University of Twente Student Theses


Charity shock advertising : does it pay to shock in a philanthropic context?

Jansen, J.A. (2015) Charity shock advertising : does it pay to shock in a philanthropic context?

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Abstract:While shock advertising has become a very popular advertising tactic in recent decades, its effectiveness has yet to be proven on a scientific basis. This study wondered whether philanthropic (charity) advertisements can benefit from the tactic of shock. Furthermore, it looked at the role of susceptibility; does it matter whether or not the harm the charity is trying to combat can potentially affect the viewer of the advertisement. The main dependent variables we were interested in were attention, memory and donating behavior. Largely on the basis of the fear appeal literature, we hypothesized a positive effect of shock for insusceptible respondents and a negative effect of shock for susceptible respondents. More specifically, we expected shock to stimulate attention, memory and financial giving when respondents were not at risk, whereas we predicted an opposite effect to occur when viewers could potentially fall victim to the threat portrayed in the shock advertisement. The study employs a 3x2x2 between-subjects experimental design. Advertisements of three levels of shockingness (no shock, medium shock and high shock) were constructed within two charitable contexts (child/animal abuse/cruelty). Susceptibility also encompassed two levels (parents vs. childless individuals, pet owners vs. petless individuals). The results indicate that shock can facilitate the attraction of attention, but has no effect on further processing nor on donating behavior. This might be due to several reasons. Perhaps the stimuli were not shocking enough. But possibly, because of the abundance of gruesome imagery in the media today, people have become desensitized to shocking stimuli. The effect of shock was not dependent on respondents’ susceptibility level. Most likely this was because of the fact that not the participants themselves but their pets/children were at risk; the viewers of the advertisements were only at risk in an indirect manner. Furthermore, the participants might not have perceived the threat as highly relevant. While shock did not appear a good predictor of donating behavior, several other variables did. Parents donated more money than people without children, because they deemed child abuse a more important cause and probably also because they have more money than younger individuals. Furthermore, the effect of shock was fully mediated by arousal and the more people had donated in the last 12 months, the more likely they were to contribute in this study. In Sum, while shock can capture people’s attention, it takes more to keep them interested and persuade them to make a donation. Several other independent variables do influence donating behavior. However these variables are not easy to manipulate. Shock might still have the potential to make a difference, however, not likely under conditions similar to those employed in this study.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:05 communication studies
Programme:Communication Studies MSc (60713)
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