To investigate perceptions and associations of shock food labelling and to assess the impact on consumer behaviour
: a quasi-experimental approach

  • Amy Heaps

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Within the UK, several attempts by governing bodies to influence consumer behaviours in relation to food and drink products have been implemented, such as the traffic light labelling scheme. Despite various techniques being used to encourage consumer behaviour, shock and fear tactics have not been utilised. These tactics have been seen within the UK through standardised cigarette packaging, yet there are no reported studies which have investigated the use of shock and fear tactics in relation to food products. Consumers are cognitive learners (Solomon, 2018) and cognitive learning is connected to the consumer decision-making process, including reactions to fear and threat appeals. Such appeals threaten a target market and provoke a desired behavioural change (Walton, 2013).

A 3-stage crossover design using mixed methods, based on a pragmatic philosophical approach was used which included online focus groups, followed by mouse-tracking trials and then two-alternative forced choice experiments. For analysis of the online focus groups NVivo 12 was utilised, with SPSS (version 28) being used for the mouse tracking trials Finally, SPSS was also used to analyse the results of the two-alternative forced choice experiments.

Results show that consumers are impacted by mock shock labels on food products. It was found that most attention is given to graphic images and that a loss framed message style would be most impactful. Participants agreed a combination of a written health warning and a graphic image would be the most impactful to encourage behavioural change. It is hoped results will inform government departments, policy makers and food retailers of potential consumer perceptions and reactions to shock food labelling.
Date of AwardJun 2023
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for the Economy
SupervisorAmy Burns (Supervisor) & Una McMahon-Beattie (Supervisor)


  • Shock advertising
  • Consumer behaviour
  • Decision making
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Health promotion
  • Disease prevention

Cite this