Skeptical Consumers? Use Emotion, Not Facts

A very interesting study claims that skeptical consumers are more easily won with emotion.

Consumers who are very skeptical about the truth of advertising claims are more responsive to emotionally appealing ads than ones peppered with information, according to a new study.

The finding comes from work by researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle University, and Washington State University who examined consumers' responses to advertising, including brand beliefs, responses to informational and emotional appeals, efforts to avoid advertising, attention to ads and reliance on ads versus other information sources.

As part of the study, researchers showed consumers eight television commercials, half of which were defined as emotional, half as informational. For example, an emotional ad for Ernest and Julio Gallo wine emphasized a familial atmosphere at the winery and surrounding vineyards, while an informational ad for Joy dishwashing liquid showed how effectively the product removed baked-on foods.

Emotional ads are characterized as providing an emotional experience that is relevant to the use of the brand; informational ads predominantly provide clear brand data. All four of the emotional ads rated lower in providing viewers product information than the four informational ads. Surprisingly, said the researchers, consumers who considered themselves highly skeptical of all ads were persuaded less by informational ads than they were by emotional ads like the wine commercial. Also, they found that non-skeptics were more responsive to informational advertising.

"Skepticism leads to less attention to and reliance on advertising, and generally a decreased chance that the consumer will purchase the advertised product," said co-author Doug MacLachlan, professor of marketing and international business at the UW Business School. "Highly skeptical consumers have likely become skeptical over time, in response to numerous interactions in the marketplace that have led them to distrust ad claims. Advertisers have developed strategies for approaching these skeptical consumers, including using emotional appeals, whose success does not require acceptance of informational claims."

I always thought marketing was about simply and clearly conveying benefits. I'm skeptical of this study. Maybe they should have had a more emotional press release.

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