Purpose – In this article, message appeals along with the moderating effect of gender are examined on frequently used measures of ad effectiveness (i.e. ad likability, attitude to the issue, and behavioral intention) in the emerging domain of pro-environmental social advertising. The paper aims to discuss these issues.
Design/methodology/approach – This study employed a between-subjects 2 (gender)×3 (message appeal) factorial design, administered through a commercial online consumer panel firm based in the USA, which included 444 respondents across three markets: Australia, the UK and the USA.
Findings – Results show that of three frequently used message appeals (rational, negative emotional, and positive emotional), rational ad appeals are not as effective as emotional appeals. The study also shows that females respond more strongly to negative emotional appeals than males, while there is no significant difference in how males and females responded to positive emotional or rational ad appeals. In addition, the study demonstrates that the measure of ad likability, which is frequently used as a reliable copy-test measure in commercial marketing situations, is not a valid measure of ad effectiveness in the context of social advertising.
Research limitations/implications – While the study included participants from three countries, Australia, the UK and the USA, the obvious limitation of the experimental design lies in the limited sample size. Further, while the ads' cognitive processing load was kept consistent across the three conditions, it may be possible that linguistic nuances across these markets might affect the ads' processing demands from one market to another. The consistency of the study's manipulation checks, however, might serve to offer support for the copy approach taken here.
Originality/value – This study reinforces previous studies in both the commercial and social marketing fields that suggest practitioners should be cautious of placing too much emphasis on this measure as an indicator of future ad performance.