AuthorsP. Filkukova and K. Teigen
EditorsK. P. K. Parianou
TitleInterpretations of "can" and "will" in Consumer Communication About Risks and Benefits
AfilliationSoftware Engineering, Software Engineering
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2012
Book TitleNarratives of Risk: Interdisciplinary studies
PublisherWaxmann Verlag

Marketers frequently promote products through statements about what the product can or will do; they are also obliged to report what kind of adverse side effects a product can have. How strong, and how pervasive, are such effects perceived to be? And how persuasive are such messages? In five experiments, participants were asked to estimate the frequencies (prevalences) implied by can- and will-statements about the risks and benefits associated with various products, including cosmetics and drugs. The results showed that negative side effects that can happen were considered more frequent than positive intended effects, whereas positive and negative side effects were considered to have a more equal likelihood of occurrence. Positive statements containing can were generally viewed as more persuasive than statements describing corresponding numerical frequencies. On the other hand, negative can-statements were seen as less discouraging than corresponding statistical statements about the risks involved. We conclude that can is a powerful rhetorical device, which allows the speaker to describe the ability of a product to attain desirable results, while not ruling out the possibility of minor drawbacks.