Theory of Cognitive Dissonance and Fear Appeals in Advertising

On March 27th, 2017, Posted by author

Last modified: March 27, 2017

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Advertising is one of the most interesting topic in Management and Marketing. There are so many different theories on Advertising and researchers around the world just never seem to get enough of their target market. Below is a sample essay on Theory of Cognitive Dissonance and Fear Appeals in Advertising, but if you would like our writing service to write you a custom made, plagiarism free paper on Advertising, Marketing or Management,  please visit our essay writing service at

cognitive dissonance

Cognitive Theory

Effecting change in behavior through persuasion is the method through which advertising is carried out. There are many ways in which persuasion can be done. One of them is by using Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory. This theory is based on the assumption that people desire to have internal psychological consistency of their cognitions in the form of beliefs and attitudes.  When these beliefs and attitudes are attacked, cognitive dissonance or disharmony takes place. As this is an uncomfortable feeling, people generally want to avoid cognitive inconsistency.

When there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance. For instance, a product that one has been using for a long time is reported to have some serious issues. The report causes anxiety and cognitive dissonance. To avoid it, the person can effect a change in his behavior: either give up using the product or try to disregard the report and focus on the other qualities of the product and continue using it, thereby reducing the dissonance between the two cognitive elements that are inconsistent with each other. Cognitive dissonance can be reduced by altering the relative proportions of the elements or by modifying their importance (O’ Keefe, 2002).

Fear Appeals

Fear appeal billboards with bloody images of accidents caused due to drunken driving cause a dissonance between their cognition that they are driving after drinking and their cognition that drunken driving causes fatal car accidents. This state is uncomfortable because they know that their drinking and driving behavior is causing problems and that they should stop drunken driving in order to remove the dissonance.

Advertising copy makes use of fear appeals to achieve an effective cognitive dissonance situation. Fear appeals are advertising messages that try to generate anxiety in the targeted audiences to adopt an endorsed response to the threat (Sheer& Chen, 2008).

cognitive dissonanceFear appeal ads have long been used for persuading the audience against issues that are harmful in the social, health and environment areas, like smoking, drinking, drugs, AIDS, deforestation, pollution. There are three types of fear appeals based on the intensity of fear they produce in the viewer: high intensity, low intensity and medium intensity. A lot of research has been conducted on the most suitable method of using fear appeals to persuade change in behavior. It has been found that fear appeal ads are capable of persuading only up to a certain level above which it becomes ineffective as demonstrated by the curvilinear model of fear appeal ads.

For instance, people watching anti-smoking ads experience varying amounts of fear and disgust and instigated the recognition memory and emotional responses. The higher the fear appeal, the more unpleasantness was felt. Some researchers such as Hastings, Stead, & Webb, (2004) observed that viewers such as smokers become habituated to repetitive fear appeal warnings and are likely to downgrade the threats because repetition causes annoyance and not fear.

Advertising and communication students must be aware of the importance of human psychology and the effects of their communication on it. Creative writing has to appeal to the exact psychological factors to get the expected response. Research paper topics on Communication Studies are available from our research paper writing service. Just click on the link to get cheap essays that well-researched and standard, on this and other subjects.

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