Brand research and financial services research

••• brand research

Does it pay for brands to play nice?

Nearly a dozen experiments with almost 4,000 people show that a brand that compliments a competitor ends up boosting its own reputation and sales.

As chronicled in their paper, Befriending the Enemy: The Effects of Observing Brand-to-Brand Praise on Consumer Evaluations and Choices, Keisha Cutright, a marketing professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and co-authors Lingrui Zhou and Katherine Du showed a group of consumers a fictitious tweet from Kit Kat praising Twix: “Competitor or not, congrats on your 54 years in business! Even we can admit – Twix are delicious.”

After 11 days, the researchers asked the consumers who saw the fake tweet to report any candy purchases. People who saw the public message from Kit Kat praising Twix were 34% more likely to buy a Kit Kat compared to a control group that saw a tweet from Kit Kat about its own product. Importantly, the authors noted, Twix sales didn’t increase, even after Kit Kat praised the candy as delectable.

The positive effects on reputation and sales were more significant for organizations that are not traditionally seen as “warm and fuzzy,” such as for-profit companies, compared to companies that seem intrinsically caring, such as non-profits.

In a surprising turn, the most skeptical consumers in the experiments were likely to have the biggest positive response to brands that tipped their hats to a competitor, the researchers found.

••• financial services research

Consumer debt takes emotional, physical toll

Carrying “bad” or unsecured debt – such as credit card debt and payday loans – can be stressful and anxiety-inducing. Now, a researcher at the University of Missouri has found that doing so throughout adulthood is also linked to poorer physical health.

Adrianne Frech, a medical sociologist and associate professor in the University of Missouri’s school of health professions, analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to examine the financial health of nearly 8,000 Baby Boomers ages 28 to 40 as well as their physical health at age 50. “Those with consistently high debt were 76% more likely to have pain that interfered with their daily life compared to those with no unsecured debt and what surprised us the most was that even the people who did pay down their debt over time were still 50% more likely to have pain interference than those with no unsecured debt,” Frech says.

Trajectories of Unsecured Debt and Health at Midlife was recently published in Population Health. Co-authors include Jason Houle of Dartmouth College and Dmitry Tumin of East Carolina University.