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Titles, Taglines and Captions – When Questions Sell [Study]

‘Apple Watch – the watch for you?’ vs. ‘Apple Watch – the watch for you’.

Which makes for more persuasive marketing copy – whether as a title selling an article, or a tagline selling a product?

It all depends on your mood.

If you’re feeling calm, and see a title, tagline or marketing copy and in question format, then you are more likely to find it more persuasive.  If however, you’re feeling excited, then an imperative statement will be more persuasive.

That’s the central finding of a new study to be published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology by Henrik Hagtvedt of Boston College.  260 shoppers participated in a field experiment where their mood was manipulated with music to put them in an excited (high arousal) state or a calm (low arousal) state, and who were then exposed to promotional phrases.

It would seem that when we’re excited about something (in a state of high emotional arousal), questions are an unwelcome distraction and lose their effectiveness.

The implication for marketers is that we should consider question formats when we believe our audience is likely to be in a relaxed, calm or even bored state, and stick to statements when the audience is likely to be in an excited state.

  • Use Questions when audience mood is likely to be: content, serene, calm, relaxed, sleepy, tired, bored, depressed or miserable
  • Use Statements when audience mood is likely to be: pleased, happy, delighted, astonished, excited, alarmed, afraid, angry, annoyed or frustrated

For example, we should consider the where our ad appears – if it’s alongside exciting content, we should craft copy in the imperative, rather than use questions. Same for point of sale copy at a nightclub, event or venue where emotional arousal level of the audience is likely to be elevated. On the other hand, in a ‘chill’ environment or even when boredom is likely to be high (and arousal low) i.e. in wait ‘marketing’ situations such as standing in line, a question is likely to be more effective. Of course usual caveats apply, this is one study, and the implications are preliminary – but interesting nonetheless.

Hagtvedt, H. (2015). Promotional Phrases as Questions versus Statements: An Influence of Phrase Style on Product Evaluation. Journal of Consumer Psychology.






Promotional Phrases as Questions versus Statements: An Influence of Phrase Style on Product Evaluation


This research investigates consumer responses to simple promotional phrases styled (i.e., framed) as questions versus statements and the moderating role of arousal. Study results indicate that under low arousal, questions have a more favorable influence on product evaluation than statements do; this influence is mediated by the perceived interestingness of the phrase. Under high arousal, the influence is reversed, and it is mediated by perceived clarity. The differential influence of phrase style (framing as question vs. statement) also extends to purchase behavior among consumers in a supermarket.





Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.