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The latest on assertive language in advertising

The main challenge faced by marketers is to get people to buy what they are advertising. Converting an onlooker of an advert into a customer is the most crucial part of the whole marketing process. Many methods have been tried and tested, such as increasing advert exposure and creating overly attention-grabbing digital content. A method that is used in practically every email, every TV advert, and every print advert today is to create a sense of urgency. This is done by using assertive language such as “buy it now!” and “hurry while stocks last”. Large, well-known companies often use this language. However, does this style of advertising work?

A recent paper published by Zemack-Rugar, Moore, and Fitzsimons analysed the effect of assertive language in adverts on committed and uncommitted customers of differing brands. After viewing either an assertive advert or a non-assertive advert for a brand, participants completed an ad-liking scale. Across seven studies using different brand categories, different measures, and varying assertive messages, results showed that assertive adverts elicit higher reactance in committed customers than uncommitted customers. This means that those with positive relationships with a brand are more likely to react negatively to the brands’ assertive adverts than those with no relationship with the brand.

They suggest that this may be due to guilt. People may feel guilty about not needing or wanting to buy or experience what is being advertised, which increases pressure to comply with the ads message. This increased pressure is what produces reactance.

So, the paper suggests that assertive adverts negatively affect a brand’s most valuable customers, and that even the most politest of messages can produce reactance if they contain even a hint of assertiveness. Creating a call to action doesn’t have to be assertive, and doing so in a less explicit manner may just alleviate the negative responses!


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