Adults who experience separation anxiety are more susceptible to marketing themes that play on emotions surrounding home life, according to a new study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
Adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD) is a mental health condition characterized by excessive anxiety in response to being separated from places or people to whom one has a strong emotional attachment. The lifetime incidence of ASAD in the United States is estimated to be 6.6 percent, but a much higher percentage may experience symptoms of the disorder.
The authors assert that consumer advertising regularly invokes the idea of home, citing recent Super Bowl ads by Jeep and Budweiser as examples.
They suggest that therapists discuss these matters with their ASAD patients so they are aware of their susceptibility to marketing themes around “going home,” as these types of ads can exacerbate symptoms and make ASD patients quite vulnerable to coercion.
“Importantly, our research suggests a vulnerability to persuasion among those with adult separation anxiety disorder symptoms that goes beyond simply the appeal of a product itself,” write Dr. Steve Posavac, E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Marketing at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management and co-author and psychologist Dr. Heidi Posavac. “Featuring the concept of home as an advertising theme leads to more favorability towards the persuasive attempt.”
For the study, conducted at Vanderbilt Business’ Behavioral Research Lab, participants completed an ASAD questionnaire published by the American Psychiatric Institute. Later, they read an Internet advertisement for a fictitious airline: one version played upon a theme of “coming home to family,” the other promoted a message of “seeing new things.”
Participants who scored high in ASAD symptoms had more favorable attitudes toward the home-themed ad, while those with little to no symptoms offered no preference.
While the study findings may suggest an opportunity for marketers, the researchers caution that it may also reflect a threat for people who suffer from adult separation anxiety disorder. Should marketers be able to identify and target a subgroup of consumers with ASAD or ASAD symptoms, home-themed advertising might increase sales, but the impact on the consumers themselves might not be so positive.
“Whether in individual treatment sessions, or with a psychoeducational approach, individuals experiencing chronic adult separation anxiety may be well served by clinicians who help to inoculate them against the possibility of coming under undue influence by savvy marketers,” the authors write.
Source: Vanderbilt University