New Study Shows Emotional Radio Ads Overcome Fear, Mistrust


A new study led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign communication professor Brian Quick has highlighted the effectiveness of radio as an emotionally charged ad medium in increasing support for organ donation among listeners not registered as donors.

This research, conducted with James Madison University communication studies professor Tobias Reynolds-Tylus and Illinois graduate students Minhey Chung and Ethan Morrow, utilized two types of ads: one featuring a joyful heart transplant recipient and another with a patient anxiously waiting for a lung transplant.

The study involved more than 570 African American, Hispanic, and white adults, who were exposed to these 60-second spots. Findings showed that ads generating happiness had a 75% effectiveness rate in persuading listeners, compared to 50% for those that evoked sadness. This matches recent data showing radio’s trust factor increasing over the past four years.

These emotional radio ads appeared to address some of the common reservations about organ donation, such as fears about bodily integrity after death and superstitious beliefs about the registry being a jinx.

The study also found specific emotional appeals to be more effective with certain beliefs. For example, happiness was more persuasive for those with higher levels of medical mistrust, suggesting a focus on positive outcomes like lives saved could enhance donor recruitment efforts.

Conversely, sadness was more persuasive among those fearful of being jinxed by registration but did not resonate with those concerned about bodily integrity or the discomfort of organ donation.

The researchers noted that registration rates among African Americans and Hispanics are particularly low, despite these groups comprising a significant portion of the transplant waiting list, as per the United Network for Organ Sharing. Currently, more than 103,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list, with daily deaths occurring due to organ shortages.

Quick said, “Our results point to some clear message recommendations for those working to boost organ donor registration. That is, when reaching a mistrustful audience, depicting stories of organ recipients will likely elicit feelings of happiness, which in turn will increase ad persuasiveness among this skeptical audience. Together, we hope this knowledge can be used to improve campaigns designed to educate the public about organ donation.”


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