How to frame a message that it is most persuasive (on the example of encouraging healthy eating)


Unhealthy diet due to excessive consumption of fat and sugar can lead to increased risks such as obesity (Kakoschke, Kemps, & Tiggemann, 2014). According to Pettigrew (2015), food marketers contribute significantly to pushing unhealthy products that meets the consumers’ desire for flavorful, easily available, and cheap food.

How to frame a message that it is most persuasive

Shen, Sheer, and Li (2015) summarize a central mechanism from two psychologies of persuasion models. The elaboration likelihood model (ELM) and the heuristic/systematic model (HSM) comprise of a dual pathway to persuasion that is (1) a central track of systematic message content analysis, and (2) peripheral track which influences one’s attitudes from the processing of contextual information. Coppola and Girandola (2016) combine the ELM model with an economically ruled view on message processing and the marking effect of using intensifying adverbs such as “very” or “extremely” to explain two different qualities of persuasion. Adverbial intensifiers, in the case of a small effort message decoding strategy, serve as the main cue for the message’s sender’s intention; in the case of high effort put into the message interpretation, the broader message beyond the adverbial markers would be considered by the receiver as well (Coppola & Girandola, 2016). Blankenship and Craig’s (2011) experiment showed an increase in persuasiveness when using powerful language in western settings.

A message gains persuasiveness when it fits an individual’s regulatory focus, e.g., by promoting healthy eating, or preventing unhealthy eating, the former being prompted by the presentation of a positive role model, the latter being stimulated by a narrative portraying a negative role model  (Bosone, Martinez, & Kalampalikis, 2015). Similarly, Chen, Bell, and Taylor (2016) found that individuals’ identification with a narrative’s protagonist is greater when there is a similarity with the receiver (e.g., regarding age and sex) and that such similarity is positively influencing the perceived relevancy of the message.

Nan (2016) did extend the appraisal-tendency framework to prove that ‘fear’, compared to ‘anger’ or a neutral emotional state, creates increased open-mindedness to a communicated health issue. Nabi (2015) has found ‘guilt’ as negatively related to persuasiveness, possibly because of an effect of rejection due to ‘anger’ caused by a high level of guilt. ‘Humor’ did not directly impact persuasiveness, although it may stimulate attention to a message and therefore indirectly contribute to effective communication (Nabi, 2016).

As most people value their health anyway (Elbert & Dijkstra, 2015), Hample and Hample (2014) consider a strong evidence basis as a most important quality factor of an effective health message.

Health communicators should aim to strengthen consumers’ confidence related to the feasibility of the proposed healthy behavior (Han, Duhachek, & Agrawal, 2016), and healthy food should be marketed as pleasurable (Pettigrew, 2015).

How to avoid being persuaded by others

It is important to know how persuasion works and to be aware that environmental distraction narrows thoughtfulness (Dijkstra & van Asten, 2014). Josh, Ben, and James (2016) propose the concept of inoculation as a means for mindfulness toward misleading marketing messages from the food industry. An effective inoculation message consists of a preliminary warning, followed by a counter of competing arguments (Josh, Ben, & James, 2016).



Blankenship, K. L., & Craig, T. Y. (2011). Language Use and Persuasion: Multiple Roles for Linguistic Styles. Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 5(4), 194. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00344.x

Bosone, L., Martinez, F., & Kalampalikis, N. (2015). When the model fits the frame: The impact of regulatory fit on efficacy appraisal and persuasion in health communication. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(4), 526-539. doi:10.1177/0146167215571089

Chen, M., Bell, R., & Taylor, L. (2016). Narrator Point of View and Persuasion in Health Narratives: The Role of Protagonist–Reader Similarity, Identification, and Self-Referencing. Journal Of Health Communication, 21(8), 908-918. doi:10.1080/10810730.2016.1177147

Coppola, V., & Girandola, F. (2016). Is the Marker the Message? The Role of Some Scalar Adverbs in the Processing of a Public Health Appeal and Its Effectiveness. Journal Of Language & Social Psychology, 35(5), 529-547. doi:10.1177/0261927X15614343

Dijkstra, A., & van Asten, R. (2014). The eye movement desensitization and reprocessing procedure prevents defensive processing in health persuasion. Health Communication, 29(6), 542-551. doi:10.1080/10410236.2013.779558

Elbert, S. P., & Dijkstra, A. (2015). Source Reliability in Auditory Health Persuasion: Its Antecedents and Consequences. Journal Of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 20(4), 211-228. doi:10.1111/jabr.12038


HAN, D., DUHACHEK, A., & AGRAWAL, N. (2016). Coping and Construal Level Matching Drives Health Message Effectiveness via Response Efficacy or Self-Efficacy Enhancement. Journal Of Consumer Research, 43(3), 429. doi:10.1093/jcr/ucw036

Josh, e., Ben, e., & James, e. (2016). Persuading others to avoid persuasion: inoculation theory and resistant health attitudes. Frontiers In Psychology, Vol 7 (2016), doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00122/full

Kakoschke, N., Kemps, E., & Tiggemann, M. (2014). Attentional bias modification encourages healthy eating. Eating Behaviors, 15120-124. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2013.11.001

Nabi, R. L. (2015). Emotional flow in persuasive health messages. Health Communication, 30(2), 114-124. doi:10.1080/10410236.2014.974129

Nan, X. (2016). Influence of Incidental Discrete Emotions on Health Risk Perception and Persuasion. Health Communication, 1-9. doi:10.1080/10410236.2016.1168004

Pettigrew, S. (2015). Pleasure: An under-utilised ‘P’ in social marketing for healthy eating. Appetite, doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.10.004

Shen, F., Sheer, V. C., & Li, R. (2015). Impact of Narratives on Persuasion in Health Communication: A Meta-Analysis. Journal Of Advertising, 44(2), 105-113. doi:10.1080/00913367.2015.1018467

  • Fortunately even nutrition scientist starts to acknowledge the fact, that we should address health issues more individually. I hope that marketing people will follow soon too. However, I am aware that it is wishful thinking 😉
    One person can consume more fat then the another one and sugar, the manufactured kind (white sugar), is just bad for anyone’s health.
    Regarding this subject, again, educating yourself is key; learn to figure out what your body can handle and don’t automatically believe research results, which are most of the time influenced in such manner, the results are in favor of the manufactures, health organisations, etc.

    • Thanks for your valuable comment. I see education too as key for both knowing what is healthy and for resisting persuasion of the food industry that can lead us to unhealthy eating behavior. Good point that you mention the individuality to be addressed! Thx