The effect of facial expression on emotional contagion and product evaluation in print advertising


  • Department of Marketing, Insper – Institute of Education and Research
  • Department of Marketing, State University of Maringa


Mimicry, Emotional contagion, Advertising, Smile


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate the emotional contagion theory in print ads, and expand the literature of smiling to different type of smiles and gender congruency. Emotional contagion happens when an emotion is transferred from a sender to a receiver by the synchronization of emotions from the emitter. Drawing on emotional contagion theory, the authors expand this concept and propose that smiles in static facial expressions influence product evaluation. They suggest that false smiles do not have the same impact as genuine smiles on product evaluation, and the congruence between the model gender–product in a static ad and the gender of the viewer moderates the effects.

Design/methodology/approach – In Experiment 1, subjects were randomly assigned to view one of the two ad treatments to guard against systematic error (e.g. bias). In Experiment 2, it was investigated whether viewing a static ad featuring a model with a false smile can result in a positive product evaluation as was the case with genuine smiles (H3). In Experiment 3, it was assumed that when consumers evaluate an ad featuring a smiling face, the facial expression influences product evaluation, and this influence is moderated by the congruence between the gender of the ad viewer and the product H gender of the model in the ad.

Findings – Across three experiments, the authors found that the model’s facial expression influenced the product evaluation. Second, they supported the association between a model’s facial expression and mimicry synchronization. Third, they showed that genuine smiles have a higher impact on product evaluation than false smiles. This novel result enlarges the research on genuine smiles to include false smiles. Fourth, the authors supported the gender–product congruence effect in that the gender of the ad’s reader and the model have a moderating effect on the relationship between the model’s facial expression and the reader’s product evaluation.

Originality/value – Marketing managers would benefit from understanding that genuine smiles can encourage positive emotions on the part of consumers via emotional contagion, which would be very useful to create a positive effect on products. The authors improved upon previous psychological theory (Gunnery et al., 2013; Hennig-Thurau et al., 2006) showing that a genuine smile results in higher evaluation scores of products presented in static ads. The theoretical explanation for this effect is the genuine smile, which involves contraction of both zygomatic major and orbicularis oculi muscles. These facial muscles can be better perceived and transmit positive emotions (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2006).


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