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Positive And Negative Messages In Advertising

December 2008 - Research published earlier this year in the Journal of Consumer Research has found that as purchasing deadlines get nearer, a consumer's focus on products promising positive outcomes shifts to a willingness to pay more to help avoid an argument or other negative outcome.

The researchers explained:

"Consumers facing an imminent decision are confronted with the negative possibility of failing to fulfil their purchasing goal. When the purchase is still far off in the future, however, consumers are likely to be fairly optimistic about succeeding and less concerned with the possibility of goal failure."

In a series of experiments, Cassie Theriault (Stanford University), Jennifer L. Aaker (University of California, Berkeley), and Ginger L. Pennington (University of Chicago) found that participants were attracted to products with positive outcomes when there was no time pressure to make a purchase but were drawn to products that would help prevent negative outcomes as the deadline approached.

For example, participants were asked to consider a trip to Europe one month before the end of summer; either as a last-minute vacation or several months in the future. Participants were presented with ads from a fictitious Web site, PriceAlerts.com. Some were positive: "Give yourself a memorable vacation!" and "Get the best deal!" Others were negative: "Don't get stuck at home!" and "Don't get ripped off".

The researchers found that participants who were planning a last minute trip were willing to pay US$178 more, on average, when presented with a negative as opposed to a positive ad. Those planning a trip in the future responded more favourably to positive ads and were willing to pay US$165 more for a promotion-framed compared to a prevention-framed vacation.

Researchers argued that as the same amount of time can be framed as either short or long, advertisements for products that are prevention-oriented (such as insurance) would benefit from limiting the apparent time left before a purchasing deadline.

The researchers concluded:

"Given that most products can be advertised as a means to promote something positive or as a means to prevent something negative, these findings are highly relevant to advertisers and marketers in their efforts to attract consumers to their products. This research offers further understanding of the critical role of anticipated pleasure and pain in decision making."

Message Less Important Than Emotion in Advertising

Research by Dr Robert Heath, from the University of Bath's School of Management published in the Journal of Advertising Research two years ago found that the amount of emotional content in television advertisements affected viewers' opinions of the product, regardless of the intended message. High levels had a positive impact; low levels had no effect even if the advertisement was factual and informative.

Working in association with the research company OTX, Dr Heath analysed levels of emotional and rational content in 23 current TV advertisements screened in the USA and 20 in the UK. Researchers then asked 200 people in each country for their responses towards the brands advertised. Advertisements with high emotional content resulted in a significant positive change in attitude. Advertisements with low emotional content showed no real difference.

Dr Heath cites the 1992 UK Renault Clio campaign as an example of successful emotional advertising. This model of car was promoted by a series of advertisements featuring "Papa and Nicole" described as "philandering French people".

Robert Heath commented:

"The launch of the Renault Clio was an outstanding success, despite the ad failing to communicate the main message of small car convenience and big car luxury. The success suggests that it was some aspect of the emotional appeal of the scenario portrayed that influenced viewers."

These findings question "the assumption in most advertising models that it is the communication of the factual message that gives advertising its persuasive power. It seems to be the case that those who want their advertising to build strong relationships between the consumer and the brand would be well advised to focus more attention on the emotional metacommunication - the creativity - in their advertisements, than they do on the rational message communication."

The author argues that advertisements inducing positive emotional reactions appear to be more effective and may also reduce peoples' awareness of being influenced by marketing. This poses a problem for advertisers seeking to communicate factual information.

Dr Heath, author of The Hidden Power of Advertising, said:

"It has been believed in the advertising industry for some years that the creative idea gives the brand a competitive edge, and that the claims in advertising are often there just to allow the brand to set up a dialogue with the consumer. Our research findings seem to indicate this is true. In advertising, it appears to be the case that it's not what you say, but the way that you say it, that gets results."

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