Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Breaking through the Clutter: The Impact of Emotions and Flow on Viral Marketing

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Breaking through the Clutter: The Impact of Emotions and Flow on Viral Marketing

Article excerpt


Given the proliferation of brand-related information experienced by the average consumer on a daily basis, it has become increasingly important for brand managers to identify ways to break through the commercial clutter to make a positive and lasting impression on target consumers. Certainly, a media saturation campaign may provide an opportunity to overcome consumers' perceptual barriers, but the rising cost of media buys argues against such an approach in favor of alternative, less expensive tactics. As industry statistics reveal, more and more companies have shifted the balance of promotional expenditures to reflect greater interest in communication efforts other than advertising (O'Guinn, Allen, & Semenik, 2012).

One particular communication method that has received renewed interest in recent years is interpersonal communication, documented in the archives of communication research as highly influential, and shown to be potentially even more effective in today's Internet era. Word-of-mouth communication from friends and family has long been known to be more effective in influencing purchase decisions than mass-mediated communication alone (Katz & Lazarsfeld, 1995; Rogers, 1995), and it promises to have even greater potential for influence given the vast expansion of social networks made possible by the Internet (Allsop, Bassett, & Hoskins, 2007). Electronic word-of-mouth, also called viral marketing, online buzz, social networking, or peer-to-peer communication, promises to be a continuing force in marketing communication.

Ironically, however, marketers have no direct control over this powerful consumer-driven form of communication. To further complicate the issue, negative word-of-mouth can have as great an impact as positive word-of-mouth. Thus, strategies to generate viral marketing must be carefully designed to ensure that communication is prolific and positive.

While there is no direct control over word-of-mouth, that is not to say that there is no connection between marketer-controlled efforts and consumer-driven communication. Keller and Fay (2009) have shown that advertising serves as the source of information for about 20% of word-of-mouth about brands. Though their study did not investigate what types of content promote positive electronic word-of-mouth, other authors have examined the connection between content and electronic word-of-mouth communication.


Several studies have shown that emotions play a role in whether or not a message will go viral, but there are inconsistent findings regarding which emotions will result in greater pass-along. Chiu, Hsieh, Kao, and Lee (2007) reported that ad messages which provide higher utilitarian and hedonic benefits, such as information perceived to be useful, entertaining, or enjoyable, are more likely to be passed along. Similarly, Eckler and Bolls (2011) reported that ads with pleasant emotional tones are more likely to be forwarded.

On the other hand, a study by Brown, Bhadury, and Pope (2010) found that content which elicits negative emotions results in greater electronic word-of-mouth. In their study, the greater the comedic violence and the more severe the consequences of violence, the higher the probability of pass-along.

Lindgreen and Vanhamme (2005) suggested that surprise is important for viral success, and many advertisers have resorted to shocking content, such as sexuality, nudity, and violence (Porter & Golan 2006; Eckler & Bolls 2011) to create intense emotional responses in viewers. The view is supported by Dahl, Frankenberger, and Manchanda (2003), who reported that shocking advertising content increases attention and positive behavior. In a similar vein, Henke (2011) found that disgusting content results in a higher probability of pass-along among consumers who have low involvement with the advertised product.

Phelps et al. …

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