Increase Sales With Ads that Calm Anxious Holiday Shoppers

Last Updated Dec 1, 2009 1:23 AM EST

According to a USA Today article, a whopping 71 percent of consumers are planning to use cash or debit cards for their holiday purchases. This is bad news for retailers, who tend to get bigger purchases from credit card toting shoppers. Yet there are still ways to convince consumers to spend, one of which is effective holiday advertising.

According to new research from Aparna Labroo of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Derek Rucker of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, successful holiday ads send messages that help to curb the stress and anxiety many people experience during this time of year.

During the holidays, people not only want to feel happy, but calm as well. These are the two key emotions holiday advertising should evoke, but which one works better? The research goes into a lot of detail about emotions associated with "approach orientations" and "avoidance orientations," which I won't go into here, but these are the takeaways:

  • Calming messages may work better on consumers than happy ones: "In tough economic times, when anxiety tends to be more prevalent, it is better for brands to use their advertising to associate their product with positive emotions of calmness rather than happiness. This subtlety makes a difference," Labroo said in a Booth press release.
  • Happy messages help combat sad emotions evoked by serious programs: "For those advertising during a depressing documentary, it would be better to consider advertising with an emphasis on happiness," says Labroo.
So while those joyful Gap cheerleaders in colorful sweaters chanting "Go Christmas! Go Hanukkah!" might break up the heaviness of dramatic programming, they might not combat the more prevalent feelings of anxiety consumers are experiencing this year. Do you have a favorite holiday commercial, or one that makes you feel calm or happy? Leave a comment and let me know.

Image courtesy of Flickr user moonlightbulb, CC 2.0.

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.