Compensating for poor performance with promotional symbols: Evidence from a survey experiment

Saar Alon-Barkat, Sharon Gilad

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Extant literature regarding citizens' responses to government public communications focuses on the roles of transparency and provision of information. Conversely, the effect of strategically designed symbols, which are integral to most public communications, received limited attention. Building on social psychology and marketing research, we theorize that familiar promotional symbols enhance citizens' positive attitudes toward government through "evaluative conditioning," yet this effect is conditioned by citizens' experiences of actual government performance. We test these expectations via a survey experiment, which examines participants' responses to a familiar promotional symbol of an Israeli state-owned electricity monopoly, given near-random variation in their experiences of prolonged power outages. We find that exposure to the well-known symbol enhances participants' favorable attitudes toward the organization, and that this effect extends to those who recently experienced poor electricity services. The effect is significant in relation to participants' trust in the organization, but not regarding their satisfaction and performance evaluation. These findings indicate that familiar promotional symbols can shape citizens' attitudes, and compensate for the effect of poor performance, with regard to sufficiently ambiguous organizational aspects. We discuss the implications of these findings for current research on the effectiveness of transparency and performance information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)661-675
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Public Management Research Association. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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