The Effects of Warning Label Placement in Print Ads: A Social Contract Theoretical Perspective

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2007

Publication Title

Journal of Advertising


Although some research into warning labels in advertisements has been conducted, little examines the impact of the placement of labels in print ads, including consumer responses to warning label placement and consumer response effects. Social contract theory suggests that consumers may, somewhat paradoxically, put a relatively high value on an advertisement of a brand that prominently displays warning information, rather than minimizing it. Our research probes the relevance of social contract assumptions by reviewing current print advertisement warning practices with a content analysis (CA) of consumer magazines and by testing the effectiveness of label placement strategies with a between-subjects experiment. Validating social contract assumptions, our study shows more positive consumer responses for recall, attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the brand, purchase intention, and responsible advertising when warnings are overtly rather than discreetly placed in print ads. Also, we develop a robust, multi-item responsible advertising scale. Our paper explores the implications and directions for future research from our warning label findings.


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