Ouch, right in the feels
Charitable organisations often use guilt inducing imagery or wording (Hudson, 2013). A study by Basil, Ridgway and Basil (2006) found that guilt appeals work in a way that induces a sense of responsibility in the targeted audience. The same study found that responsibility can be increased by activating pro-social norms. This was done by asking the person to make donation decisions (whether they will or won’t donate) in the presence of others. Another of this study’s findings was that empathy is a strong way to enhance guilt appeals, without pushing so far as to create reactance (which causes the person to withdraw).
There has been evidence to suggest that although this guilt approach works, perhaps it is not the most effective method. According to Chang (2014), the same advertisement which uses an egoistic message (“Giving makes you happy”) is just as likely to gain donations as an altruistic one (“Your contribution can help others lead a happier life”). Perhaps more surprisingly, the egoistic messages provided significantly larger donations!
The UNICEF poster however, is far more interested in inviting feelings of guilt. It does so by making us overtly aware of how privileged we are in comparison to the poor young child with its punchy and short message. As well as the wording, the image of a teary infant looking straight at us as if pleading for help, is extremely hard to ignore.
Right then, did anybody see where I left my wallet?
Basil, D. Z., Ridgway, N. M., & Basil, M. D. (2006). Guilt appeals: The mediating effect of responsibility. Psychology & Marketing, 23, 1035.
Chang, C. (2014). Guilt regulation: The relative effects of altruistic versus egoistic appeals for charity advertising. Journal of Advertising, 43, 211.
Hudson, S. (2013). Are emotive appeals effective in persuading people to give to charity? Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2013/sep/02/effective-emotive-appeals.