Balance in Advertising
Skip to content
Marketing Dec 1, 2009

Balance in Advertising

Tailored marketing messages can counter consumers’ negative emotions

Based on the research of

Aparna Labroo

Derek D. Rucker

The holidays are meant to be a cheerful time, but all the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and other preparations has a way of sucking the joy right out of the season. Such gloomy sentiments can also lead to dismal returns at the cash register. To combat the stress among holiday shoppers, new research suggests that marketers should infuse their advertising with more positive emotions.

According to a new paper by Derek Rucker (Associate Professor of Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management) and Aparna Labroo (Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Chicago), advertisers who successfully discern consumers’ negative emotions 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,” says Rucker. “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.”

Orientation is key
Rucker and Labroo hypothesized that matching negative emotions with specific positive messages can counteract consumers’ anxiety or stress. Consumer’s negative emotions, they thought, would best be addressed by positive emotions that match the consumer’s emotional orientation. Approach oriented emotions can include sadness, anger, or happiness while avoidance oriented emotions can include anxiety, embarrassment, or calmness. 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.

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—an approach orientation—more favorably than a destination offering calmness. Anxious or embarrassed participants, on the other hand, evaluated the destination as offering calmness—an avoidance 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,” says Labroo. “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 adds to the existing literature on affect regulation. Consumers regulate their preferences in an emotion-specific way. When feeling angry versus anxious, consumers favor positive emotional experiences catering to the orientation of their negative emotion. By utilizing these strategies in the 2009 holiday season, marketers might be able to find additional attentive consumers.

Featured Faculty

Professor of Marketing

Sandy & Morton Goldman Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies in Marketing; Professor of Marketing; Co-chair of Faculty Research

About the Research

Labroo, Aparna A. and Derek D. Rucker. 2010. The Orientation-Matching Hypothesis: An Emotion Specificity Approach to Affect Regulation. Journal of Marketing Research, October, 47(5): 955-966.

Read the original

Most Popular This Week
  1. Will AI Eventually Replace Doctors?
    Maybe not entirely. But the doctor–patient relationship is likely to change dramatically.
    doctors offices in small nodules
  2. 3 Tips for Reinventing Your Career After a Layoff
    It’s crucial to reassess what you want to be doing instead of jumping at the first opportunity.
    woman standing confidently
  3. What Happens to Worker Productivity after a Minimum Wage Increase?
    A pay raise boosts productivity for some—but the impact on the bottom line is more complicated.
    employees unload pallets from a truck using hand carts
  4. 6 Takeaways on Inflation and the Economy Right Now
    Are we headed into a recession? Kellogg’s Sergio Rebelo breaks down the latest trends.
    inflatable dollar sign tied down with mountains in background
  5. What Is the Purpose of a Corporation Today?
    Has anything changed in the three years since the Business Roundtable declared firms should prioritize more than shareholders?
    A city's skyscrapers interspersed with trees and rooftop gardens
  6. How to Get the Ear of Your CEO—And What to Say When You Have It
    Every interaction with the top boss is an audition for senior leadership.
    employee presents to CEO in elevator
  7. Why We Can’t All Get Away with Wearing Designer Clothes
    In certain professions, luxury goods can send the wrong signal.​
    Man wearing luxury-brand clothes walks with a cold wind behind him, chilling three people he passes.
  8. Why You Should Skip the Easy Wins and Tackle the Hard Task First
    New research shows that you and your organization lose out when you procrastinate on the difficult stuff.
    A to-do list with easy and hard tasks
  9. How Are Black–White Biracial People Perceived in Terms of Race?
    Understanding the answer—and why black and white Americans may percieve biracial people differently—is increasingly important in a multiracial society.
    How are biracial people perceived in terms of race
  10. Which Form of Government Is Best?
    Democracies may not outlast dictatorships, but they adapt better.
    Is democracy the best form of government?
  11. When Do Open Borders Make Economic Sense?
    A new study provides a window into the logic behind various immigration policies.
    How immigration affects the economy depends on taxation and worker skills.
  12. Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?
    A new study dispels some of the mystery behind success after failure.
    Scientists build a staircase from paper
  13. How Has Marketing Changed over the Past Half-Century?
    Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking textbook came out 55 years ago. Sixteen editions later, he and coauthor Alexander Chernev discuss how big data, social media, and purpose-driven branding are moving the field forward.
    people in 1967 and 2022 react to advertising
  14. How Old Are Successful Tech Entrepreneurs?
    A definitive new study dispels the myth of the Silicon Valley wunderkind.
    successful entrepreneurs are most often middle aged
  15. How Offering a Product for Free Can Backfire
    It seems counterintuitive, but there are times customers would rather pay a small amount than get something for free.
    people in grocery store aisle choosing cheap over free option of same product.
  16. Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take
    A new study finds that immigrants are far more likely to found companies—both large and small—than native-born Americans.
    Immigrant CEO welcomes new hires
  17. College Campuses Are Becoming More Diverse. But How Much Do Students from Different Backgrounds Actually Interact?
    Increasing diversity has been a key goal, “but far less attention is paid to what happens after we get people in the door.”
    College quad with students walking away from the center
  18. How Peer Pressure Can Lead Teens to Underachieve—Even in Schools Where It’s “Cool to Be Smart”
    New research offers lessons for administrators hoping to improve student performance.
    Eager student raises hand while other student hesitates.
More in Marketing