The Effect of Emoji Incongruency in Social Media: An Abstract
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Political ideology reflects one’s views about ethical ideals, principals, politics, and the role of government (Kim et al. 2018) and is generally categorized as liberal or conservative (Jost 2017). Conservative ideology is associated with in-group conformity (Kidwell et al. 2013) and the racial majority (Craig and Richeson 2014). Although extant literature advocates for the use of congruence between aspects of persuasive messaging and a brand’s overall image (Kamins and Gupta 1994; Gwinner and Eaton 1999; Krishna et al. 2010), the current research proposes that persuasive appeals, which are incongruent with a brand’s perceived political ideology may, in fact, have a positive influence on consumer preferences and outcomes (e.g., purchase intentions). Specifically, we propose that an emoji in a dark-brown skin tone can enhance consumer attitudes and intentions for brands that are perceived to be conservative. Prior literature from political psychology supports the influence of stereotype-incongruent messaging on creating favorable attitudes (Redlawks 2002; Redlawsk et al. 2010). We extend this stream by showing the effects of incongruent messaging cues on consumer preferences for conservative brands and uncover the process, which underlies such effects, namely perceived inclusiveness.
Three experiments were conducted. Study 1 showed that, as predicted, a dark-brown emoji significantly increased the likelihood to visit a conservative store but had no effect on a neutral store. In study 2, we replicated the effects of study 1 and tested the proposed underlying mechanism, showing that a conservative brand’s use of a dark-toned emoji was perceived to be more inclusive than control brand, which ultimately increased consumer outcomes for the conservative brand. In study 3, we examined a boundary condition, demonstrating that promotion of an incongruent cue reverses the effects of studies 1 and 2, thus lowering attitudes toward a brand.
The results of these studies show that, consistent with predictions, incongruent messaging cues increase consumer outcomes for conservative brands. The current research contributes to the nascent literature on political ideology in consumer behavior, showing that incongruent cues increase consumer perceptions of conservative brands’ inclusiveness, thus enhancing brand attitudes and purchase intentions. In addition, we contribute to the limited literature on the use of emojis in social media communications, showing that they can be used to affect consumer perceptions. In addition, we provide consequential managerial implications, showing that conservative brands should integrate diversity in persuasive messaging and provide guidelines regarding the use of such messaging.