How do you feel when asked to take up arms or to donate money or time for a cause that does not seem to impact your life?

Do you even notice the messages asking for help or support?  We know how to get your attention and more importantly how to get you to take action, all without magic or intimidation!

Recent debate in the Australian population about the legalisation of medical Marijuana, fuelled by media interest and a lack of clarity in relation to government regulation, has highlighted the gap in research focusing on how to generate action for an out-group. By contrast there is a wealth of research in the Collective Action literature focusing on how to generate action for the in-group, and the emotion and reactive pathways that lead us there. More and more governments, policy makers and social entrepreneurs are interested in finding ways to motivate people to focus their valuable time and resources in support of a cause or an issue that will not affect their lives at all.

Through our research we found that the generation of empathy towards those affected and anger toward the perceived injustice of their plight significantly increased the intention-to-act on behalf of an out-group. We also looked at the effect of different message sources on the generation of empathy and anger on intent-to-act and found (perhaps not surprisingly), that messages delivered from a legitimate advocate for the issue increased both emotions and intentions significantly over and above a message that just provided relevant information.  Further, our research extended the model proposed by Iyer and Ryan (2009) by showing that increased anger and empathy derived from an advocate message explained greater intention to act compared to an information-only message.

So what does this mean?

Essentially it means that without emotion – either expressed as anger or empathy – people will not be motivated to take notice nor act in support of an issue or group that they are not part of.  It is a matter of “Them” versus “Us”.   When people learn about an out-group’s plight from facts and figures (information only), there is little emotion is generated and so no reaction occurs.  However, when a person hears this information from someone immediately impacted by the issue, particularly when their message emphasises the injustice of their position (generating anger at injustice) and how they personally are impacted (generation of empathy), then this increases the intent-to-act on behalf of the out-group. In other words,

in order to generate action or social movement for a cause that does not affect the majority we need to make them see the cause as legitimate and to feel something about it.

What impact will this have on social marketing?

Well, these findings provide a useful framework for developing social marketing strategies designed to persuade people to change behaviour or to engage in collective action. It has been previously recognised that not enough is known about which message formats and characteristics best influence consumer attitudes and intentions (i.e. McKay-Nesbitt & Yoon, 2015) so this study has addressed this gap. Further the context of this study – intent to take collective action on behalf of an out-group – contributes to the social marketing and policy change literature which, in the past, has focused largely on a research context of in-groups and subordinate out-groups.

So next time you’re designing a social marketing strategy for an important yet uncommon cause, think about your message source and what emotions this will generate in your target audience.


Iyer, A., & Ryan, M. K. (2009). Why do men and women challenge gender discrimination in the workplace? The role of group status and in-group identification in predicting pathways to collective action. Journal of Social Issues, 65(4), 791-814.
McKay-Nesbitt, J., & Yoon, S. (2015). Social marketing communication messages: how congruence between source and content influences physical activity attitudes. Journal of Social Marketing, 5(1), 40-55.


Read the original research article: Summers, J. & Summers, J. (2017). Motivating intention to take action on behalf of an out-group: Implications for the use of advocacy messages in social marketing strategies. Journal of Marketing Management.

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, unless otherwise stated. Third party materials remain the copyright of the original rightsholder.

Jane Summers

Jane Summers

Jane Summers is an Associate Professor in Marketing at University of Southern Queensland, Australia and MBA Director. Her research interests are in Consumer Psychology and leisure.

ORICD iD icon

Jessica Summers

Jessica Summers

Jessica Summers is a Bachelor of Psychology Honors graduate currently working in the surveys and planning department at Griffith University.  Jessica is about to commence her PhD building on her honours research in the area of community engagement.

ORICD iD icon

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this posting are the views of the Author(s), and are not necessarily the views of the JMM Editors, Westburn Publishers Ltd. or Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.