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Accountability moderates the effects of egoistic and altruistic appeals in prosocial messages

Matthew Pittman (School of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 10 August 2020

Issue publication date: 13 October 2020




This paper aims to clarify the relationship between consumer accountability and responses to egoistic and altruistic appeals. It proposes that when consumers’ relationships with others are heightened in the form of accountability, different prosocial message appeals become effective. The study expands the understanding of how marketing may enhance the efficacy of prosocial campaign messages.


The study utilized three online experimental studies to test hypotheses across different population samples and health product categories. Self-benefit and other-benefit appeals were tested to decrease meat consumption (Study 1), increase vaccination intent (Study 2) and purchase oxybenzone-free sunscreen (Study 3). Results provide converging evidence for the proposed interaction between appeal type and accountability.


When consumers believe their choices will be known or discussed with others, they are more persuaded by other-benefit or altruistic appeals. Contrary to some existing research, Study 3 found that when public accountability was heightened, hybrid appeals were less effective than a solely altruistic appeal in generating purchase intent, digital engagement and attitude change, even controlling for social desirability.

Research limitations/implications

Public accountability was manipulated only in an online setting, and future studies should replicate with greater ecological validity. Results inform how scholars, brands and organizations should approach message efficacy in prosocial campaigns, particularly when an individual’s relationship with others may become salient.

Practical implications

The paper includes implications for the development and deployment of various organizational strategies such as changing the appeal depending on where a message will be viewed by consumers. Importantly for digital campaigns, maximum digital engagement arises from an altruistic appeal in a public context.


This paper fulfills an identified need to understand how organizations can successfully encourage prosocial consumer behavior, as well as bridges literature gaps on accountability and appeal efficacy.



Pittman, M. (2020), "Accountability moderates the effects of egoistic and altruistic appeals in prosocial messages", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 37 No. 7, pp. 807-820.



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