Shocking People Into Action: Does It Still Work? An Empirical Analysis of Emotional Appeals in Charity Advertising

Antje Cockrill

University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Isobel Parsonage

S & C Electric Company


  • Shock advertising does work, but not by shocking. Surprise, compassion, and interest seemed to be the key emotions to influencing behavioral intention; the creation of shock as an emotion was largely ineffective in this research.
  • Positive emotions played a dual role. Surprise, interest, and compassion were key drivers for all behavioral intentions in this research.
  • Hope, happiness, and joy, however, acted as emotional deterrents and probably should be avoided altogether for charitable advertising.
  • In this research, no single set of emotions emerged that consistently evoked the same behavioral response toward the same outcome variables across all advertising types.
  • This suggests that straightforward assumptions about the impact of emotions in the context of charity advertising are problematic, and that pretesting for best effectiveness plays an especially important role in this context.