Marketing Messages Can Be Contagious

March 5, 2019

Key Takeaways

No matter how carefully designed, advertisements are not evaluated in isolation, and the emotions in one message can absolutely affect a neighboring product.

What does a teenager’s excitement over seeing a Taylor Swift poster displayed in a store have to do with selling school supplies located on a nearby shelf to that same teen? According to research co-authored by David Hardesty, the Carol Martin Gatton Endowed Chair of Marketing, the answer is: quite a lot, actually.

The recently published research, titled “More Than a Feeling: Emotional Contagion Effects in Persuasive Communication,” finds that the positive emotions a person experiences at seeing one particular item while shopping often carries over to unrelated items. “Marketers typically don’t consider that the emotions produced in one marketing message may be influencing more than just our feelings toward the targeted product,” writes Hardesty (with co-authors Jonathan Hasford and Blair Kidwell, both at Florida International University). “Our study should encourage marketers to think about how the emotions we associate with one product may affect how we view the next product we encounter.” Initially the authors conducted a pretest with college undergraduates involving attitudes towards four celebrities: Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Will Smith, and Justin Beiber. The study first examined how nearby displayed posters of musicians Swift (favorable) and Cyrus (unfavorable) affected spending on school supplies. In the second study, participants were asked to watch a series of ads for an upcoming movie starring Will Smith (favorable) and then ads for an upcoming film starring Justin Bieber (unfavorable).

Marketers typically don’t consider that the emotions produced in one marketing message may be influencing more than just our feelings toward the targeted product.

Afterwards, they were shown an ad for a shoe company and were asked to evaluate the shoe brand. As a result, in the first study the presence of an unrelated positive or negative celebrity poster led to an increase or decrease, respectively, in consumer spending on school supplies. The results held true in the second study also, as viewing a positive celebrity movie ad led participants to evaluate the shoe ad more positively, and vice versa.

Advertisements for emotion-laden fictitious brands influenced the evaluations of unrelated products when viewed next. If the fictitious brand was associated with positive emotions, evaluations of the unrelated product became more favorable. “Whereas marketers often focus on price and prominence when purchasing ad space, this study stresses the importance of nearby ads and how they affect the primary message. In television, this would mean considering ads airing directly before the target ad. In magazine advertising, marketers should consider ads on nearby pages,” the authors explain. “No matter how carefully designed, advertisements are not evaluated in isolation, and the emotions in one message can absolutely affect a neighboring product.”

More Than a Feeling: Emotional Contagion Effects in Persuasive Communication

Authors:

David Hardesty, Chair of the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain, Gatton Endowed Chair of Marketing, Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky 
Jonathan Hasford, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Florida International University
Blair Kidwell, Associate Professor of Marketing, Logistics, & Operations Management, College of Business, University of North Texas

Publication:

Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 52, No. 6, pages 836-847, December 2015

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