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Patrick J. Ewell and Rosanna E. Guadagno

According to Nisbett and Ross, “Information may be described as vivid, that is, as likely to attract and hold our attention and excite the imagination to the extent that it is (a) emotionally interesting, (b) concrete and imagery-provoking, and (c) proximate in a sensory, temporal, or spatial way.” Despite a widespread belief held by scholars and practitioners alike that vividness enhances persuasion, most early studies on this topic found weak or nonexistent vividness effects. To further understand this relationship, subsequent research focused on explaining these inconsistent findings. Taylor and Thompson explored the different ways that vividness has been operationalized across studies. Guadagno, Okdie, Sagarin, DeCoster, and Rhoads elucidated the conditions under which vividness enhances or detracts from persuasion. Generally, the extant literature suggests that vividness is an effective means of enhancing persuasion when the main point of a communication is the sole component made vivid. These findings caution against attempts to persuade by increasing overall message vividness, because off-thesis or incongruent vividness has the unintended and undercutting consequence of distracting influence targets from the point of the communication. This conclusion is based on the results of individual empirical studies as well as meta-analytic findings. Literature on shock advertising as a specialized case of vividness also exists. Future research on vividness might further delineate when, how, and why vividness sometimes enhances and sometimes detracts from persuasion.


Celebrities are famous individuals, well known by many members of the public, who appear frequently in media content. When celebrities appear in the media alongside another cause, be it selling soap or promoting public health, the message becomes a celebrity appeal. Celebrity appeals are messages where a celebrity advocates for or is implicitly associated with a target behavior. In the context of health and risk-related messages, celebrity appeals can take the form of public service announcements, advertisements for health and risk-related products, or even news coverage of a celebrity’s personal struggles with a health issue or risky behavior. Research on celebrity appeals overlaps with the marketing literature investigating the effects of celebrity endorsements on product preferences and purchasing behavior. This work on the persuasiveness of celebrity endorsements demonstrates that celebrities can draw attention to a product or idea, but also that many other factors, like involvement, familiarity, source credibility, and endorser gender can moderate how persuasive a celebrity-based appeal is. Additionally, research on celebrity disclosures of illnesses reveal that these de facto awareness campaigns can elicit emotions in audiences and motivate behavior change. However, media coverage of celebrities has also been associated with harmful effects on lay individuals’ wellbeing, suggesting important caveats for message designers who rely on celebrities to garner attention for a cause or to motivate lay individuals to change their own health and risk-related behaviors. The existing empirical evidence on celebrity appeals and additional theoretical perspectives for understanding their potential persuasiveness provides many insights for message designers.