An Exploratory Assessment of the Effect of Alternative Advertising Appeals

J. S. (Vic) Johar, California State University, San Bernardino
Madhav N. Segal, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville
ABSTRACT - An experiment is described in which alternative fear-arousing appeals are studied and are compared with the positive (benefit) and neutral (straight-forward information) type of appeals. Some of these effects conflict with come previous findings and suggest caution in using fear appeals in marketing communication.
[ to cite ]:
J. S. (Vic) Johar and Madhav N. Segal (1987) ,"An Exploratory Assessment of the Effect of Alternative Advertising Appeals", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 572.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, 1987      Page 572

AN EXPLORATORY ASSESSMENT OF THE EFFECT OF ALTERNATIVE ADVERTISING APPEALS

J. S. (Vic) Johar, California State University, San Bernardino

Madhav N. Segal, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville

ABSTRACT -

An experiment is described in which alternative fear-arousing appeals are studied and are compared with the positive (benefit) and neutral (straight-forward information) type of appeals. Some of these effects conflict with come previous findings and suggest caution in using fear appeals in marketing communication.

BACKGROUND

Persuasive communication in marketing and advertising has used both fear and benefit appeals to elicit compliance. Yet very little research can be found that has tested the efficacy of a fear appeal vs. promise of a benefit.

Raven and Kruglanski (1970) and later Rubin and Lewicki (1973) found some evidence that influence attempts that employed a reward type appeal resulted in more compliance than did those relying on coercion. However, among low anxiety subjects a fear arousing appeal may be more effective than a positive appeal, while opposite may be true among high anxiety subjects, Wheatley and Oshikawa (1970).] Evans et. al. (1970) compared the effect of threatening physical consequences and the promise of social approval and found that actual behavior change was greater for appeals based on the latter.

RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

This study seeks to remove some ambiguities in the earlier research in the use of fear appeals and provide some directions for advertising researchers working in this area. Specifically, the main research objective of this study is to: (a) assess the effectiveness of alternative advertising appeals (on a reward-coercion continuum) and (b) examine the nature of the relationship between communication effects and the degree of fear appeal.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

Earlier researchers (Ray and Wilkie 1970, Burnett and Oliver 1979) have indicated that the efficacy of the use of fear appeals is perhaps subject, product, or situation specific. Our proposed experimental study is designed specifically to address these concerns. Cigarette smoking was chosen as the substantive context to understand the effects of the use of fear appeals in healthcare advertising, and this study, unlike earlier studies in the field, is relevant to the situation since all subjects are either active or Passive smokers.

The survey instrument consisted of the following measures: (a) A 12 item scale measured attitudes toward the most common reasons why smokers may want to stop smoking and the importance of these reasons to them. (b) A 12 item scale measured the subjects' knowledge of the real effects of smoking. (c) An 18 item scale measured the subjects' reasons for smoking cigarettes. (d) A 13 item scale assessed environmental and interpersonal influences that might facilitate or hinder a smoker's attempt to alter the smoking habit.

The advertisements used in the study depict six different levels of appeals based on the reward-coercion continuum: level I (positive appeal), level II (neutral messages), levels III through V (varying degrees of fear appeal), and level VI (strong positive and mild negative). These illustrations were field tested, and three separate groups of student volunteers ranked them on the basis of the amount of fear appeal. To construct the advertisements, key messages were developed and appropriate corresponding visuals were made. Each respondent viewed the slide presentation after completing the attitude questionnaire. Five neutral slides were shown in succession prior to showing each advertising concept. All six concepts are randomized prior to presentation. Immediately after viewing the advertisements on the slides, each subject was asked to assess comprehension of the message and communication effects.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Two hundred and ninety seven usable questionnaires were included in the final analysis. A repeated measures analysis of variance procedure assessed the communication effects of the different advertising appeals used in the experimental study.

The degree of believability was very high for all six advertising concepts even though different advertising appeals produced statistically significant believability scores. These findings also indicate that the relative to the neutral appeal, all other types of advertising appeals were perceived to be more believable. Further, the medium level of fear appeal produced the highest believability score.

The analysis of variance results for message relevance across advertising appeal type indicated statistically significant differences. The analysis of variance for message pleasantness across advertising strongly indicated that respondent's evaluations on the message pleasantness varied significantly from one advertisement to another.

The findings from ANOVA for anxiety production of message across advertising appeal revealed statistically significant differences, but they were all relatively low scores. These results, therefore, indicate that the anxiety arousing persuasive messages were not so strong as to evoke such specific responses as withdrawal of attention, dislike of the sources etc.

The analysis of variance results for behavioral intention across advertising appeal indicated that the appeals differ significantly in their average intention behavioral ratings. Such variations in ratings cannot be attributed to chance alone. An examination of average ratings for each appeal type reveals that the strongest level of fear appeal elicits the highest intention-behavior rating and the neutral theme gets the lowest score on this measure.

These results appear not to support the corollary that the overall relationship between level of fear appeal and probability of pay off behavior will describe a nonmonotonic (inverted U-shaped function) so that use of intermediate levels of threat produces more of the target behavior than do lower or higher levels of threat. The findings indicate that: (i) for all levels of fear appeals, a significantly higher number of respondents indicate a higher degree of intention to undertake suggested behavior than when the advertisement contains a neutral theme. (ii) A significantly higher number of respondents indicate a high degree of intention to undertake the suggested behavior when the advertisement depicts a positive appeal than when it contains a neutral theme, and (iii) A significantly higher number of respondents indicate a higher degree of intention to undertake suggested behavior when the advertisement depicts a mixed (positive and mild fear) appeal than when it contains a neutral theme. However, the combination appeal is not found to be more effective than either a positive or negative appeal.

REFERENCES

(Available from the Authors)

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