I am so excited to bring you the first article in Ghostit’s series, Science Digested. The goal of this series is to bring primary data to people who may or may not be trained to read scientific articles. We will be breaking down the latest and best published scientific articles involving consumer behaviour, marketing science, and business science into digestible, easy to understand speak.
In this first piece, we took a look at a paper recently published this year titled “Just do it! Why committed consumers react negatively to assertive ads,” written by Yael Zemack-Rugar, Sarah G. Moore, Gavan J. Fitzsimons.
Just like the title suggests, these researchers address whether or not more assertive (“aggressive”) call to actions within ads are effective, and show that the effectiveness of having an assertive call to action depends strongly on the buyer’s relationship and commitment to the brand.
The Short Recap
Zemack-Rugar and his colleagues compared committed customer reactions to non-committed customer reactions on assertive ads. Not surprisingly, those committed to a brand actually feel guilty if they ignore the messages directed by these brands.
This creates a bigger pressure for them to give in and comply. What blew our mind was that this built pressure had the opposite effect, it increased what the researchers called a reactance, which actually reduced the buyers desire to buy. To top it off, this reactance led to a decrease in ad and brand liking altogether.
The Research History
Assertive language in advertising directs people to do specific things. A call to action, something that is commonly touted in the marketing world can be a means to assertive advertising. For example, a call to action could look like “Buy Now” or “Like us on Facebook”. As mentioned above, this type of language actually creates pressure for buyers which ultimately has the opposite effect that businesses want.
Why? These call to actions are not examples of choice, there is no option to refuse. As humans, we HATE being told what to do. So naturally, we automatically switch gears in attitudes to protect our free will.
Evolution at it’s finest right? Because of this, buyers tend to disregard assertive ads, even backlashing against them by evaluating this communication and communicator (i.e. the company) negatively.
Yet despite this evidence, people still use assertive ads (surprise surprise). An analysis of America’s top ten print magazines revealed that 72% of ads contained this assertive language. Take that Nike ad above. But why does this happen?
That’s what Zemack-Rugar and his colleagues explored in their paper. What they found was that reactance heavily depended on the consumer-brand relationship. Compared to consumers in uncommitted brand relationships, those that were committed actually had a more negative response (uh oh).
Again, why does this occur? They hypothesized that this happened because those who were committed have a stronger tendency to comply than those that weren’t committed. These strong “compliance norms” led to greater guilt if the ad was ignored and well… you know the rest.
I won’t bore you with this, but if you really want to read it here’s the link to the paper.
Their studies showed that non-compliance guilt (the guilt buyers felt when they did not engage in the direct instructions of the ad) increased pressure to comply, which as they predicted increase the buyer’s negative reaction to assertive ads. This study showed that when this noncompliance guilt was manipulated, the responses to the ads increased or decreased accordingly.
Assertive language in advertising direct people to do specific things. As we’ve read throughout this piece, research has shown that assertive or aggressive ads actually have the opposite effect of what we want on our committed buyers. It creates a stronger reactance by inducing the feeling of guilt in our buyers if they ignore our message, leading to a less likelihood of them liking the ad AND the brand too.
Not surprisingly, this leads to less money spent on the brand altogether. However, this does not necessarily mean all call to actions are bad. It just means that we have to pay attention to how we create our call to actions. The more direct may not be the better as some blogs will advise. A call to action in a piece of advertisement or content needs to make sense and needs to belong to that piece of advertisement.