Fake news targeting well-established brands pose little threat

Fake news stories targeting well-established brands don’t pose a significant threat, according to a new study published in the Journal of Product & Brand Management.

In 2012, fake news stories shared on Facebook falsely accused Coca-Cola of recalling bottles of its Dasani-branded water due to the presence of aquatic parasites.

In response to the fake news, Coca Cola issued the following statement: “The source of this false and inflammatory information about our brand is a hoax news website. There is no recall of Dasani being conducted in the U.S.,”

In a new study researchers set out to determine the impact that fake stories, while completely false, have on well-established brands.

Yang Cheng, co-author of the new study and an assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University, said:

“There’s been a lot of work done on how the public processes and responds to fake news on social media in the context of politics, but very little research has been done on how fake news may affect brand trust.

“We wanted to see what kind of impact fake news could have for companies.”

The researchers conducted an online survey with 468 consumers in the US.

The study participants were shown an example of the 2016 Facebook posts falsely accusing Coca Cola of recalling water bottles, however, the participants were not initially told the information was false.

After being shown the fake story, the participants answered a series of survey questions.

The participants were then told that the posts were fake news and proceeded to answer another series of survey questions.

The researchers found that the more respondents felt they could detect and evaluate misinformation, the more likely they they’d determine the post was designed to manipulate readers.

The more likely respondents felt the post was manipulative, the less likely they were to find the post helpful or relevant to themselves. In addition, trust of the brand was not affected.

According to the abstract of the study, “Persuasion knowledge of the fake news significantly influenced consumers’ perceived diagnosticity of the fake news and subsequent brand trust. Furthermore, persuasion knowledge of the fake news mediated the effects from self-efficacy on perceived diagnosticity of the fake news and brand trust, respectively.”

“One takeaway here is that when communicating the truth in response to a fake news story, such as when Coca-Cola made clear that it was not recalling Dasani, managers need to consider the trustworthiness of each media channel and choose the appropriate media channels to communicate with consumers,” Cheng said.

“It would be interesting to see how fake news might impact less established brands in the future.”

Journal Citation

“Consumer response to fake news about brands on social media: The effects of self-efficacy, media trust, and persuasion knowledge on company trust”
Authors: Zifei Chen, University of San Francisco; Yang Cheng, North Carolina State University
Published: Oct. 9, Journal of Product & Brand Management
DOI: 10.1108/JPBM-12-2018-2145