiousness on Product quality perception compared to hypothesized effect5

Figure 25: Evaluated Conceptual Model with rejected and sustained hypotheses

Figure 26: Commercially available organic yoghurt featuring six different seals or seal-like icons

List of Tables

Table 1: Level of education - Pre-test sample

Table 2: Descriptive statistics of structured product pre-test questions per questionnaire version plus t- test results

Table 3: Factor and Reliability Analyses - Certification seals

Table 4: Descriptive statistics of certification seal constructs per questionnaire version plus t-test results

Table 5: Descriptive statistics of certification seals per questionnaire version plus t-test results for construct ‘Familiarity’ (ranked according to combined mean, descending order)

Table 6: Descriptive statistics of certification seals per questionnaire version plus t-test results for construct ‘Trustworthiness’ (ranked according to combined mean, descending order)

Table 7: Descriptive statistics of certification seals per questionnaire version plus t-test results for construct ‘Expertise’ (ranked according to combined mean, descending order)

Table 8: Results Bonferroni post hoc test for difference in ‘Familiarity’ mean scores between seals

Table 9: Results Bonferroni post hoc test for difference in ‘Trustworthiness’ mean scores between seals

Table 10: Results Bonferroni post hoc test for difference in ‘Expertise’ mean scores between seals

Table 11: Ranking of tested seals according to mean ‘Familiarity’, ‘Trustworthiness’ and ‘Expertise’ (in descending order)

Table 12: Factor and Reliability Analyses - Benefit claims

Table 13: Descriptive statistics of benefit claim constructs per questionnaire version plus t-test results

Table 14: Descriptive statistics of benefit claims plus t-test results for constructs ‘Exaggeration’ and ‘Trustworthiness’ (ranked according to mean, descending order)

Table 15: Descriptive statistics of benefit claim pairs plus t-test results for constructs ‘Exaggeration’ and ‘Trustworthiness’

Table 16: Factor and Reliability Analyses - Main research variables

Table 17: Factor and Reliability Analyses - Additional variables

Table 18: Descriptive statistics of main research variables per experiment group and ANOVA results for comparison of means among experiment groups

Table 19: Overview of Multivariate ANCOVA results for ‘Purchase intention’

Table 20: Overview of Multivariate ANCOVA results for ‘Product quality perception’

Table 21: Overview of Multivariate ANCOVA results for ‘Manufacturer conscientiousness perception’

Table 22: Overview of ANCOVA results for ‘Willingness to pay’

Table 23: Overview Regression Analyses - Purchase intention

Table 24: Overview Regression Analyses - Willingness to pay

Table 25: Overview Regression Analyses - Product quality perception

Table 26: Overview Regression Analyses - Complete model ‘Purchase intention’

Table 27: Overview Regression Analyses - Complete model ‘Willingness to pay’

List of Appendices

Appendix A: Pre-test

A.1 Data collection pre-test

A.2 Questionnaires product name and label

A.3 Questionnaires certification seals

A.4 Questionnaires benefit claims

A.5 Representativeness of pre-test sample

A.5.1 Gender

A.5.2 Education - General school education

A.6 Answers to open-ended questions - Product pre-test

A.7 Descriptive statistics of additional structured questions - Certification seal pre-test

A.8 Answers to open-ended questions - Certification seal pre-test

A.9 Descriptive statistics of additional structured questions - Benefit claim pre-test

Appendix B: Main experiment

B.1 Labels

B.2 Original jam for experiment

B.3 Data collection main experiment

B.4 Stimuli rotation schedule

B.5 Questionnaires main experiment

B.6 Answers to open-ended question - Purpose of study

B.7 Representativeness of main experiment sample

B.7.1 Gender

B.7.2 Education

B.8 Descriptive statistics of experiment variables

B.9 Means plots main research variables per experiment group

B.10 Means plots of non-significant treatment effects

B.11 Scatterplots and curve sketching of relationships between manipulated variables and

outcome variables

B.12 Partial F-test for model comparison

B.12.1 Purchase intention

B.12.2 Willingness to pay

B.13 Descriptive statistics of additional experiment variables

B.14 Answers to open-ended questions

1. Introduction

1.1 The dilemma of brand managers

Consider a consumer standing in front of the jam shelf in a supermarket deliberating about which strawberry jam to choose. On approaching the set of options, the consumer notices that a dozen of different brands featuring different designs, sizes, prices and claims are available. One claims to be diet and low-calorie, another to be organic and of 100% natural origin and a third wants to be “The brand of the year 2013”. While the brand top right additionally carries the German governmental organic seal and the European Union organic certification logo, the one bottom left displays the Fairtrade logo. But wait, over there is a brand that shows the Demeter, the Fairtrade and the FSC seal.

Will the consumer choose the jam with the most certification seals, since it appears to be approved by several objective third-parties and therefore is likely to be a conscious product of good quality, even if the consumer does not know the brand? Or will she select the product with the certification seal that she is most familiar with and trusts most? Or will she, sceptical about the benefits of the unknown brand and the credibility of certification seals, in the end simply select the brand, which she knows from her childhood and which she has always been satisfied with, even if this brand does not demonstrate a seal?

This example about possible factors that could influence consumers in their purchase decision making process depicts a key challenge that brand managers of consumer goods companies face today. Responsible for marketing their company’s products in a way that most effectively attracts the attention and interest of consumers, and for positioning their employing company as a responsible corporate citizen, they have a full set of tools at their disposal - product statement, brand, package design, marketing communications, price, guarantees etc.

One tool that has become increasingly popular in the competition for market share and loyal customers in recent years, are product certification seals obtained from independent certifying organizations (Chen & Xie, 2005; Reynolds, 2007; Vertinsky & Zhou, 2000). Certification seals are marks that certify the presence or absence of particular product or service characteristics such as material, quality, accuracy, mode of manufacture, or origin, and that attest the compliance of the product or service with predetermined standards specified by a certifying organization. They can be used upon the products or services and in the communication of a party other than the owner of the mark (Taylor, 1958 citing ‘Public Law 489 (Lanham Act H. R. 1654), U.S. Statutes, 1946’). By getting acknowledgement for their products from nonpartisan institutions, companies expect to improve their corporate social responsibility (CSR) image as well as consumers’ attitude towards and confidence in their product - a fact that seems to be particularly important against the backdrop of a rising public concern about product safety and production practices caused by the accumulation of food and environmental scandals in recent times. Thereby, they hope to increase product sales and consumers’ willingness to pay (Kontogeorgos & Semos, 2008; Taylor, 1958).

Given the current proliferation of new certification seals and logos of approval in marketing communications (Fliess, Lee, Dubreuil, & Agatielo, 2007), it is important to understand the mechanisms behind certification seals and their effectiveness in influencing consumers’ perceptions and purchase behaviour. For marketers striving for maximal differential competitive advantage of their products and services over their competitors it is of great relevance to know whether engaging and investing in product certification is successful in achieving this goal, and if yes, how to capitalize on this opportunity. One central question that may arise in this context is which seal of approval among the continuously increasing pool of available seals to choose in order to best communicate the company’s intentions and reach optimal results. Do the obtainable certification seals differ in their popularity among consumers and efficacy and, if so, which are the most effective certification seals that consumers know best and trust most? A second question may be whether it is even more conducive to utilize more than one certification seal in order to translate the physical product attributes in such a way into perceived product characteristics that as many consumers as possible prefer the product over competing products (Trommsdorff, 2000). A multiseal approach - true to the motto “multa in multis iuvant” (lat. “A lot helps a lot”) - may help to increase consumers’ utility expectations from the product and to better demonstrate the superiority of the product over competing products. Several proofs of product excellence on the product packaging could be interpreted as numerous referrals from impartial third-parties (Chen & Xie, 2005) and thus constitute material arguments in favour of this product. Together, they may have the potential to more strongly differentiate the brand from rival brands, which nowadays often carry one official logo of approval or at least a seal-like, manufacturer-made icon as well (See Figure 1, next page). Along with the question about the usefulness of a multi-certification endeavour as a source of a unique selling proposition (USP) comes the question, whether consumers are willing to pay a price premium for products that are acknowledged by several certification bodies. Further, if consumers indeed should be found to have a preference for multi-certified products over noncertified products and products carrying a single certification seal, what is the root cause? Is it that consumers expect a product of higher quality, a healthier, a fairer, a more sustainable product, a product produced in a more environmentally friendly or conscientious way, or for any other reason? Last but not least, what consequences does product certification by several independent commissions entail for the other product marketing communication elements? Do a higher number of achieved seals allow a company to lay it on thick with regard to its product benefit claims? Answers to these questions would support brand managers in selecting the right marketing and certification strategy for their brands.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Seal-like, manufacturer-made icons

The academic literature on product certification, however, offers marketers little advice on the formulation of a successful marketing strategy that comprises third-party certification. To date, the effects of the simultaneous presence of several certification seals on the packaging of a product have not yet been investigated empirically. To the author’s knowledge, no research exits on how consumers process and use the information conveyed by multiple logos present on a product. Scholarly research on product certification is in general still scarce and previous studies have found contradictory results concerning the effectiveness of utilized third-party endorsement as a powerful marketing instrument (Botonaki, Polymeros, Tsakiridou, & Mattas, 2006).

Parkinson (1975), Kamins & Marks (1991), Van Ittersum, Meulenberg, Van Trijp, & Candel, (2007), for instance, found certificates to be effective in influencing consumers’ preferences for the certified brand. Likewise, did Fotopoulos and Krystallis (2003), Dewally and Ederington (2006), Jeddi and Zaiem (2010), and Van Loo, Caputo, Nayga, Meullenet and Ricke (2011) find consumers to have a positive attitude towards seals of approval and to be willing to pay a higher price for products with a certification seal compared to a product without seal. LaBarbera (1982) demonstrated the positive effect of seals on the reputation of companies unfamiliar to consumers, while Janssen and Hamm (2012) verified their ability to gain customer trust.

On the other hand, Beltramini and Stafford (1993), Bonnet and Simioni (2001), Rayner, Boaz and Higginson (2001) and Botonaki et al. (2006), among others, did not award seals of approval the ability to positively influence consumers’ attitude towards the seal carrying product or the respective company and hence to impact purchase intentions. A recent study by Binnekamp and Ingenbleek (2008), for instance, showed that consumers are in general not impressed by sustainability certification seals as “emotions are turned off” during the purchasing process what makes them immune for emotional claims and increases the importance of price for the purchase decision. Moreover, according to Parkinson (1975), Laric and Sarel (1981), Beltramini and Stafford (1993), and Van Ittersum et al. (2007), consumers sometimes tend to interpret certification logos differently than intended by the producer and attribute more meaning to them than justified as they lack precise understanding of their actual meaning (Grunert, 2005; Janssen & Hamm, 2012).

More recent field studies about the effects of certification seals, partly in combination with other quality signals, such as product claims, price, warranties or a money-back-guarantee, (e.g. Van der Sande, 2012; Van de Wolfshaar, 2012; Van Diepen, 2010; Van Waes, 2012; Wesselman, 2012), tried to address this lack of evidence in the current marketing literature and to provide deeper insight on how certification seals may work and what role they may play in the consumer decision making process. Since their results, however, varied in part, further research is needed in order to truly understand the relationship between the relevant factors.

1.2 Research objective

Here the present research steps in. Its objective is both to validate the findings of previous studies and reconcile opposing outcomes as well as to extend former research by increasing the number of certification seals simultaneously present on a food product stimulus. This study primarily examines to what extent the number of seals affects the purchase intention and willingness to pay of consumers and aims to find the optimal number of seals where purchase intention and willingness to pay are maximal. A further issue of investigation is, to what extent product benefit claims with different levels of pretension may interfere with these effects and alter the results. Finally, the study intends to shed light on the cognitive mechanism that may cause the impact on purchase intention and willingness to pay. Specifically, it considers if the perception of the quality of a product and the image of a company’ operating principle play a mediating role in these relationships.

Thus, the key research question this study addresses is:

Is there an optimal number of certification seals on the packaging of an unknown food product that maximizes consumers’ purchase intention and willingness to pay?

In addition, answers to the following auxiliary questions are sought:

1) To what extent does this number depend on the strength of an accompanying product benefit claim?
2) Does consumers’ product quality perception mediate the effects of (a) the simultaneous presence of several certification seals, (b) the strength of the product benefit claim and (c) the interaction between these two on their purchase intention and willingness to pay?
3) Does consumers’ manufacturer conscientiousness perception mediate the effects of (a) the simultaneous presence of several certification seals, (b) the strength of the product benefit claim and (c) the interaction between these two on their product quality perception?

1.3 Research relevance

1.3.1 Academic relevance

By investigating the effects of a combination of several certification seals together with other marketing measures such as different benefit claims on consumer attitudes and behaviours, the present study takes the existing academic knowledge about certification seals of approval a step further. It provides scholars in this field of research a clearer understanding of how multiple logos of approval on the product package are interpreted and accepted by consumers. By deliberately carrying the application of certification seals on the product package to extremes, this study shows whether one can successfully bring the usage of certification seals to a head or whether an excessive certification strategy can backfire. At the same time it helps academics to appraise the validity of previous research about product certification and to put earlier research results into perspective.

What is more, if certification seals should indeed be found to be an effective marketing tool, they should assume greater significance in marketing teaching and from now on also be covered in brand management lectures at universities.

Moreover, this study not only makes a significant contribution to the current literature on certification, it may also add useful findings to the research on human information processing in the field of cognitive psychology research. By providing insights on the amount and type of product information that consumers take into account for their decision-making process, it amends the understanding of information integration processes and cognitive mechanisms in the human brain.

1.3.2 Managerial relevance

Empirical evidence about consumers’ reaction to multiple seals and different types of benefit claims can assist marketing decision makers in selecting the most effective marketing strategy to communicate product quality and superiority as well as corporate social responsibility. Whilst demonstrating what effects the number of certification seals and the pretentiousness of a product benefit claim have on consumers’ product and company perceptions as well as buying behaviour related intentions, the study at hand shows whether a multi-seal strategy is worth pursuing and advises companies on the right balance of labelling and signalling to distinguish their products. Knowing whether the utilization of multiple seals of approval in their marketing programmes is advantageous for achieving the company’s business ends adds to marketing managers’ confidence in an engagement in product certification. It might be of great relevance for companies to learn whether the associated investments are justified by an enhanced ability to serve the market and to meet the growing demand for quality guarantees and additional information about product characteristics and production method that arose as a consequence of various major food crises and manufacturing scandals over the last decade (Rozan, Stenger, & Willinger, 2004; Ureña, Bernabéu, R., & Olmeda, 2008). Learning whether certification by several non-partisan institutions enables them to capitalize on the consumer trend towards more conscious and sustainable consumption (Rundschau für den Lebensmittelhandel, 2013) might be of interest to most organisations. Moreover, knowledge about which combination of the number of seals and the benefit claim strength is preferred by consumers and leads to the best business results helps companies to optimize their certification strategy and to design marketing tactics which highly appeal to consumers. In this way, marketing communication costs can be reduced while consumer benefit from ease of information evaluation and purchase decision-making can simultaneously be enhanced. In this sense, making optimal use of product certification is not only beneficial for producers of established brands who aim to increase derived demand or reverse a declining demand effect concerning their products by subsequently seeking certification; it is also particularly important for producers of new brands as it may help to overcome buyer resistance to unknown products.

In addition to manufacturing companies, answers to the research questions of this study are also relevant for organizations owning a labelling scheme and retailers. Insights into the impact of a combination of certification seals on consumers may provide the owners of a labelling scheme with guidance for the formulation of usage guidelines for their label in conjunction with other labels and encourage collaboration among certifying institutions. Retailers can benefit from the findings of this research in the form of valuable information for their product assortment management and shelf layout presentation task.

1.4 Research outline

The thesis at hand consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 provided an introduction into the research topic of this thesis by specifying the research problem and objective and highlighting the academic and managerial relevance of this study. In the following five chapters, the research objective is tackled and answers to the research questions are delivered. In the next chapter, the existing literature on product certification and related disciplines is reviewed in order to provide a theoretical basis for the development of the Conceptual Model of this study. Chapter 3 describes the methodology employed to investigate the propositions in the Conceptual Model, including details about the conducted pre-test and main experiment setup. The results of this empirical research are reported in chapter 4. The fifth and final chapter discusses the research findings, explains research implications, indicates limitations of the research, and finally gives recommendations for future research.

2. Theoretical background

This chapter is dedicated to a review of past research in order to set up a theory about consumers’ reaction to a product exhibiting more than one certification seal and a benefit claim with a varying level of puffery. It is organized in the following manner: It begins with an explanation of the signalling role of certification seals in section 2.1. In sections 2.2 to 2.4 the author’s hypotheses about the impact of multiple certification seals, different benefit claims, and their interplay on consumer purchase intention and willingness to pay as well as the hypotheses about the mediation role of product quality perception and manufacturer conscientiousness perception for these relationships that were derived from existing literature are put forward. At the end of the chapter, the Conceptual Model for this research, which summarizes all hypotheses, is outlined.

2.1 The role of certification seals as signals

Certification seals are one important source of product information for consumers (Parkinson, 1975) and are designed to support consumers in their buying process (Taylor, 1958; Van Trijp, Steenkamp, & Candel, 1996). The function of certification marks is to provide consumers with objective and dependable information about the characteristics of a product and in this way to help consumers in overcoming some of the difficulties of product selection that result from asymmetric information between consumer and manufacturer (Parkinson, 1975; Taylor, 1958).

Information asymmetry is a phenomenon that characterizes most markets and causes a serious dilemma for consumers (Connelly, Certo, Ireland, & Reutzel, 2011; Gao & Scorpio, 2011; Kirmani & Rao, 2000; Mayzlin & Shin, 2011). Whereas the seller knows well about the nature of his or her products and the manner in which they were produced, the buyer often lacks information about the intrinsic product attributes because he or she might have never tried the product before or the intangible attribute is unnoticeable (Hakenes & Peitz, 2009). Normally, the buyer consequently has to base his or her purchase decision on the information he or she receives from the seller and thereby rely on the propositions of the latter (Mitchell, 1978). The uncertainty about the correctness of these promises that this dependence of the consumer on the seller entails constitutes the essence of the Principal-Agent Problem (Pavlou, Liang, & Xue, 2007; Ross, 1973). The consumer, in the role of the principal, cannot be sure that the manufacturer, holding the role of the agent, acts sincerely and in the best interest of the consumer. The consumer has to fear opportunistic behaviour and fraud on the part of the producer (King, Lenox, & Terlaak, 2005; Pavlou et al., 2007). Due to this apprehension of a potential conflict of interests agency costs emerge (Jensen & Meckling, 1976). According to the definition of Jensen and Meckling (1976) agency costs are the sum of (1) the expenditures the principal incurs in order to make sure that the agent complies to his or her interests (incentive and monitoring costs), (2) the expenses the agent undertakes to affirm his or her obedience to the principal‘s interests (bonding costs), and (3) the “residual loss” which corresponds to the monetary reduction in the principal’s welfare that results from the divergence between the agent’s decisions and the decisions which would maximize the welfare of the principal.

Of special interest for the present study, is the second component of agency costs as defined by Jensen and Meckling (1976) - the bonding costs. In order to reduce the information imbalance in the consumer-manufacturer relationship and the risk related to product evaluations on the part of the consumer, the manufacturer can engage in activities that signal his or her sincerity and the correctness of his or her propositions (Helm & Mark, 2007; Miyazaki, Grewal, & Goodstein, 2005; Priest, 1981). In the context of grocery shopping, signalling activities are activities that use visible product feature and observable company practices to convey undetectable product features (Kirmani & Rao, 2000; Taylor, 1958). By providing the consumer with some kind of surrogate information (Olshavsky, 1985; Zeithaml, 1988), the manufacturing company hopes to prompt the consumer to draw favourable inferences about the unobservable product attributes, such as product quality, and to positively influence consumers’ product and company perceptions as well as purchase intentions (Kirmani & Rao, 2000). Examples of signals common in the consumer goods context are brand name (Rao & Monroe, 1989) price (Milgrom & Roberts, 1986; Monroe, 1976), warranty (Boulding & Kirmani, 1993; Davis, Eitan, & Hagerty, 1995; Grossman, 1981; Suwelack, Hogreve, & Hoyer, 2011), advertising (Ippolito, 1990; Mayzlin & Shin, 2011) or country-of-origin (Verlegh & Steenkamp, 1999).

Similar to these signals controlled by the manufacturer, certification seals granted by non-partisan associations represent a signal to consumers that the product lives up to its promises and conforms to legal requirements (Taylor, 1958). In as much as the third-party endorsement cannot occur before certain predetermined standards have verifiably been fulfilled (Harbaugh, Maxwell, & Roussillon, 2011). Moreover, due to the bonding mechanism that is inherent to certification seals, companies are likely to deliver what they claim (Ippolito, 1990; Boulding & Kirmani, 1993) because a forfeiture of the seal as consequence of not having met the standards of the seal would be costly for the company; not only in monetary terms due to legal consequences but also in terms of a reputational damage to the company and its brand, which in turn might put future product revenues at risk (Sorescu, Shankar, & Kushwaha, 2007). Both the objectivity and the risk for the manufacturer that are associated with seals of approval may make them an especially credible and powerful signal for gaining consumer trust (Roe & Sheldon, 2007), solving the problems of asymmetric information, and helping consumers to make an informed product choice (Helm & Mark, 2007).

2.2 The impact of multiple certification seals

2.2.1 The effect on purchase intention and willingness to pay

In his pioneering research into the area of third-party certification Parkinson (1975) found that certification seals influence consumers’ brand choice. Several years later Kamins and Marks (1991) and Van Ittersum et al. (2007) found that third-party certification is effective in increasing purchase intention, that is the inclination to buy or at least try to buy a specific product (Baker & Churchill, 1977; Putrevu & Lord, 1994). Being seen as a signal employed by the manufacturer to demonstrate the excellence and superiority of the product over competing products, a certificate increases the probability of purchase. Existing studies, however, are limited to the investigation of the effects of a single seal on the product package. They do not treat the simultaneous depiction of several seals.

Facing the lack of academic publications on the influence of multiple seals of approval, the first question becomes where to begin with finding indications for putting forward appropriate hypotheses about this topic. The search for an optimal number of seals that maximizes consumers’ purchase intention and willingness to pay starts with the assumption that the mere number of seals makes a difference at all. As mentioned in the introduction section, multiple seals may have a stronger capability to accomplish psychological product differentiation of otherwise nearly homogeneous products (Trommsdorff, 2000), and thus to attain consumer preference for the respective multi-seal carrying product. In addition, a larger number of seals on the product package may increase the visual prominence of the product, and thus heighten the likelihood that shoppers pick this product from the shelf (Imram, 1999). Several studies found that response time latency one of the most commonly used measures for visual attention to visual cues - was lower when a label was present vs. absent and equally lower when two labels were present instead of one (Bundesen, 1990; Duncan & Humphreys, 1989; Treisman & Gelade, 1980; Yantis, 2000). Although the result is dependent on the target group and the specific context, it might serve as an indication that consumers, especially under time constraint, could select products with several seals due to their salience. This outcome, however, stands in contrast to the study of Bialkova and Van Trijp (2010), which found no statistical difference in performance between the one vs. two logo condition. One possible explanation for this lack of impact could be that consumers have lexicographic preferences. In other words, as long as their preferred certification seal is present on the product, it does not matter for them how many other seals are additionally present. Only when there should be a tie between different product offerings, consumers will start taking into account the other seals (Fishburn, 1975).

Assuming that the number of seals matters, a next issue is in what way it matters. In other words, what is the underlying pattern of the relationship between the number of seals simultaneously present on a food product and consumers’ response? Do consumers maybe (unconsciously) add up the value they assign to each seal individually to arrive at the final value they ascribe to the combine of seals and consequently the entire product? Or do they average the specific merits of all seals employed analogous to their evaluation of co-brands which is likely to be an average of their attitudes towards the involved parent brands according to the Cognitive Consistency Theory (Levin, Davis, & Levin, 1996)? Is the overall appraisal of a combination of seals higher than each seal’s individual assessment, lower or the same? A first intuition with regard to the research question about an optimal number of certification seals might be to assume that each stimulus has a value and that the overall evaluation of a combination of stimuli is obtained by combining these values by certain rules (Anderson, 1965). Two obvious combination rules are adding or averaging the stimulus values (Anderson, 1965). While the former implies either a proportional relationship between the number of seals used simultaneously and the resulting effect - “the whole is the sum of its parts” - or an over-proportional relationship - “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” -, the latter denotes either an under-proportionate relationship or even a diminishing relationship (depending on the perspective of the change). Whereas Anderson (1965) suggests an adding method for judgments of “collections or bundles of objects” for which even a slightly valued object would increase the value of the bundle, he proposes an averaging approach for judgments of “single more or less definite objects”. To which category certification seals belong to, has, however, not been researched yet. It could be that an information spill-over from one seal to another seal takes place (Harbaugh et al., 2011). If this would be the case, the “weaker” seal would gain in favourability from the “stronger” seal, thus leading to a higher combined value for both seals than the sum of the values of each individual seal. On the other hand, an averaging bias on the part of the consumers known from consumer behaviour research could be possible as well. In their experiment, Chernev and Gal (2010), for example, found that participants who had to estimate calories for a dish consisting of a double steak burger and a broccoli side dish underestimated the calories contained in the entire dish in a holistic evaluation situation. Whereas, when asked to estimate the overall calories of all individual meal items in a piecemeal fashion, their evaluations came close to reality. Similarly, consumers possibly underrate the value embodied in a combination of two or more seals, when they assess the seals as a compound compared to the situation when they appraise each seal separately. For this reason, it is of great importance for marketing decision makers and researchers alike to know in which manner consumers assess certification seals in order to establish a law.

Moreover, while it might seem logical at first glance to believe that using more seals offers companies a better way to demonstrate their excellence, label confusion and accompanied reduction in the informativeness of labelling could reduce the value of a multi-seal strategy to firms and the incentive to be certified (Harbaugh et al., 2011). Harbaugh et al. (2011) suggest that, when uncertain about the meaning of different certificates and the rigor of their standards, consumers tend to believe the product only having met the lowest of the different standards, even if it has also met a higher one. In this case, displaying several seals would be counterproductive. This view is supported by Fishman and Hagerty (1990) who refer to a lexicographic equilibrium. Releasing a second favourable signal after having released a first signal that is favourable in accordance with a set order anticipated by receivers, is said to be evidence that the first signal was not favourable.

On the supposition that utilizing numerous certification logos in a company’s product communication is initially advantageous, are there any limitations to this strategy? Space limitations on the product may limit the number of seals that can be displayed without risking an information overload on the part of the consumer (Verbeke & Ward, 2006). Just as too many product features can make a product overwhelming and difficult to use for consumers (Thompson, Hamilton, & Rust, 2005), too much or irrelevant label information may cause ignorance, boredom or impatience on the part of consumers, deterring them from choosing the product (Verbeke & Ward, 2006; Grunert & Wills, 2007). In accordance with Miller’s theory (1956), limitations in human cognitive capacity may cause consumers to use only part of the available information when making their purchase decisions (Héroux, Laroche, & McGown, 1987; McGuire, 1976; Verbeke & Ward, 2006). Especially for low involvement food products, opportunity costs of information processing are likely to exceed the expected marginal benefit (Verbeke & Ward, 2006). Héroux et al. (1987) summarized the underlying rule for the amount of information recalled as the amount of information on a product label increases in an inverted-U relationship. Similarly, in the context of advertising, Kirmani (1997) proposed an inverted-U relationship between advertising repetition and consumers’ product quality perception or purchase intention. While repetition initially increases consumers’ product quality perception - due to the fact that repetition is seen as costly and as a signal of the company’s commitment to the product -, excessive repetition beyond a certain level is said to evoke consumers’ doubt about the company’s confidence in its own product quality.

By analogy with these phenomena in consumer psychology and advertising research, this study suspects a quadratic relationship with a negative slope coefficient between the number of certification seals being employed simultaneously and consumers’ purchase intention as well as between the number of seals and consumers’ willingness to pay.

The reason to believe that consumers’ purchase intention increases up to some point when more seals are present on the packaging of a product, is that consumers may associate greater manufacturer effort and higher manufacturer confidence in the product with a multi-certification endeavour. Since getting certification from independent certification associations is costly - not so much with regard to money, but rather with respect to effort and time -, only companies that are confident in their product excellence and in recouping their upfront investment in the long run are likely to incur these costs. However, beyond some critical point, the effort undertaken by the company to prove the utility of its products with the help of numerous seals may be seen as a sign of desperation (Kirmani, 1997). Wondering about the motives of the company for trying so hard to get them to purchase the product, they may question the value of the product and the credibility of the company, and consequently be reluctant to buy the product. If Hoeffler and Keller (2003) are to be believed, consumers are more likely to react negatively to advertising repetition with unknown as opposed to strong brands. It would be interesting to know whether the same applies to a multiseal strategy with an unknown (versus a strong) brand, so that that the maximal purchase intention is reached fast, that is already at a small number of seals. This line of reasoning is conceptualized in the following hypothesis:

H1a: The relationship between the number of certification seals simultaneously present on the packaging of an unknown food product and consumers’ purchase intention is a quadratic function of the following shape:

Purchase intention = - β1*(x - z1)2 + t1 (1a)

whereby x denotes the number of certification seals, β1 the slope coefficient of the parabola, z1 the shift of the parabola along the x-axis, and t1 its shift along the y-axis (Figure 2, next page).

Since purchase intention and willingness to pay are logically highly interrelated concepts (Ureña et al., 2008), the same rationale as for purchase intention is taken into account for willingness to pay, which is defined as the sacrifice the consumer is willing to make to obtain the object of question (Zeithaml, 1988). Many researchers verified that consumers are willing to pay a higher price for products with a certification logo (e.g. Dewally & Ederington 2006; Drichoutis, Lazaridis, & Nayga, 2009; Fotopoulos & Krystallis, 2003; Loureiro, Gracia, & Nayga, 2006; Jeddi & Zaiem, 2010; Van Ittersum et al., 2007; Van Loo et al., 2011). In a bidding experiment, Rozan et al. (2004), for example, showed that the introduction of certified products leads to an increase in willingness to pay for the certified products with respect to the initial valuation of ordinary products. Using a choice experiment, Van Loo et al. (2011) showed that consumers are willing to pay a premium of 103.5% for chicken breast certified with the USDA organic label. In their comparison study of different European organic certification logos, Janssen and Hamm (2012) observed a significant positive additional mean willingness to pay for almost all tested logos, even for a fake logo tested in Switzerland. However, the price premium that consumers were willing to pay differed considerably between the tested logos. This outcome suggests the assumption that combining specific seals might increase consumers’ willingness to pay for the multi-awarded product whose superiority seems to be confirmed, while this might not be the case for other combinations of seals. Therefore, this thesis expects consumers’ willingness to pay first to augment as the number of seals on the product rises, owing to consumers’ conviction of the increasing effort that the producer put into the production and marketing of this product and the resulting product excellence. Once a critical level is however exceeded, the excessive effort of the manufacturer to hype its product is anticipated to be construed negatively by the consumers (Kirmani, 1997). This expected inverted-U relationship is expressed in the following hypothesis:

H1b: The relationship between the number of certification seals simultaneously present on the packaging of an unknown food product and consumers’ willingness to pay is a quadratic function of the following shape:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

whereby x denotes the number of certification seals, β2 the slope coefficient of the parabola, z2 the shift of the parabola along the x-axis, and t2 its shift along the y-axis (Figure 2).

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Figure 2: Hypothesized relationship between Number of seals and Purchase intention or Willingness to pay

2.2.2 The mediating role of product quality perception

One driver of consumers’ intention to buy a product is the perceived quality of the product (Chang & Wildt, 1994; Gardner, 1971). Perceived product quality is defined as a person’s global assessment of a product’s overall excellence or superiority and is different from objective quality which refers to the actual, measurable and verifiable product superiority on some predetermined ideal standard - in that it involves the subjective response of people (Zeithaml, 1988; Tsiotsou, 2006). It thus is a higher level abstraction, distinctive for every person, and contingent on individual needs, wants and goals (Gilmore, 1974; Holbrook & Corfman, 1985; Myers & Shocker, 1981). Perceptions of product quality can relate to product-based quality - the result of the amount of specific attributes or ingredients of a product - or manufacturing-based quality - the result of conformance to manufacturing specifications or service standards (Garvin, 1983). They are highly relativistic as quality evaluations usually take place in a comparison context; they are made within the consumer’s evoked set, among the products that the consumer views as substitutes for obtaining the desired outcome. Perceived product quality belongs to a person’s subjective attitudes towards the product (Olshavsky, 1985; Trommsdorff, 2000), which are a person’s evaluative beliefs about an object in terms of ‘good or bad’ (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975; Trommsdorff, 2000). According to the Theory of Reasoned Action, attitudes are involved in the formation of behavioural intentions in the sense that people with more positive attitudes towards the behaviour are more likely to engage in the behaviour in question. Consequently, consumers with more favourable product attitudes are more likely to purchase the product (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975, Leuthesser, Kohli, & Harich, 1995; Pouta & Rekola, 2001; Tsiotsou, 2006; Zeithaml et al., 1996). In order to test this theorem, the subsequent hypothesis is formulated:

H2a: There is a positive linear relationship between perceived product quality and purchase intention that is denoted in mathematical terms as:

Purchase intention = m1 * (Product quality perception) + k1 (2a)

where m1 symbolizes the slope coefficient of the straight line and k1 the shift of the straight line along the y-axis (Figure 3, next page).

Considering willingness to pay as a behavioural intention (Ajzen & Driver, 1992; Pouta & Rekola, 2001), willingness to pay can also be predicted by using concepts developed in the Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen & Madden 1986; Ajzen 1991) or the Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). Additionally, one can draw on the Theory of Brand Equity, which suggests consumers with a strong and favourable brand attitude to be more willing to pay a premium price for the brand (Chaudhuri & Holbrook, 2001). Resorting to the Theory of Planned Behaviour, Van Ittersum et al. (2007), for instance, showed that the relative attitude towards a protected regional product significantly influences consumers’ willingness to pay for the regional product relative to competing products. Ditto, Kotchen and Reiling (2000) found pro-environmental attitudes to result in higher estimates of mean willingness to pay, whilst Pouta and Rekola (2001) demonstrated that willingness to pay for abatement of forest regeneration is affected by attitudes toward forest regeneration and toward supporting forest regeneration abatement policy. With reference to Pouta and Rekola’s (2001) remark that in social psychology the concept of attitude is the conception that most often corresponds to the economic value of objects together with Trommsdorff’s (2000) comment that consumers’ price acceptance is a function of their preference strength, this study presumes consumers with a favourable product attitude, more precisely an affirmative quality perception of the product, to be determined to pay a higher price for the product. Formulated in a hypothesis:

H2b: There is a positive linear relationship between perceived product quality and willingness to pay that is denoted in mathematical terms as:

Willingness to pay = m2 * (Product quality perception) + k2 (2b)

where m2 symbolizes the slope coefficient of the straight line and k2 the shift of the straight line along the y-axis (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Hypothesized relationship between Product quality perception and Purchase intention or Willingness to pay

Perceived product quality, in turn, stems from consumers’ judgment of the excellence or superiority of a product based on certain intrinsic and extrinsic quality cues (Bredahl, 2003; Miyazaki et al., 2005; Tsiotsou, 2006; Zeithaml, 1988). Intrinsic quality cues, such as the taste or nutrition content of food, are an essential component of and inseparable from the physical product, while extrinsic cues, such as price, brand name, warranty, or country-of-origin, are not part of the actual product and changing them has no substantial effects on the product (Miyazaki et al., 2005). Information about intrinsic product attributes usually dominates extrinsic cues when consumers formulate product quality evaluations because it is considered to be more meaningful and to have higher predictive value (Rao & Monroe, 1988; Purohit & Srivastava, 2001). When intrinsic attribute information, however, is inadequate, consumers use extrinsic quality signals to form their product beliefs (Miyazaki et al., 2005; Oude Ophuis & Van Trijp, 1995; Zeithaml, 1988) as proposed by the logic of the Signaling Theory (Boulding & Kirmani, 1993, Kirmani & Rao, 2000; Priest, 1981). There are three situations in which extrinsic cues typically become more important (Zeithaml, 1988): (1) when purchasing a new product for the first time and therefore intrinsic cues are not available; (2) when the consumer lacks the time or motivation to engage in an evaluation of intrinsic cues; (3) when the quality of the product is difficult to assess, what especially applies to experience products whose quality cannot be assessed until consumption (Mayzlin & Shin, 2011; Nelson, 1974), and credence goods whose quality cannot be observed and evaluated even after consumption (Golan, Kuchler, Mitchell, Greene, & Jessup, 2001; Jahn, Schramm, & Spiller, 2005; McCluskey, 2000).

When consumers interpret certification seals as an external quality signal, the presence of a seal on a product may raise certain expectations about the quality of the product and result in the formation of a number of favourable perceptions of the product’s attributes on the part of the consumers (Dean & Biswas, 2001; Parkinson, 1975; Zeithaml, 1988). A research by Van Ittersum et al. (2007) confirmed the function of certification seals as warranties of quality that allow consumers to infer the quality of the product and that reduce consumers‘ doubts about the product quality (Jeddi &

Zaiem, 2010). Following the rational of this thesis, the author expects that the presence of several certification marks on a product packaging raises even higher product quality expectations among consumers and results in the formation of a higher number of favourable product attribute perceptions. This study therefore assumes the relationship between the number of certification seals and perceived product quality to be likewise of quadratic nature. Similar to the relationship between the level of repetition in advertising and the perceived brand quality (Kirmani, 1997), it suggests that up to some point perceived product quality is a positive function of the number of certification logos displayed, while beyond this point a high number of seals may be perceived as an indicator of low product quality. This view is supported by Mayzlin and Shin (2011), who suggest that products that “say a lot”, that is provide a lot of information, are either of superior or of terrible quality.

H3a: The relationship between the number of certification seals simultaneously present on the packaging of an unknown food product and consumers’ product quality perception is a quadratic function of the

illustration not visible in this excerpt

whereby x denotes the number of certification seals, β3 the slope coefficient of the quadratic component, a1 the shift of the parabola along the x-axis, and b1 its shift along the y-axis (Figure 4).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 4: Hypothesized relationship between Number of seals and Product quality perception

Consequentially, perceived product quality is expected to mediate between certification seals, forms of external quality cues, and consumers’ willingness to buy (Dodds, Monroe, & Grewal, 1991; Zeithaml, 1988; Van Ittersum et al., 2007). In this thesis, the author proposes, on the basis of Lutz’s (1986) view, that adding seals to a product package increments the proportion of a product’s search attributes in a figurative sense, and thus increases the likelihood of cognitive quality as opposed to affective quality. Cognitive quality is defined by Lutz as a superordinate inferential assessment of quality that intervenes between lower order cues and an eventual overall product evaluation, and is said to be normally more likely for industrial products and consumer durable goods. In contrast, affective quality - a form of overall evaluation of a product, similar in a sense to attitude (Olshavsky, 1985) - is alleged to be usually more likely for services and consumer nondurable goods where experience attributes dominate. Using the displayed certification seals as informational cues to develop quality beliefs about the product, purchase intention may be a direct function of these mediating beliefs (Olson, 1978). This train of thought leads to the following hypothesis:

H3b: Consumers’ quality perception of the product mediates the effect of the number of certification seals simultaneously present on the packaging of an unknown food product on consumers’ purchase intention.

The corresponding mathematical expression is:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

By the same token, this study believes consumers’ product quality perception to mediate between certification seals and consumers’ willingness to pay. Kirmani and Rao (2000) mentioned that quality sensitive consumers are willing to pay a high price for a certified product in the hope to thereby obtain a high quality product and to avoid the negative consequences of poor quality. This willingness is likely to be due to the relation between quality and price that consumers historically expect. In the general opinion of consumers a product of high quality is linked to a high price as it is made of precious raw materials and produced in an expensive procedure. To recoup the resulting higher costs and effort, the manufacturer needs to surcharge. In keeping with the motto “You get what you pay for”, quality-conscious, risk averse consumers accept this premium price as necessary evil for good quality (Rao & Monroe, 1989). Therefore, especially companies with a positive quality reputation are able to charge price premiums (Shapiro, 1983). Referring to these researchers and taking into account the relation enunciated in hypothesis H3a, the author assumes that as long as a higher number of seals is associated with higher product quality, consumers’ willingness to pay will increase as the number of seals increases; once this relationship does not hold anymore, consumers’ willingness to pay will decrease. This assumption leads to the following hypothesis:

H3c: Consumers’ quality perception of the product mediates the effect of the number of certification seals simultaneously present on the packaging of an unknown food product on consumers’ willingness to pay.

The equivalent mathematical expression is:

Willingness to pay = m2 * [-β3*(x - a1)[2] + b1] + k2 (2b + 3)

2.2.3 The mediating role of manufacturer conscientiousness perception

One important component of perceived product quality might be the perceived conscientiousness with which the product was manufactured. Consumers’ perception of the conscientiousness of the manufacturer in the production process of the product forms part of their general impression of the company, which they regularly articulate by making reference to specific personality traits (Davies, Chun, Da Silva, & Roper, 2004). Assigning human characteristics to a corporation or brand helps consumers to understand complex constructs such as the company’s identity and image (Davies, Chun, Da Silva, & Roper, 2001), and personifying the company allows them to make sense of the company’s actions and to predict its future conduct (Epley, Waytz, & Cacioppo, 2007). Together, the set of human characteristics associated with a brand or company define the brand’s or company’s personality (Aaker, 1997; Davies et al., 2001 and 2004). Brand personality has been first conceptualized by Aaker (1997), who developed a theoretical framework of abstract brand personality dimensions consisting of the five dimensions ‘Sincerity’, ‘Excitement’, ‘Competence’, ‘Sophistication’ and ‘Ruggedness’. These five dimensions resemble the Big Five human personality dimensions ‘Extraversion or Surgency’, ‘Agreeableness’, ‘Conscientiousness’, ‘Emotional Stability vs. Neuroticism’, ‘Intellect or Openness’ (John & Srivastava, 1999). In the sequel, the work of Aaker (1997) inspired numerous researchers to establish other brand or company personality measurement scales (see Geuens, Weijters, & De Wulf, 2009 for an overview of developed scales). While their scales sometimes partly differ in the individual personality facets that build the superordinate categories and while their conceptually identical dimensions may carry different names, these researchers agree on the underlying theoretical concepts of the broad dimensions (John & Srivastava, 1990; Roberts, Wood, & Smith, 2005; Costa, McCrae, & Dye, 1991; Saucier & Ostendorf, 1999).

‘Conscientiousness’ (called ‘responsibility’ by Geuens et al. (2009), and ‘competence’ by Aaker (1997) and Davies et al. (2004)) is one of these dimensions. The term subsumes personal character traits such as orderly, responsible, dependable (John & Srivastava, 1999), dutiful, reliable, wellorganized, self-disciplined (Barzegar, Jahanbani, & Roozmand, 2010), moralistic, and persistent (Roberts et al., 2005), among others. It is commonly said to comprise two domains: proactive and inhibitive aspects. The proactive side is seen in the need for achievement and commitment to work; the inhibitive side represents cautiousness and moral scrupulousness (Costa et al., 1991; Hough, 1992; Mount & Barrick, 1995). A conscientious character, thus, is deliberate and careful, works hard to meet challenges, and follows the rules and norms; a conscientious organization is competent in its field of operation, and does not lie about the nature of its goods or betray the consumer (Barzegar et al., 2010; Costa et al., 1991; Davies et al., 2004). Research findings in the area of personnel psychology suggest that this behaviour of integrity and moral is worthwhile for the conscientious person, because conscientiousness was found to be a key causal determinant of job performance (Ones, Viswesvaran, & Schmidt, 1993) and it positively predicted career success (Judge, Higgins, Thoresen, & Barrick, 1999). In order to pay off for a manufacturer, its conscientious mode of behaviour must, however, be perceived by consumers.

Perceptions of brand or rather corporate personality are formed and shaped by any direct or indirect contact the consumer has with the brand or the company (Aaker, 1997; Plummer, 1985). Besides a direct transfer of the personality traits of the people associated with the brand or company employees, executives and brand users - to the brand or company, brand or company personality associations are created indirectly through product-related attributes, but also product category association, brand name, symbol or logo, advertising style, price, distribution channel and countryof-origin (Aaker, 1997; Batra, Lehmann, & Singh, 1993). It is well established in literature that consumers use secondary associations - that is all kind of information a person holds about a company beyond specific product associations (Bromley, 2001; Brown & Dacin, 1997; Fournier & Alvarez, 2011) in addition to primary product associations when forming an impression about a company and its products (Keller, 1993; Winters, 1986 and 1988).

Since certification seals relate to the category of secondary associations, the question becomes, whether the number of seals displayed on a product, too, can influence consumers’ perception of how conscientiously the company works, and whether consumers’ company conscientiousness perception in turn affects their opinion of the quality of the product. This question was answered in the affirmative by research of Van Waes (2012) and Teichmann (2013). In her study Van Waes (2012) found that a certification seal leads to a greater perceived company conscientiousness as the use of a seal of approval indicates to consumers that the company is conscientious in fulfilling the requirements of this seal - which usually also include quality requirements (Teil, 2010). Teichmann (2013) found that consumers’ company conscientiousness perception influences their product quality perception. Since the decision of a company to obtain several logos of approval could be interpreted as a sign that the company works meticulously, it is likely that consumers’ perception of the conscientiousness of the manufacturer rises when a small number of seals is used together. Following the same argumentation as above, this relationship is, however, expected to reverse at some point, so that the following hypotheses are put forward:

H4a: There is a positive linear relationship between perceived manufacturer conscientiousness and perceived product quality that is denoted in mathematical terms as:

Product quality perception = n * (Manufacturer conscientiousness perception) + k3 (4) where n symbolizes the slope coefficient of the straight line and k3 the shift of the straight line along the y-axis (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Hypothesized relationship between Manufacturer conscientiousness perception and Product quality perception

H4b: The relationship between the number of certification seals simultaneously present on the packaging of an unknown food product and consumers’ conscientiousness perception of the manufacturer is a quadratic function of the following shape:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

whereby x denotes the number of certification seals, β4 the slope coefficient of the quadratic component, c1 the shift of the parabola along the x-axis, and d1 its shift along the y-axis (Figure 6).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 6: Hypothesized relationship between Number of seals and Manufacturer conscientiousness perception

H4c: Consumers’ conscientiousness perception of the manufacturer mediates the effect of the number of certification seals simultaneously present on the packaging of an unknown food product on consumers’ quality perception of the product.

The corresponding mathematical term is:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Taken together, the final equations for consumers’ purchase intention and willingness to pay are:

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2.3 The impact of a product benefit claim

Product benefit claims are another means to signal the distinctiveness and superiority of the company’s product to consumers (Mayzlin & Shin, 2011). They are deployed by companies to inform consumers about the special characteristics of their products and to motivate consumers to buy the product (Goldberg & Hartwick, 1990; Williams, 2005). Not only can they address multifarious thematic aspects of the product, they can also occur in different degrees of persuasiveness (Preston, 1975). Preston (1975) distinguished between six levels of puffery, a term he defined as “advertising or another sales representation whereby the product is praised with subjective opinions, superlatives and/or exaggerations without stating any fact.” Ordered by descending strength or rather ascending likelihood to imply facts the six levels are (1) “Best” taking first place alone, (2) “Best possible” - tie for top rank, (3) “Better” - superior to at least some competing products although others might be equal or better, (4) “Especially good” - high on the scale, but not explicitly best or better, (5) “Good” - ranked favourably, but not explicitly high on the scale, and (6) “Subjective qualities” - no explicit, yet possibly implicit ranking or comparison. If it is based on true facts, a claim about the benefits of a product can be informative and advantageous for consumers as it concisely communicates the product’s positioning (Williams, 2005). If it is, however, designed to deceive consumers, it can be harmful to the consumers who believe it (Preston, 1975).

While there are legal restrictions concerning deceptive advertising and the use of factually incorrect claims, the line between blatant lie and meaningless puffery is fine (Preston, 1975). This results in legal grey areas that allow producers to use subtle deceptiveness in form of pretentious claims in their advertising. These types of claims are given immunity from prosecution as it is assumed that the ordinary consumer is able to discern their subjectivity and exaggeration (Preston, 1975). To date the effects of puffed advertising claims on consumer perceptions and intentions are, however, unclear as past empirical research arrived at contradictory conclusions. While one stream of research argued that consumers do not recognize the puffery in these claims and thus let themselves be deceived by pretentious claims (e.g. Olson & Dover, 1978; Preston, 1975; Rotfeld & Rotzoll, 1980), a second party of scholars took the position that puffery is recognized by reasonable consumers and cannot lead to deception as it is not believed (e.g. Cowley, 2006; Gao & Scorpio, 2011; Haan & Berkey, 2002; Marks & Kamins, 1988; Vanden Bergh & Reid, 1980; Xu & Wyer, 2010).

In line with other studies that lately researched the effect of certification seals in combination with different product benefit claims (e.g. Teichmann, 2013; Van Iperen, 2012; Van Rekom, De Vries, & Van Diepen, 2012; Van Waes, 2012), this study sympathizes with the view of the latter group of academics, that is it supposes that puffed product benefit claims are understood by the ordinary consumer as meaningless and believed to a lesser degree than factual statements. This understanding guides the line of argument in the next subsections.

2.3.1 The effect on purchase intention and willingness to pay

When a strong benefit claim comes across as puffery rather than factual statement, rational consumers may be sceptical and reluctant to believe its message (Cowley, 2006; Haan & Berkey, 2002; Xu & Wyer, 2010). Perceiving the pretentious claim as a mean to persuade rather than to inform them about the excellence of the product, consumers may be disinclined to purchase the product as to protect themselves from being deceived (Gao & Scorpio, 2011; Van Rekom et al., 2012). Support for this idea is, for example, provided by Vanden Bergh and Reid (1980) who studied the effects of advertisements with puffed, accurate, and understated claims and found that the usage of puffery negatively changed respondents’ evaluations of the ads, the advertiser, and the message credibility, as well as their purchase intention. In a similar vein, Marks and Kamins (1988) showed that respondents who had been exposed to highly exaggerated advertisements and a negatively disconfirming product sampling experience reported lower product attitude and purchase intention scores than respondents who had been exposed to advertisements with more moderate levels of puffery and the same negatively disconfirming product experience. Based upon these findings their conclusion was that more moderate levels of pretentiousness may lead to the most beneficial outcome for advertisers. The consumer scepticism towards pretentious claims, which is likely to undermine the effectiveness of puffery as an advertising technique, may be especially strong if the puffed claim is made for an unknown product or relates to a product’s credence attributes whose utility is nearly impossible for an outside party to assess making a high degree of consumer trust necessary (Jahn et al., 2005; McCluskey, 2000). Recently, these assumptions have been empirically tested by, for example, Van Diepen (2010), Van Rekom et al. (2012) and Wesselman (2012), who found that a pretentious claim for an unknown jam brand reduces the purchase intention of consumers. Together these viewpoints lead to the following hypothesis: H5a: There is a negative linear relationship between the pretentiousness of a benefit claim for an unknown food product and consumers’ purchase intention:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

where u denotes the pretentiousness of the benefit claim, p1 the slope coefficient of the straight line, and k4 the shift of the straight line along the y-axis (Figure 7).

Returning to the Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975), this thesis also hypothesizes that an unfavourable consumer attitude towards a puffed product benefit claim reduces consumers’ willingness to pay for a product with this claim:

H5b: There is a negative linear relationship between the pretentiousness of a benefit claim for an unknown food product and consumers’ willingness to pay:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

where u denotes the pretentiousness of the benefit claim, p2 the slope coefficient of the straight line, and k5 the shift of the straight line along the y-axis (Figure 7).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 7: Hypothesized relationship between Claim pretentiousness and Purchase intention or Willingness to pay

2.3.2 The mediating role of product quality perception

When consumers conclude that a pretentious product benefit claim is exaggerated, they may doubt the product quality pretended explicitly or implicitly by the claim (Cowley, 2006; Xu & Wyer, 2010). In the field of advertising research Gao and Scorpio (2011) demonstrated that consumers perceive puffed claims less truthful than fact-based claims, and that puffed claims result in a less positive brand attitude compared to fact-based claims. Along the same lines, Holbrook (1978) stated that the factualness of a message positively influences attitude formation by enhancing the credibility and acceptance of the message. Research by Goldberg and Hartwick (1990), whose aim was to identify the optimal level of advertising claim extremeness, found that an advertisement was perceived as less credible and that the advertised product was evaluated worse when the claim became too extreme.

A possible reason for these outcomes could be that consumers are aware that high-quality firms, which actually have to say the most, often choose not to make any hard claims about their strong product benefits. Due to the limited bandwidth of communication that is inherent to all forms of advertising, the high-quality firm would only be able to mention a subset of its outstanding product features thereby becoming indistinguishable from a medium-quality firm, whose product excels only in some features. Using messages devoid of any attribute information allows the high-quality firm to distinguish itself from the medium-quality firm. At the same time, the withholding of explicit product information enables the high-quality firm to set itself apart from the low-quality firm, which cannot make qualified claims about any product attributes. Because it invites consumers to conduct their own information search to discover the quality of the product, which in the case of a high-quality firm presumably uncovers positive information about the product as opposed to the negative information probably uncovered about the low-quality firm’s product. This logic eventually leaves only the low-quality firm taking the offensive to make bold claims.

This reasoning is endorsed by the research of Van Diepen (2010) and Wesselman (2012), who found a pretentious benefit claim to significantly decrease consumers’ quality perception of a product. Encapsulated in a hypothesis:

H6a: There is a negative linear relationship between the pretentiousness of a benefit claim for an unknown food product and consumers’ product quality perception:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

where u denotes the pretentiousness of the benefit claim, p3 the slope coefficient of the straight line, and k6 the shift of the straight line along the y-axis (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Hypothesized relationship between Claim pretentiousness and Product quality perception

Although previous research delivered mixed results with regard to a mediation effect of perceived quality between a pretentious product benefit claim and consumers’ purchase intention (e.g. Van Rekom et al. (2012) and Van Waes (2012) did not find evidence for the existence of mediation via quality perception, whereas Wesselman (2012) did), this study follows the line of reasoning established in section 2.2.2. That means the benefit claim is treated as a quality cue that is used by consumers to develop quality beliefs about the product, which in turn affect consumers’ purchase intention (Olson, 1978). Phrased as a hypothesis:

H6b: Consumers’ quality perception of the product mediates the effect of the pretentiousness of a benefit claim for an unknown food product on consumers’ purchase intention. The corresponding mathematical expression is:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Compiled from the aforementioned reasoning that led to hypotheses H2b, H3c and H6b, this study also believes consumers’ willingness to pay for a product to be affected by the quality beliefs about the product that consumers develop from the product benefit claim. Just as consumers’ product quality perception is presumed to mediate between the number of certification seals and consumers’ willingness to pay (H3c), it is expected to mediate between the strengths of a benefit claim and consumers’ behavioural intention ‘Willingness to pay’ (Ajzen, 1992; Pouta & Rekola, 2001):

H6c: Consumers’ quality perception of the product mediates the effect of the pretentiousness of a benefit claim for an unknown food product on consumers’ willingness to pay. The corresponding mathematical expression is:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

2.3.3 The mediating role of manufacturer conscientiousness perception

The sole usage of a pretentious benefit claim may cause consumers to doubt the conscientiousness of the company’s practices (Van Rekom et al., 2012). When a company is careless in substantiating its assertions, it might equally likely be careless with its other marketing and production activities. Since the logical consequence of carelessness in manufacturing appears to be bad quality, consumers’ perception of the conscientiousness of the manufacturer is expected to influence their perception of the quality of the manufactured product as well. Support for the linear relationship between manufacturer conscientiousness perception and product quality perception is provided by ample academic research that asserted that the perceptions of a corporation play a significant role in the development of consumer attitudes about the company’s products (e.g. Goldberg & Hartwick, 1990; Winters, 1988). Conceptualized in hypotheses:

H7a: There is a negative linear relationship between the pretentiousness of a benefit claim for an unknown food product and consumers’ conscientiousness perception of the manufacturer:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

where u denotes the pretentiousness of the benefit claim, p4 the slope coefficient of the straight line, and k7 the shift of the straight line along the y-axis (Figure 9).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 9: Hypothesized relationship between Claim pretentiousness and Manufacturer conscientiousness perception

H7b: Consumers’ conscientiousness perception of the manufacturer mediates the effect of the pretentiousness of a benefit claim for an unknown food product on consumers’ quality perception of the product.

The corresponding mathematical term is:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

All in all, this results in the following equations for consumers’ purchase intention and willingness to pay:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

2.4 The combined impact of multiple certification seals and a product benefit claim

2.4.1 The effect on purchase intention and willingness to pay

The information asymmetry and consumers’ disbelief in a product’s selling proposition that might result from a strong claim in combination with an unknown brand might be overcome by adding a certification mark to the performance claim. Interpreting the certificate as an independent referral and credible testimonial that the brand is delivering what it claims, consumers may be more likely to accept the pretentious claim as reliable information and believe its message (Helm & Mark, 2007; Van Rekom et al., 2012). Because they know that it is in the self-interest of the certification organization to guarantee that all products carrying the organization’s logo keep their promises and comply with the organization’s certification standards as elsewise the organization’s own credibility and reason for existence would be at stake (Van Rekom et al., 2012). Thus gaining confidence in the veracity of the pretentious claim, consumers may develop more positive beliefs about the product and eventually a stronger intention to purchase the product. Previous research (e.g. Van de Wolfshaar, 2012; Van Diepen, 2010; Wesselman, 2012) proved that the interaction effect between a seal and a strong product claim significantly increases consumers’ purchase intention. Up to now it could, however, not be conclusively clarified whether the combination of a pretentious claim with a certification seal leads to an even higher purchase intention than the combination of a modest claim with a certification seal, or no more than to an increase still below the purchase intention that is achieved with the combination of a modest claim and a certification seal. While the results of Van de Wolfshaar (2012) and Van Diepen (2010) are indicative of the former, the results of Wesselman (2012) speak for the latter. The present study, therefore, takes up a more conservative stance and assumes that the presence of one certification seal ‘neutralizes’ the negative effects of a pretentious claim compared to a modest claim. As from two seals, the course of the relationship is parallel for the two types of claims, that is it follows an inverted-U with an increasing number of seals just as hypothesized for the number of certification seals in isolation. Hence, the author hypothesizes:

H8a: The relationship between the combination of the number of certification seals simultaneously present on the packaging of an unknown food product plus the pretentiousness of a benefit claim and consumers’ purchase intention is a quadratic function of the following shape:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

whereby (x + u) denotes the combination of the number of certification seals plus the

pretentiousness of the benefit claim, β5 the slope coefficient of parabola, z3 the shift of the parabola along the x-axis, and t3 its shift along the y-axis (Figure 10, next page).

When the combination of a certification seal and a pretentious benefit claim is capable of transforming the pretentious claim, which would otherwise have been dismissed as puffery, into credible information (Van Rekom et al., 2012) and thereby of increasing the purchase intention of consumers, it is reasonable to assume that this effect is able do the same with their willingness to pay:

H8b: The relationship between the combination of the number of certification seals simultaneously present on the packaging of an unknown food product plus the pretentiousness of a benefit claim and consumers’ willingness to pay is a quadratic function of the following shape:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

whereby (x + u) denotes the combination of the number of certification seals plus the

pretentiousness of the benefit claim, β6 the slope coefficient of the parabola, z4 the shift of the parabola along the x-axis, and t4 its shift along the y-axis (Figure 10).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 10: Hypothesized relationship between the combination of Number of seals plus Claim pretentiousness and Purchase intention or Willingness to pay

2.4.2 The mediating role of product quality perception

Van Diepen (2010), Van de Wolfshaar (2012) and Wesselman (2012) found that a pretentious health claim endorsed by a certification seal results in a significantly higher perceived product quality compared to the sole presence of the claim. The bonding element (Ippolito, 1990) of the certification seal may explain these coherences. Consumers may believe the company being eager to do its best to keep its promises - also the ones in the pretentious claim - and the conditions of the certifier, in order to avoid the monetary loss and the reputational damage that comes along with a loss of the seal (Kirmani & Rao, 2000). These supposed company efforts are possibly in turn associated with a higher product quality by consumers. This thesis believes the bonding mechanism to be initially stronger when multiple seals are used - because a possible deprivation of several seals might entail higher financial penalties and a greater loss of sales and reputation than the annulment of a single seal due to the severity of the scandal and the accompanying negative publicity (See e.g. the case of UNICEF Germany’s deprivation of the DZI donation seal in 2008). An alternative explanation for the turnaround of the effect of a pretentious claim on quality perception in the presence of a seal of approval might be provided by the Money-Burning Theory of Advertising (Mayzlin & Shin, 2011; Milgrom & Roberts, 1986; Nelson, 1974). This theory states that the seller of a product whose quality cannot be assessed upon observation cannot credibly make direct claims about the product quality in his or her advertisements. Instead, the high-quality seller can credibly covey the product quality indirectly through advertising spending. Consequently, it is not as much the content of the claim as the level of spending that signals quality (Mayzlin & Shin, 2011; Schmalensee, 1978). Transferred to the certification case, it might be rather the fact that the firm seeks certification or rather the level of certification - in other words the number of third-party certificates that decorate the product - that signal the quality of the product than the claim content. The presence of any number of certification seal may be used by consumers as a simple “short-cut” or heuristic cue of product quality superseding a comprehensive analysis of the product statement and argument processing (Batte, Hooker, Haab, & Beaverson, 2007; Van Rekom et al., 2012; Nelson, 1974).

Referring to Mayzlin and Shin (2011), it seems, however, plausible to assume that facing consumers with too many quality signals reduces their product quality evaluation owing to their lower willingness to search for additional information when the product itself is already very informative. Mayzlin and Shin (2011) pointed to the importance of inviting consumers to search for additional product information because people who searched for extra information (and found affirmative one) themselves are said to evaluate the product’s quality higher than people who did not engage in a supplementary information search. Taken these arguments together, the author proposes:

H9a: The relationship between the combination of the number of certification seals simultaneously present on the packaging of an unknown food product plus the pretentiousness of a benefit claim and consumers’ quality perception of the product is a quadratic function of the following shape:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

whereby (x + u) denotes the combination of the number of certification seals plus the

pretentiousness of the benefit claim, β7 the slope coefficient of the quadratic component, a2 the shift of the parabola along the x-axis, and b2 its shift along the y-axis (Figure 11).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 11: Hypothesized relationship between the combination of Number of seals plus Claim pretentiousness and Product quality perception

Just as in the cases of a sole multi-seal or a sole benefit claim application, this study expects the impact of the combination of several certification seals and a pretentious benefit claim on the purchase intention of consumers to be mediated by their product quality perception. This conjecture is supported by previous research of, for example, Van Diepen (2010), Van Rekom et al. (2012), Wesselman (2012), who all found a significant indirect effect for the interaction between a seal and a pretentious benefit claim on purchase intention via perceived quality. The following hypothesis is stated:

H9b: Consumers’ quality perception of the product mediates the effect of the combination of the number of certification seals simultaneously present on the packaging of an unknown food product plus the pretentiousness of a benefit claim on consumers’ purchase intention. The corresponding mathematical expression is:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

[...]

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Details

Title
Certification Seals. The more, the better, or too much of a good thing?
Subtitle
The effect of the number of certification seals on consumers’ purchase intention and willingness to pay
College
Erasmus University Rotterdam  (Rotterdam School of Management)
Course
Marketing Management
Grade
8.5 (out of 10.0)
Author
Year
2013
Pages
228
Catalog Number
V300161
ISBN (eBook)
9783656972235
ISBN (Book)
9783656972242
File size
6878 KB
Language
English
Notes
Die Masterarbeit wurde für die 'Erasmus Marketing Thesis Awards' vorgeschlagen.
Tags
certification seal, benefit claim, signalling, consumer decision process, purchase intention, willingness to pay, product quality perception, manufacturer conscientiousness perception
Quote paper
Stefanie Eimesser (Author), 2013, Certification Seals. The more, the better, or too much of a good thing?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/300161

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