Business Psychology - Latest Findings

Article No. 269
Customer Psychology Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

Mood and Persuasion

Research reveals an unexpected influence of mood on the acquisition of attitudes.

If you watch sporting events on television, you undoubtedly have watched more than a few beer ads, so answer a question if you can: Do you remember any product claims from these commercials?

You'd probably have to think to remember any.

Now try a different question: Do you remember any party scenes in the beer ads where people are having a wonderful time, or pretty young women showing interest in pretty ordinary looking guys, or humorous situations that made you chuckle? Do these descriptions trigger a memory? Probably so. Finally, do you remember thinking that these ads were running pretty frequently and maybe you'd really like to get back to the game?

Your experience with these beer ads reflects an ongoing controversy in the advertising industry, and Eva Walther, from the University of Heidelberg, is right in the thick of things. Her recent research yielded findings that oppose current advertising practice in two areas illustrated in the beer ad example above. If you are a purchaser of advertising for your business, these findings could save you a lot of money.

The first area of controversy involves repetition.

Business owners want their advertising to give consumers a favorable attitude toward their business or brand so that when they are faced with a choice, they will be more likely to choose it. Forming favorable attitudes is the job of advertising, and ads accomplish this by pairing a brand with something that already has a favorable value. Young men like parties and pretty young women, so pairing a brand of beer with parties and young women causes the favorable attitudes toward the former to attach themselves to the beer.

Advertising agents insist that the more repetitions you can afford of your ad, the better. Professor Walther's research supported an opposite conclusion. She found that minimal exposure to a favorable association worked just fine. She also found that such attitudes were persistent and carried over into novel situations.

A second area of controversy involves the mood consumers are in when they view the ad. Current industry practice maintains that people need to be in a happy mood when they view ads so that their happy mood will become part of their attitude toward the brand. That's why so many beer ads are humorous. Just in case your team is losing badly and you're in a sad mood, they'll make you chuckle with their ad so that a favorable attitude attaches to the brand of beer in the commercial. This concern also explains why Coca Cola refuses to air commercials during news programs. They're afraid that sad feelings generated by the news will spoil the "fun" attitude they hope will attach to their product.

Professor Walther conducted an experiment that carefully controlled the mood of the consumer and then measured the strength of the attitudes that attached to the brands in her experiment. Her findings will surprise you.

People with happy moods were the most resistant of all to forming any new attitudes toward the products featured in her experiment. Conversely, people with sad moods were most likely to form attitudes.

Walther explains it this way.

When people are happy, they are satisfied. They aren't looking for anything at the moment, and they deliberately ignore cues from the environment. They aren't hungry. But when people are sad, they feel that something isn't right, and they are alert to information that will help them respond to this feeling. Advertising is trying to get their attention and to point it toward new, positive associations. A sad mood creates ideal conditions for considering ad messages.

Walther puts it this way: "Because the acquisition of attitudes was dramatically reduced in the good-mood condition, being happy may be a potent defense mechanism against unwelcome influences in advertising" (p. 771).

What to do? Perhaps you should photocopy this article and forward it to your ad agency. Ask them to study Professor Walther's work and explain to you why they should ignore it. If they can't, perhaps they could follow it. You could find your ads appearing fewer times in a wide variety of mediums and reaching many more people. You could also reduce your cost of producing ads.

Reference: Walther, Eva, and Sofia Grigoriadis (2004) Why Sad People Like Shoes Better: The Influence of Mood on the Evaluative Conditioning of Consumer Attitudes. Psychology & Marketing, 21 (10), 755-773.

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