Representational shifts - Increasing motivation for bottled water through simulation-enhancing advertisements

Background Despite its numerous health benefits, consumers’ daily water consumption is below the recommend level while soft drink consumption remains high. Previous research has shown that the degree to which drinks are cognitively represented of in terms of consuming and enjoying them (i.e., through simulations of consumption and reward) predicts desire and intake. Here, we examined whether simulation-enhancing advertisements framing water in terms of consumption and reward changes cognitive representations and increases motivation for a fictitious bottled water. Methods In three pre-registered online experiments (Nexp1 = 984; Nexp2 = 786; Nexp3 = 907), UK participants viewed three advertisements that highlighted either the rewarding consumption experience of water (e.g., “refresh all your senses with this smooth, cool water”), health consequences of drinking water (e.g., “this water takes care of your health”), or control advertisements. We assessed cognitive representations of the bottled water with a Feature Listing task, and we coded the words used as consumption and reward features or positive long-term health consequences features. We assessed motivation by measuring attractiveness of the water (only in Exp. 1), desire to drink it, and willingness to pay for it (WTP). Results In line with our hypotheses, participants represented the bottled water more in terms of consumption and reward simulation features after viewing simulation-enhancing advertisements, and more in terms of long-term positive health consequences features after viewing health-focused advertisements. There was no direct effect of advertisement condition on motivation. However, significant indirect effects showed that simulation-enhancing advertisements increased desire and WTP through the proportion of consumption and reward features, whereas health-focused advertisements increased motivation through an increase in the proportion of positive long-term health consequences features. The effect through consumption and reward was stronger. Conclusions These findings are in line with research suggesting that experiencing immediate reward from drinking water underlies intake. Public health interventions should emphasize enjoyment, rather than long-term health benefits.