Study of the Day: Happy Shoppers Don't Mind Being Pushed Around

New marketing research from MIT looks into when aggressive, direct commands work better than polite pleas to drive consumer behavior

main buy.jpg

PROBLEM: Though calls to action are no longer as compulsory in marketing communication as they once were, they can still drive consumer behavior when worded correctly. To this end, researchers led by MIT Sloan's Ann Kronrod wondered, when are polite pleas in ads more persuasive than direct commands?

METHODOLOGY: The investigators tested the effect of language forcefulness on consumers across three experiments. In one trial, they asked 78 participants to rate how happy they were when they thought of a chocolate or a bank account, and randomly assigned them to a tough-sounding message ("you must try our chocolate!") or non-assertive copy ("it's worth opening a bank account with us"). The respondents then answered a survey designed to measure their willingness to comply.

RESULTS: Participants who were asked to think of chocolate reported better moods and higher purchase intentions when the language was aggressive. Those who thought of a bank account did not report positive moods and were swayed more by meeker messages.

CONCLUSION: Consumers don't mind taking orders when it comes to slogans for products that would make them happy. Purveyors of utilitarian goods like bank loans and insurance, however, should mind their manners.

IMPLICATION: Don Draper was right: "Advertising is based on one thing: happiness."

SOURCE: The full study, "Enjoy! Hedonic Consumption and Compliance with Assertive Messages," is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Image: Hans Villarica.

Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Health

Just In