NEW YORK: Ads eliciting negative emotions such as guilt can prompt people to donate money to charity, but positive messages are more impactful in encouraging major decisions like fostering a child, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Writing in the current edition of JAR, Melanie Randle, Leonie Miller and Joanna Stirling, from the University of Wollongong, and Sara Dolnicar, from the University of Queensland, examine the power of positive emotion through an advertising experiment that was related to foster care, and conducted with 470 respondents.

Key findings from Framing Advertisements to Elicit Positive Emotions and Attract Foster Carers: An Investigation into the Effects of Advertising on High-Cognitive-Elaboration Donations  include the notion that guilt – a negative emotion shown to be highly effective in eliciting monetary donations – has no impact on reactions to an advertisement in the context of foster care. Sadness had only a small impact, too. (Non subscribers can read the report here.)

The study did reveal, however, that positive emotions in support of high-cognitive-elaboration donations, like fostering a child, engendered a stronger reaction to the ad than negative emotions in similar circumstances.

In more detail, the authors write, "Positive emotions caused stronger reactions to the ads, with processing motivation and pre-existing attitudes playing a critical role.

"Implications for marketing foster care – and possibly other, similar high-cognitive-elaboration donations – include that ongoing communication and elicitation of positive emotions are essential to first form the right processing motivations and attitudes, which then more likely will lead to behavioral change on later advertising exposures."

Data sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by Warc staff