by Ryan Underwood
New research by Steve Posavac, E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Marketing at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, uncovers another consequence of anxiety symptoms: susceptibility to certain marketing themes.
According to a paper recently published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, individuals with relatively elevated symptoms of Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder (ASAD) are more favorable to advertisements with home concepts.
“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,” Posavac and co-author, psychologist Heidi Posavac, write. “Featuring the concept of home as an advertising theme leads to more favorability towards the persuasive attempt.”
The paper says consumer advertising regularly invokes the idea of home, citing Super Bowl ads by Budweiser and Jeep as examples.
Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder is a psychological condition in which an individual has excessive anxiety regarding separation from places or people to whom he or she has a strong emotional attachment. The lifetime incidence of adult separation anxiety disorder in the United States is estimated to be 6.6 percent, but a much higher percentage may experience symptoms.
In a study conducted at Vanderbilt Business’ Behavioral Research Lab, participants completed a questionnaire to measure ASAD published by the American Psychiatric Institute. Later, they read an internet advertisement for a fictitious airline: one version incorporated a theme of “coming home to family,” the other promoted a message of “seeing new things.” Participants with high ASAD symptoms had more favorable attitudes toward the home-themed ad, while those with little to no symptoms offered no preference.
While the Posavacs’ findings may suggest an opportunity for marketers, they caution that it may also reflect a threat for sufferers of 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.