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Professor Aparna Labroo Offers Holiday Advice to Advertisers


To combat the stress among holiday shoppers, marketers must ramp up their advertising to elicit more positive emotions, say two academic experts. According to new research by Aparna Labroo of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Derek Rucker of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, by discerning the negative emotions of consumers, advertisers can maximize their ad strategy by crafting messages to ease negative feelings and create a more positive mindset.

“Advertisers have the creative control to strengthen an ad’s emotional appeal. They can show particular ads to offset a television show’s demeanor, offering up happy or calming emotions to the viewer when watching a drama that evokes sadness or anxiety,” said Rucker, associate professor of marketing at the Kellogg School. “Furthermore, marketing managers with flexible mediums, such as online and digital media, are able to tweak their messages to the mood of the population at large, even as the mood changes.”

The researchers hypothesized that matching negative emotions with specific positive outcomes can counteract consumers’ anxiety or stress. As part of the research, they provided evidence that specific emotions are associated with either approach orientations (sadness, anger and happiness) or avoidance orientations (anxiety, embarrassment and calmness). Furthermore, they predicted that negative emotions would best be addressed by positive emotions that match in orientation. For example, negative emotions of sadness and anger, both approach-oriented emotions, are best quelled by happiness, which is also approach-oriented. In contrast, negative emotions of anxiety and embarrassment, both avoidance-oriented emotions, are best quelled by calmness, also avoidance-oriented.

To test this notion experimentally, participants recalled a past event that made them sad, angry, embarrassed or anxious. In turn, participants received an advertisement for a ski resort associated with calmness or happiness. Participants reported their evaluation of the vacation destination as well as their current mood. The experiment found sad or angry participants evaluated the destination as offering happiness (matching in approach orientation) more favorably than a destination offering calmness. Anxious or embarrassed participants evaluated the destination as offering calmness (matching in affect orientation) more favorably than happiness. Overall, participants reported feeling better when receiving an advertisement containing a matching positive emotion.

“This research suggests marketing managers can enhance the persuasiveness of their advertising messages by associating their product with the appropriate emotions being experienced by consumers,” said Labroo, associate professor of marketing at Chicago Booth. “In tough economic times, when anxiety tends to be more prevalent, it is better for brands to use their advertising to associate their product with positive emotions of calmness rather than happiness. This subtlety makes a difference. For those advertising during a depressing documentary, it would be better to consider advertising with an emphasis on happiness.”

This research extends on existing literature on affect regulation revealing consumers regulate in an emotion-specific way. When feeling angry versus anxious, consumers prefer positive emotional experiences catering to the specific orientation of their negative emotion. By utilizing these strategies in the 2009 holiday season, marketers might be able to find additional attentive consumers.

“The Orientation-Matching Hypothesis: An Emotion Specificity Approach to Affect Regulation” examines whether specific consumers’ emotions affect the type of positive emotions they are most receptive to. The article will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Marketing Research.