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More fluency of the mental imagery, more effective?
Journal of Social Marketing  (IF2.02),  Pub Date : 2020-10-26, DOI: 10.1108/jsocm-03-2020-0031
Li-Keng Cheng, Chung-Lin Toung


Fear appeals in advertising communication are considered by advertisers when other types of advertising appeals do not achieve expected effects. Fear appeals, by arousing the fear that something may threaten consumers’ present lives, are often adopted to persuade individuals to take a particular action. Although this topic has been widely studied, the internal operation mechanism of fear appeals in consumers has not been fully understood or agreed upon.


Three experiments were conducted where the type of fear appeal was manipulated (i.e. physical fear appeal or social ear appeal), as well as consumers’ consideration of future consequences (CFC) and mental imagery approaches.


This study examined the effects of fear appeal on mental imagery fluency and how it affects advertising effectiveness and the moderating effect of consumers’ CFC were discussed. When receiving advertisements with physical fear appeals, consumers with low CFC had greater mental imagery fluency than did those with high CFC. Furthermore, consumers’ purchase intentions could be improved by increasing consumers’ mental imagery fluency on fear appeal. Therefore, the interaction between fear appeal and CFC on purchase intention was mediated by mental imagery fluency. This study found that consumers responded differently to fear appeal advertising when they engaged in different mental imagery approaches.


The present study adds to social marketing literature by showing how consumers’ mental imagery fluency influence the fear appeal effectiveness, and this study’s results also enable social marketers to understand the two factors (i.e. consumers’ CFC level and mental imagery approaches) that affect the influence of fear appeals on consumers’ purchase intentions. Moreover, social marketers are recommended to provide consumers with advertising information by using various message types to facilitate consumers’ imagination of advertising appeals. This heightens the importance of consumers’ acceptance and absorption of advertising content, in turn, strengthening their purchase intentions.