More Ads “Scare and Disgust” to Change Consumer Behavior

Consumers are so good at tuning out advertising that marketers are seeking new ways to make their mark. For some companies, making a play on consumer fear is the way to go. But researchers are now saying disgust works even better.

The topic of disgust in advertising was the focus of research for Andrea Morales, associate marketing professor at Arizona State University. The details of her research indicate that consumers must be scared into taking action, especially when it comes to their health.

As a result, we’ve been seeing TV ads that show Mr. Fungus about to jump into a patient’s infected toenail. And, the latest ads from the CDC aim to encourage smokers to quit by showing former smokers dealing with their stomas and with lung cancer patients try to get through another day.

Morales carried out her research by exposing undergraduate students to advertising designed to prevent people from using methamphetamines. Students rated a graphic picture of a meth user with open sores on his face as more powerful and disgusting than printed copy or the picture of a coffin.

Morales says “You have to go beyond scare tactics to produce a strong and immediate avoidance reaction or a change in behavior. For example, disgust is especially good at motivating people toward losing weight, quitting smoking or changing another behavior to improve their health.”

Previous studies on this topic appear to support her contention. The New York City Department of Health featured an ad that showed soda transforming into fat globs. Immediately following the campaign, sales of sugar-​filled beverages dropped 12%. Expect more marketers to tap into consumer disgust in order to make their point.

[Source: Fear factor isn’t enough: Ads have to gross you out. Asunews​.asu​.edu. 28 Feb. 2012. Web. 9 Apr. 2012] 
Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.