The above review summarized some major conclusions regarding the structuring of messages to achieve maximum attitude change. We now turn out attention to message appeals and how they be used to enhance the persuasiveness of messages.
In some situations it seems reasonable for marketers to consider using fear in their attempts to persuade consumers. That is, fear of physical danger, social disapproval or other consequences seem potentially useful in influencing consumers’ attitudes and/or behavior toward the advertised band. In fact, fear appeals have been employed to promote the use of a wide range of goods from toothpaste to life insurance. In addition fear appeals have been used to promote social causes such as encouraging safe driving and use of seat belts (especially among teenagers) prevention of heart diseases and AIDS and reducing cigarette smoking. For example, to encourage safe driving in many new drivers or ones convicted of drunk driving, see very graphic video scenes of actual accidents showing gore ad exposing viewers to moans and screams of victims. The advertisement for Franklin Funds shows another example of a fear evoking appeal.
The earliest fear research appeared to suggest that as the intensity of a fear appeal increases its effectiveness in persuading audiences will decrease. One explanation is that strong, fear evoking message components (such as the gore and moans in the safe driving videos) cause consumers to set up perceptual defense mechanisms to screen out the fearful aspects of the message. However, in doing so they also reject the rest of the messages – they throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak. The result of these and other early findings was that most advertisers became highly reluctant to use fear appeals for promoting their products or services.
Several years later, other investigations began to uncover additional results. The conclusion then appeared to be summarized by what has become known as the inverted U argument low fear appeals are not effective because they generate little motivation for attitude change, and high fear appeals also tend to yield little attitude change because as said above they activate defense mechanisms. There fore moderate fear appeals which provide sufficient motivation but do not activate perceptual defenses appeared most affective in generating attitude change. Figure diagrams this proposed inverted U relationship between the intensity of fear appeals and amount of attitude change likely to be achieved.
However, more recently others have been arguing that perhaps it is inappropriate to draw general conclusions bout any given level of fear appeal because numerous factors may influence how consumers will respond to the appeal. For example, factors that may influence the persuasiveness of fear appeals include (1) source credibility (2) audience characteristics, (3) the context of the message presentation and (4) the type of fear appeal used:
Highly credible sources may be more effective in employing fear to change attitudes because their credibility tends to block counter arguments that consumers use to protect themselves from fear evoking messages.
Characteristics of an audience an influence the degree to which they are persuaded by fear appeals. Receivers who are high in self esteem are effective in coping with tension and do not perceive themselves as particularly vulnerable to the geared consequences appear to be more persuaded by high fear appeals than receivers who do not have these characteristics This suggest that marketers must investigate their target audience in order to determine whether a high fear appeal is warranted. For example, people who perceive themselves as having very risky occupations might not be receptive to high fear appeals for occupational related disability insurance
Certain conditions in the environment (such as humor or use of a third party to bear the feared consequences) can distract audience attention away from a strong fear appeal and increase message persuasiveness. The advertisement for New England Life illustrates both of these techniques Some evidence also suggest that fear of social disapproval may be more effective influencing actual behavior change than will an appeal based on fear of physical harm.
Evidence also suggests that fear appeals are more effective when they focus audience attention on the specific danger or threat and practical steps that may be taken to avoid any undesirable consequences. Messages that dwell on the unpleasant circumstances, without suggesting practical ways to avoid them, will tend to be less persuasive.