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Guilt and pleasure

The connection between guilt and pleasure could be powerful for marketers. Appealing to a negative attribute that is connected to pleasure can be more effective at persuading people than directly talking about positive attributes.

We may think our choices are rational, but the things we think or feel in the moment affect our preferences. In a study, giving respondents a choice of donating $5 to charity or using it for a Starbucks espresso drink, the likelihood and amount of donations increased, compared to a second group who had to choose between a charitable donation and a $5 laundry detergent.



Doing something you shouldn't

Guilt is considered to be a negative emotion - a sense that you've done something wrong.

But, there is a special kind of enjoyment that comes from doing something you shouldn't do. For example, eating a forbidden chocolate bar can boost pleasure.

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Guilt Gone Wrong

Guilt is a normal emotion and at the right levels can be useful in our relationships, but unhealthy guilt has high levels of anxiety, pressure and shame associated with it, which can be toxic to our lives.

Guilt occurs when certain rules are broken. While some rules are universal and need to be upheld, there are certain rules which are self-made or imposed by society:

  1. Don’t disappoint others.
  2. Never get angry.
  3. Always say Yes.



  • For marketers: Drawing out a decision based on feelings could encourage a stronger allegiance among consumers. This could be achieved through subtle tactics like visuals instead of words, or colors instead of gray-scale.

  • For consumers: Choices that need steadfast commitment should be made with emotion instead of weighing up pros and cons. Choices that need frequent consideration should be made rationally.

Shaming can give the weak greater power. It can be used as a tool to encourage structural changes of institutions, organizations, and powerful individuals by exposing a transgressor to public disapproval.