Emotional Appeal: Does It Affect Spending? [Video]

emotional appeal

A recent consumer research study by Datamonitor Consumer revealed that rising living costs in the U.K. have affected a majority of shoppers by changing them into “savvy bargain hunters.” Almost half of the consumers surveyed monitor the prices of their favorite groceries among different stores. Two out of three consumers cook at home, and 48 percent more consumers favor private label products to save money. Overall, almost 70 percent of the U.K. consumers surveyed think that finding bargains is important, which is well over the global average of 58 percent. Senior analyst Katrina Diamonon of Datamonitor states that products that use value-for-money positioning need to be “implemented carefully so as not to infer a sense of compromise.” Value-focused brands must balance the emotional appeal of pampering oneself with the rationality of saving money.

An appeal to emotion refers to a type of argument that attempts to invoke emotions from a listener or an audience to gain acceptance of its viewpoint or stance. Political debates, TV commercials  and billboard ads often use emotional appeal to influence their target audience’s thoughts and behavior. Gary N. Curtis, Ph.D., who is the author of Fallacy Files, wrote that emotional appeal has two purposes: to motivate people to action or to convince people to believe in something. The latter is always fallacious, however, emotional appeal is sometimes reasonable when it motivates people to act.

“Even when appeals to emotion aim at motivating us, there is still a way that they may fail to be rational,” Curtis wrote. For example, the appeal of sympathy or pity is often used by many charities which portray photos and videos of hungry or disabled children in a destitute country. While this may motivate people to donate money, there may be little or no connection between the money given and the children that the donors wish to help. There is no certainty of knowing how much of that money is helping the specific needs of those children. “At best, it may go to help some similar children who need help,” Curtis wrote. In the worst case scenario, the money just goes into the coffers of the people who run the fundraiser to further more “fundraising efforts.”

Curtis added that when people get very emotional, they want to do something, but they also need valid reasons to believe that their actions will be effective, whether it is about giving to charities or voting for a candidate. “If all that a charity or candidate does is arouse emotions, that is no reason to give them money or votes.”

The amount of spending would depend on how people think rather than just emotional appeal alone, although the fallacy does affect part of the thinking process. Yale University economist Dean Karlan and Clemson University economist Daniel Wood recently published a study in Social Science Research Network that examined how people respond to different information presented by a charity. Freedom From Hunger was used to see how different soliciting strategies affect people’s behavior.

Karlan and Wood found that those who donate larger sums of money are more likely to donate if they are provided with information on the charity’s effectiveness and how the money is used. Donors who give smaller amounts, however, tend to respond negatively to appeals based on evidence rather than emotions. It is likely that evidence-based appeals “[turn] off the emotional trigger for giving or highlights uncertainty in aid effectiveness,” Karlan and Wood concluded.

For those who give emotionally, numbers do not matter much. Charities who want to reach out to them should show them photos or emotional anecdotes or stories about a needy child or family. For donors who give based on reason and logic, charities should provide them with information and statistics about the charity and their fund distribution. Small donors tend to give less to more charities while large donors tend to give more to less charities.

Emotion is one out of “three argumentative appeals” that ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle postulated. To have valid debates or discussions, he suggested that logic, ethics and emotion are the essential ingredients, according to the University Writing Center at the University of Central Florida. Logical appeal uses evidence, reason and claims, which include personal experience, acknowledgment of the opposition, facts, statistics, and validation of evidence and argument. Ethical appeal establishes the messenger as sincere, honest, trustworthy, knowledgeable and credible. Emotional appeal relies on the connection between the messenger and the audience and can sometimes override logic and ethics.

Among these three appeals, emotion may be the one that is often misused. Emotional appeal is used to hide a weak or illogical argument, mislead the audience, or react emotionally and illogically to complex problems. Examples include using stereotypes to pit one group of people against another or using sex appeal to advertise less nutritious foods. However, if emotional appeal is used properly with logical and ethical appeals, then it could positively affect people’s spending and action, such as some of the advertisements and messages that address environmental and social issues on Bored Panda. “Having just the facts is not enough. They are important, but the ad must also appeal to the observer’s emotions,” the website wrote. Thus, emotional appeal is neither “good” or “bad”; it depends on how it is used.

By Nick Ng

Datamonitor Consumer 1
Datamonitor Consumer 2
Fallacy Files
University of Central Florida
Yale University
Bored Panda

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