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Positive Ads Don’t Always Attract Consumers

People who are truly interested in a product devote more mental energy to processing complex emotional appeals.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Emotional Persuasion: When the Valence versus the Resource Demands of Emotions Influence Consumers’ Attitudes
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Loraine Lau-Gesk and Joan Meyers-Levy

Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming

Date Published: 
June 2009 (electronic version)

Are upbeat, peppy commercials the most appealing to potential customers? This study argues that commercials relying on emotions such as happiness, making use of uplifting scenes and positive narrative outcomes, don’t always attract and maintain consumers’ attention — especially if the consumers are highly interested in the product. Consumers’ responses are also governed by how much mental energy they are able to concentrate on an ad, determined in part by its physical layout and whether the ad’s verbal message is integrated with its visual imagery. The authors used a study of ads for a moving company, featuring different scenes of a male college student surrounded by boxes, to determine that when consumers are genuinely interested in a particular message, they can invest more mental energy into processing nuanced emotions such as anxiety, guilt, nostalgia, and self-consciousness. Ads with a positive emotional appeal work better on less-interested consumers, but can turn off customers who want a deeper connection with — and more detailed information about — the product they are being persuaded to buy. 

Bottom Line:
Ads that play on a consumer’s positive emotions aren’t always more persuasive than those that feature deeper or even negative elements. Customers who are truly interested in a product devote more mental energy to processing complex emotional appeals.


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