Motivational appeals using emotions - Gass and Seiter - Article

What are motivational appeals?

Motivational appeals are external inducements (incentives, other than the message itself), often of an emotional nature, that are created to increase an individual’s drive to undertake some course of action. These external inducements are often aimed to change people’s mood, feelings or emotions.
For example, someone needs new rain gutters on his house and calls a salesperson. The salesperson comes, but he looks tired and disheveled. Furthermore, he has a speech impediment, and tells a sad story about how he got a fine on his way to the customer, because he did not have his seatbelt on, and he cannot afford it to buy a new one at the moment. The customer feels sympathy for the salesperson and decides to contract him, even though he is more expensive than other local businesses. The salesperson’s appeal to pity is an example of a motivational appeal.

Which two types of motivation exist?

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is drive that comes from within, for example: “you live to work”. Contrary, external motivation comes from an outside factor, for example: “you work to live”. All motivational appeals that are discussed in this paper are extrinsic in nature.

How do motivational appeals appear in emotional marketing?

According to the attachment theory, people develop emotional connections to specific brands. A well-known example of this is Apple: owners of Mac, iPhone, and iPad share an emotional attachment with their devices. Due to this emotional connection, marketers are able to engage customers, to make them feel passionate about their brand, and “push their buttons”.
Emotional appeals are not effective for all purchases. More specifically, some purchases are more utilitarian, such as buying gasoline or a microwave. Others are more hedonic, more driving by pleasure seeking and emotion, such as buying clothes or music. Although recently some authors claimed that emotional ads are effective for both utilitarian and hedonic purchases, the authors of the present article believe that emotions play an important role in persuasion, but that they do not rule all our decisions.

What is the distinction between logical and emotional appeals?

In ancient times, Aristotle classified logos (logic, reasoning) and pathos (passion, emotion) as two separate forms of influence. Nowadays, the distinction between logical and emotional is believed to be fuzzier. Whether a message is logic or emotional, does not only depend upon the message, but also on how the person perceives the message. When people agree with the message, they tend to perceive is as logical. Instead, when people disagree with the message, they tend to perceive it as being more emotional in nature.

What are fear appeals?

Fear appeals are common in childhood, for example: “Don’t run with scissors, you’ll poke your eye out”. Fear appeals are also prevalent in the workplace, public health, advertisements (for example for shampoo, deodorants) and so on. Some even go so far to claim that America has become a culture based on fear.

What do fear appeals depend on?

The effectiveness of fear appeals depends on several factors. First, it depends on the fear level of intensity. In general, there is a positive linear relationship for fear appeals: the more fear, the more vulnerable receivers feel, and the higher the chance that they will be persuaded. However, several assumptions must be satisfied in order for this general rule to apply. The extended parallel process model (EPPM) identified three conditions that must be satisfied to obtain an effective fear appeal: 1) perceived vulnerability 2) danger control 3) perceived efficacy. These three will be explained with an example in the following paragraph.
Assume Timmy is exposed to an AIDS prevention slogan: “Sex – Condom = HIV”. First, Timmy must perceive some vulnerability to the threat (= perceived vulnerability). Otherwise, he will not pay attention. Second, it is important that the slogan arouses danger control (focus on constructive ways to reduce the risk), which is more effective than fear control (“worrying about worry”, which often results in denial, avoidance or panic). Third, the slogan should arouse perceived efficacy: Timmy must believe that the condoms are effective at preventing HIV. This concept is related to self-efficacy (Timmy must believe he is able to figure out how a condom works) and response efficacy (if Timmy thinks condoms break frequently, he won’t believe they are effective. A way to persuade Timmy is to provide statistics on the reliability of condoms). If response efficacy and self-efficacy are present, a person is more likely to engage in danger control (instead of fear control).
Finally, although there is a positive relationship for fear appeals (thus: the more the better), the level of perceived fear should not exceed the level of perceived efficacy. Thus, this general relationship holds, as long as perceptions of threat do not outweigh perceptions of efficacy.

How do pity and guilt influence decisions?

We all know the commercials with heartbreaking images of abused pets and starving children. In fact, the most successful commercial in history is the one sponsored by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in which images of abuses pets are shown and Sara McLachlan sings in the background. Several studies have shown that invoking feelings of pity and guilt facilitate compliance: guilt appeals appear to be very effective.
Another example of how pity and guilt influence one’s decisions is when arranging a funeral. Funerals are expensive. In addition, negotiating the price of funerals comes at the worst possible time: when rational thinking is impaired because of the loss of a loved one. Persons who grieve are an easy mark: we may feel it is blunt to bargain over prices for a funeral, and are therefore easily influenced by funeral home directors, who may try to take advantage of your vulnerability.
There is one situation in which guilt appeals should be applied differently: people, who feel guilty because they wronged a person, are likely to avoid further interaction with that particular person, because they feel embarrassed or try to minimize the risk of a confrontation. In those situations, the focus of a guilt appeal should not be on a further loss of face, but instead on emphasizing the positive self-feelings that result from doing the right thing.

How does humor influence decisions?

Another way to persuade people is by humorous appeals. Humor appears to be an effective means of persuasion. For example, comedian Jon Stewart was ranked number one on the list of “most influential men” in 2010. Hidden among jokes, viewers are apprised of serious political and social criticism. Not surprisingly, 21-48% of all advertisements include humor.
Typically, jokes do not influence decisions directly. Instead, humor tends to work indirectly. Two common ways in which humor influences decisions are by 1) capturing attention 2) increasing liking and 3) inhibiting counter arguing. The latter can be explained as follows: because jokes require a certain cognitive effort to comprehend, people are less inclined to scrutinize the statements thoroughly and therefore suppress counter arguing. Finally, humor may influence decisions by 4) social proof. As people tend to laugh more in the presence of others, social proof involves modelling our behavior after the actions or reactions of others.

What types of humor are present?

There are 45 different types of humor. The most common distinction is between humor directed at oneself (self-disparaging humor) and humor directed at others.

How does humor influence credibility?

Humor aids certain dimensions of credibility more than others: In general, humor tends to enhance perceptions or trustworthiness and goodwill, but is lowers perceptions of expertise and competence.
In line with this, the authors of the paper advice to use self-disparaging humor (“lolling at yourself”) only if you think you have moderate to high credibility to begin with. They think self-disparaging humor is ineffective in one has low credibility at the start.

Is humor effective?

Yes, humor can be effective. In particular, humor enhances attitudes towards a brand and purchase intentions. But, humor does not appear to be superior to other appeals, such as fear and pride appeals. Humor may work with a so-called sleeper effect: the effect of humor may grow over time, leading to more persuasion later on.
Three tips to make humorous appeals effective: 1) use related humor; thus integrate humor into the content of the message 2) add gravitas at the end of the humorous message; thus stress the serious point you are trying to make by using humor 3) don’t overdo it; using too much humor, as it may reduce the credibility of the message.

How do pride and patriotism influence decisions?

When used appropriately, pride and patriotism are effective forms of motivational appeals. For example, patriotic symbols (such as the American flag) are likely to increase consumer’s intentions to purchase domestic instead of foreign brands.

How do sex appeals influence decisions?

“Sex sells”. Sexual appeals are increasingly being used in television and internet advertisements. Most sex appeals work according to the simple formula: 1) If you use product “X”, you will look/act/feel sexier or 2) If you use product “X”, other sexy people will be attracted to you. Through certain claims, the consumer might identify the product with sexiness or sensuality (without the advertisers making an explicit cause-and-effect claim about their product).
Sex appeals are not always effective. Context is very important for sex appeals to be effective. For example, in France men might be more attracted to women with large breasts, whereas Chinese men favor other characteristics. In addition, advertisers must be careful not to cross the line of creating ads that are sexy to ads that are considered sexist (think for example of the Victoria Secret campaign).

How does warmth influence decisions?

Another way to use motivational appeals is by including warmth in the advertisements. For example, advertisements may emphasize family, friends, and a sense of belonging to convey a warm and cozy feeling (“Like a good neighbor, we are there”). Warmth appeals are used often in real estate by including words as “charming”, “cozy” and “rustic” to describe houses. Warmth influence decisions primarily through association: the ad aims to associate the product or service with the image of being warm, caring, or friendly. They are effective, as long as they have some credibility (for example, describing a house with the size of a box, as cozy, is not believable, and therefore the warmth appeal is probably not effective).

How does flattery influence decisions?

Researchers use the term ingratiation for the use of flattery (“brownnosing”, “sucking up” or “boot-licking”) as a motivational appeal. Even when the persons knows or suspects that the compliments are induced to curry favor, flattery is still effective, although perhaps a little less.
There are three explanations for the effectiveness of flattery. It 1) increases liking 2) it creates perceptions of similarity 3) it can work through social labelling. The latter is explained as follows: using positive social labels, such as “You are in a good mood today” may produce changes in a person’s self-concept, which lead to changes in that persons behavior (living up to the positive label assigned to him or her).
There are several ways to engage in flattery. Three basic categories of ingratiation have been identified: 1) other enhancement, such as giving compliments or engaging in flattery 2) opinion conformity: agreeing with the statement, ideas or views of the other person and 3) self-presentation: displaying one’s attributes to increase the other’s evaluation of you (“I’d love to play golf with you, but I am volunteering at the homeless center this weekend”).

What other types of motivational appeals exist?

In this paper, several types of motivational appeals are discussed. However, this overview is not complete, as there are many other motivational appeals, such as: honor, youth, beauty, shame, freedom, and the environment. Almost any human drive or emotion can be used as the basis for a motivational appeal. In addition, one can use a combination of emotions. For example, guilt is often combined with pity in fundraising advertisements. Combining emotions has the advantage that if the one does not work, the other still might be effective. Furthermore, they can have an additive effect and hence increase the effectiveness. Nevertheless, the danger of combining emotions is that they may be contradictory and cancel each other out.


  • Motivational appeals are external inducements, often of an emotional nature, that are created to increase an individual’s drive to undertake some course of action.

  • The paper discusses eight different types of motivational appeals:

    1. Fear

    2. Pity

    3. Guilt

    4. Humor

    5. Patriotism

    6. Sex

    7. Warmth

    8. Ingratiation (flattery)

  • In general, there is a positive linear relationship between fear appeals and the fear level of intensity: the more fear, the more vulnerable receivers feel, and the higher the chance that they will be persuaded.

  • The extended parallel process model (EPPM) identified three conditions that must be satisfied to obtain an effective fear appeal:

    1. Perceived vulnerability

    2. Danger control

    3. Perceived efficacy

  • Humor is an effective motivational appeal, when the following three conditions are satisfied: 1) use related humor 2) add gravitas at the end of the humorous message 3) don’t overdo it.

  • Researchers use the term ingratiation for the use of flattery (“brownnosing”, “sucking up” or “boot-licking”) as a motivational appeal.

  • Three ways to engage in ingratiation are:

    1. Other enhancement

    2. Opinion conformity

    3. Self-presentation


  • Study the different form of motivational appeals. Give examples of: fear appeals, guilt appeals, humor appeals, pride appeals, sex appeals, and warmth and ingratiation (flattery) appeals.

  • Describe the three conditions that must be satisfied to obtain effective fear appeals.

  • Describe three ways to use flattery as a motivational appeal.

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