Which advertising appeal works best? – An experimental study on emotional and informative advertising for sustainable products

While an earlier blog post focused on emotional advertising and its positive effect on advertising success, this post summarizes a study which extents this research by including sequentially improving advertisements, i.e. spots that start with a negative emotion but move towards a positive emotion in the end. The study concentrated on a sustainable product relevant for Generation Z presented on the social media platform Instagram via videographic stimuli (see also our blog post series about sustainable consumption).

Due to annually increasing advertising expenses (Nielsen, 2022), companies are struggling to stand out positively and make an impact rather than being perceived as annoying and distracting by potential consumers (Langner, 2009). Since sustainable consumerism is growing (Jain et al., 2021) and receiving support by the younger generation, new companies in this sector emerge, but face challenges to establish themselves. The preference for informative versus emotional appeals is, according to the Elaboration-Likelihood-Model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986), dependent on the involvement of consumers. More specifically, highly involved consumers prefer factual and low involved consumers prefer emotional advertising. Regarding emotional advertising and based on the excitation transfer theory (Zillmann, 1971), sequentially improving emotional advertising should bring stronger advertising success than exclusively positive advertising. The concept of combined (informative and emotional) appeals could solve the need for differentiated advertising targeting and appeal to all consumers the same way. 

Research goal

This study, which was conducted by Mara Völzel, a master student of our business psychology department, aimed at revealing the optimal advertising appeal for videographic commercials in the use case of Generation Z via Instagram ads for a sustainable product.

Research overview

One of five advertising stimuli for a fictional sustainable smartphone case was presented as an Instagram advertisement in an experimental online study. In this study, the different appeals were tested and evaluated concerning attitude towards the ad, attitude towards the brand and purchase intention. The consumption-related environmental engagement of each participant was retrieved as well.

The final sample of the experimental study included 160 participants with 79% identifying as female and 21% as male. The average age was 23 years (range 16 to 26 years). While the possession of a profile on Instagram was a prerequisite, 90% of the participants stated to use the social media platform daily or even several times a day. Furthermore, 65% confirmed to have already purchased products once or several times related to advertising on Instagram.

Main findings

  • Contrary to our expectations, sequentially improving appeals show lower emotional valence than exclusively positive appeals.
  • A sequentially improving emotional appeal including information as well shows a significantly stronger advertising success than the sequentially improving appeal without information. Yet, there is no significant difference between the exclusively positive emotional appeal with and without information.
  • The advertising success factors show a complementary partial mediation. In other words, the attitude towards the advertisement is formed directly after the confrontation with the advertising stimulus and subsequently influences the attitude towards the brand.
  • Consumers who are highly engaged with the topic of sustainability show a more positive attitude towards the ad with the informative appeal while less engaged people rate the advertising with the emotionally improving appeal higher.


With the results of this study, companies offering sustainable products should think about the following implications when designing and distributing advertising for a beneficial effect on advertising success. 

  • Companies should design advertising that evokes exclusively positive emotions rather than sequentially improving emotions.
  • If sequentially improving emotions are used for storytelling reasons nonetheless, the advertising appeal should also contain information about the product.
  • A differentiated approach to address high/low environmentally engaged people is not recommended due to higher costs and effort. If companies wish to do so anyways, less engaged people should receive emotional, and more engaged people should receive informative advertising appeals.


This study highlights the complexity of designing different emotional and informative advertising appeals for research purposes as well as practical challenges with regards to choosing the right advertising appeal for marketing purposes. The results underline the high relevance of good advertising. The use of sequentially improving stimuli is not recommended based on the results of our study, as they are perceived less positively and do not achieve significantly better advertising results than exclusively positive emotional stimuli. The combined advertising stimulus with sequentially improving emotions (and information content) was rated significantly better than without information content. However, for the positive emotional stimulus, additional value of adding an informational appeal was not found. The study further demonstrates the need for additional research with successfully manipulated stimuli concerning the advertising success of different appeals.  


Jain, S. [Shikha], Sansom, J., Pope, R., Hagenbeek, O., Legerstee, T., Wiemer, F. et al. (2021). Global Sustainability Study 2021. Consumers are key players for a sustainable future. Simon-Kucher & Partners. Verfügbar unter: simon-kucher.com

Langner, S. (2009). Viral Marketing. Wie Sie Mundpropaganda gezielt auslösen und Gewinn bringend nutzen. Wiesbaden: Gabler Verlag. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-8349-8258-2

Nielsen. (2022). Bruttowerbevolumen der Above-The-Line Medien in Deutschland von Mai 2019 bis Mai 2022 (in Millionen Euro). Graph, Nielsen. Nielsen Werbetrend. Verfügbar unter: https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/210266/umfrage/bruttowerbea ufwendungen-in-deutschland-monatszahlen/

Petty, R. E. & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion. In W. O. Bearden, R. G. Netemeyer & K. L. Haws (Hrsg.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Bd. 19, S. 123–205). Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0065-2601(08)60214-2

Zillmann, D. (1971). Excitation Transfer in Communication-Mediated Aggressive Behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7(4), 419–434.