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Message assertiveness and price discount in prosocial advertising: differences between Americans and Koreans

Hyejin Bang (Kookmin International Business School, College of Business Administration, Kookmin University, Seoul, Republic of Korea)
Dongwon Choi (Department of Advertising and Public Relations, Kookmin University, Seoul, Republic of Korea)
Sukki Yoon (Department of Marketing, Bryant University, Smithfield, Rhode Island, USA)
Tae Hyun Baek (Department of Integrated Strategic Communication, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, USA)
Yeonshin Kim (Department of Business Administration, College of Business, Myongji University, Seoul, Republic of Korea)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 11 February 2021

Issue publication date: 17 June 2021




Prosocial advertisers widely use assertive messages to encourage prosocial attitudes and behaviors, but ironically, assertive messages may cause reactance. By applying cultural theories and the reciprocity principle, this study aims to observe whether consumers’ responses to assertive messages hold across culturally different audiences (Americans vs South Koreans) and different consumption situations (price discount vs no discount).


American and Korean participants take part in three experimental studies examining the interactions of nationality, price discounts and assertive messaging for influencing consumer responses, first to a prosocial ad encouraging recycling (Study 1), the second for a campaign requesting donations for disadvantaged children (Study 2) and the third to prosocial messages encouraging water conservation (Study 3).


The three experiments strongly support the moderating role of price discounts and cultural backgrounds in the persuasiveness of assertive prosocial messages. American consumers generally dislike assertive messages, but feel reciprocal obligations if marketers include price discounts, whereas South Korean consumers accept both assertive and nonassertive messages without resistance, and discounts have no effects on persuasion.

Research limitations/implications

The findings make two key contributions to the literature and to prosocial advertising practices. First, although many corporations have adopted philanthropic strategies, few researchers have examined how specific consumption contexts determine the effectiveness of prosocial persuasion. The findings show how price discounts and message framing potentially alter the effectiveness of prosocial messages across Eastern and Western cultures. Second, assertive language evokes reactance, but the findings suggest that reactive responses to prosocial advertising are culture-specific.

Practical implications

International nonprofit organizations and brands using philanthropic strategies might use the guidelines of this study for tailoring strategic, practical prosocial messages that will appeal to consumers from diverse cultural backgrounds. In particular, pro-environmental and charity campaigns targeting North American or Western European populations may consider bundling discounts into promotions to evoke reciprocity.


Findings provide novel implications for social marketers regarding on how to couple message assertiveness and price discounts to maximize the success of prosocial messages in different cultures.



This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2017S1A2A2041723).


Bang, H., Choi, D., Yoon, S., Baek, T.H. and Kim, Y. (2021), "Message assertiveness and price discount in prosocial advertising: differences between Americans and Koreans", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 55 No. 6, pp. 1780-1802.



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