Best practice in guilt-trip communications

Paolo Antonetti and Paul Baines
Queen Mary University of London and Cranfield University

Guilt-eliciting communications are used extensively by charities when advertising for donations, and by governments when attempting to demarket behaviours such as smoking in front of children or drink-driving, but how useful are guilt-eliciting communications for conventional marketers?

Marketing messages that seek to elicit guilt are very common. Healthier food alternatives or ecological products are frequently promoted as 'guilt-free' choices. Marketing aimed at parents is another context where companies feed on the target audience's insecurities to trigger guilty feelings to motivate the purchase of a variety of products for babies or young children. A recent analysis indicated that around 10% of all magazine articles aimed at parents with small children use guilt-based messages.