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Undergrad's research on the use of guilt appeals in advertising wins award

Monday, March 17, 2014
Undergrad's research on the use of guilt appeals in advertising wins award

Recent alumna Mallory Smith will have her research on guilt appeals in advertising published in the Michigan Academy's academic journal. 
When Oakland University hosted the 2014 Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters Conference in late February, hundreds of scholars from the United States and Canada turned out for a day of presentations in more than 30 disciplines. But the event was something of a homecoming for OU alumna Mallory Smith, who was recognized with the 2013 Ronald O. Kapp Undergraduate Award for the most outstanding paper presented at last year’s conference.

Smith’s research focused on guilt appeals in advertising – why the appeals are used, how they are implemented, how effective they are and what industries use them. Her paper reviewed current literature on the topic and offered projections on where research would lead in the future.

“It is a fascinating subject that is surprisingly under-researched at this time,” said Smith, who graduated last December with a degree in communication. “There is plenty of information on it, but not nearly as much as I was expecting to uncover.”

Smith explained that a guilt appeal is an attempt by advertisers to shame an audience into taking certain actions. Her research revealed that guilt appeals are mainly used to encourage actions that benefit society, like charitable giving or driving a hybrid vehicle, and discourage harmful actions – such as smoking and drunk driving.

“Shame is a self-conscious emotion largely focused on the perception of the self within the larger society, so socially important issues are natural targets for these types of appeals,” Smith said.

“The most interesting thing to me was the research I did regarding the implementation of guilt appeals by advertisers. It's almost like a glimpse behind the scenes. Since we are all constantly being influenced by media and advertising, I think it is really important to understand how these types of negative appeals are designed to play on our emotions.”

Dr. Jeffrey Youngquist, who mentored Smith during the project, said he isn’t surprised she won an award.

“Presenting a paper at an academic conference can be an intimidating experience for anyone, especially for an undergraduate,” said Dr. Youngquist, an associate professor of communication. “I've been most impressed with Mallory's confidence and her willingness to challenge herself.  Mallory was an exceptional undergraduate student here at Oakland, and I think this award and this experience made for a very nice conclusion to her OU experience.”

Though the award came with a monetary prize of $100, Smith said the experience preparing and presenting the paper was of far greater value to her.

“The chance to speak in front of an engaged audience is something I think every undergrad should seek out,” she said. “I think the more you speak in front of people the more comfortable you become sharing your ideas with others, which is important not only in a professional setting, but in personal life as well.”

An abstract of Smith’s paper, "Guilt Appeals in Advertising: An Examination of Past Research and Directions for the Future," will be published in the Michigan Academy’s academic journal, the Michigan Academician. She is the second consecutive OU student to receive the Ronald O. Kapp Award, following Robert Zielinski who won in 2012. For more information on the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, visit the website.