The complicated consumer: Positive ads aren't always the most effective

June 15, 2009

Ads that feature positive emotions, like happiness, are not always the best way to reach consumers, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Authors Loraine Lau-Gesk (University of California, Irvine) and Joan Meyers-Levy (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis) investigated consumer attitudes toward emotional ads. They discovered that people's responses are affected by factors such as the amount of mental energy or attention they are able to devote to the ads as well as the physical layout of the advertising.

"Although under some circumstances may respond more favorably to ads that feature positive rather than negative emotions, this is not always the case," the authors explain. "Instead, how favorably consumers respond to ads depends on whether the amount of mental resources they devote to the ad is comparable to the amount of such resources that are needed to optimally appreciate and understand key aspects of the ad."

When consumers are interested in an ad, they are better able to devote mental resources to thinking about it, the authors explain. Therefore advertising aimed at interested consumers can tap into more complicated emotions, such as bittersweet nostalgia, anxiety, and guilt.

In contrast, disinterested consumers react to less nuanced messages. "When ad recipients lack much interest in an ad and therefore expend minimal mental resources processing it, the favorableness of their response to the ad depends primarily on the favorableness of the ad's emotional appeal," the authors write.

"Ads that convey positive emotions by depicting uplifting events, outcomes, or people will not always enhance persuasion more than ads that feature downhearted or agitated emotions," the authors write. "While more upbeat ads may be more persuasive among consumers who lack much interest in and expend few mental resources considering the ad, this may not hold true for more interested and involved consumers who invest considerable mental resources thinking about the ad or its product."

Source: University of Chicago Press Journals

Explore further: Consumers and commercials studied

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