How do ads depicting mixed emotions persuade abstract thinkers?

People who think more abstractly respond better to ads that portray mixed emotions, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Authors Jiewen Hong (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) and Angela Y. Lee (Northwestern University) also discovered that factors such as age and culture affect people’s ability to think abstractly.

One example of a mixed emotions ad is a recent Bud Light commercial where a young woman shares her mixed emotions with her mother on her wedding day. While happy and excited on this important occasion, the bride expresses her worries and asks her mother how to make the marriage work. The mother’s advice is to do the things her partner likes, including giving him his Bud Light.

In five experiments, the researchers found that “people who think more abstractly are not bothered by having mixed emotions and in turn are more persuaded by mixed emotions appeals as compared to people who think at a more concrete level.” Although people differ in their natural tendencies to think abstractly or concretely, they can also be prompted to think abstractly.

The authors found that elderly and Asians subjects thought more abstractly, which resulted in their finding mixed emotions ads more appealing. “The philosophy and outlook toward life of Asians and older adults are such that they can handle duality better than North Americans and younger adults,” the authors write.

In one study, the authors presented participants aged between 19 and 70 with either a mixed emotions ad or a happy ad. As age increased, so did preferences for ads featuring mixed emotions.

“This research offers practical implications for marketers planning their advertising campaigns. The findings suggest that in developing mixed emotions ads, advertisers should frame the benefits of the products more abstractly such as highlighting why one should use the product (as opposed to how to use the product) so that the viewers would like them more,” the authors conclude.

Jiewen Hong and Angela Y. Lee. “Feeling Mixed but Not Torn: The Moderating Role of Construal Level in Mixed Emotions Appeals.” Journal of Consumer Research: October 2010. A preprint of this article (to be officially published online soon) can be found at http://journals.uchicago.edu/jcr).

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