Whether it is through promotional tactics or a genuine feeling of excitement a purchase might bring to a customer, practitioners argue that exciting products should generate more word-of-mouth (Sernovitz, 2006). Current research would argue that excitement is an often overlooked dimension in WOM research (Lovett, Peres and Shachar, 2013). Within this stream of research, excitement, is a concept that be experienced through controversy. What follows is a brief overview of emotion’s role as a motivational driver of WOM.
Emotional responses boost interpersonal communication. Individuals share things that arouse both positive and negative emotions and talk about products and services that fulfill certain emotional needs (Rime, 2009). Past research has found that individuals share 90 percent of what they experience emotionally with others (Rime, 1992; Walker, 2009). In Lovett, Peres and Shachar’s (2013) framework, both arousal (or emotional valance) and satisfaction are underlying characteristics that can be adopted by companies to encourage WOM.
For example, brands possess the ability to invoke emotional responses. When this occurs, consumers are more likely to share their experience with that product or service with others (Heath, Bell and Sternberg, 2001; Peters and Kashima, 2007). Consumers respond both negatively and positively to brand experiences. This is often framed as a consumer’s level of satisfaction. It is in this context that researchers have found that higher levels of satisfaction lead to higher levels of WOM (Roberts, 2004). Similarly, very low levels of satisfaction are seen to increase negative WOM (Richins, 1983; Anderson, 1998).
Another question posed by researchers is how emotional valence affects WOM. For example, will more emotional content or an experience that invokes a high level of psychological arousal become shared more often? When an experience with a product or service is very negative, consumers engage in WOM to vent or reduce anxiety (Sundaram, Mitra and Webster, 1998; Hennig-Thrau, Gwinner, Walsh and Gremler, 2004). Berger and Milkman (2012) found that emotional responses to content impacted the propagation of New York Times articles. Using data from the New York Times’ most emailed list, Berger and Milkman (2012) discovered that high-arousal (positive or negative) articles were more likely to be disseminated among individuals who exchange emails. Controversy is also thought to spark WOM communication. Chen and Berger (2012) found that contextual factors affect the spread of content that is seen as controversial. Both tie strength and anonymity moderated when content was shared. When tie strength was low and the desire to manage one’s impression lessened, the more controversial content was shared. Eckler and Bolls (2011) reported that the more positive an advertisement made someone feel, the more likely he or she would share the advertisement. In a similar field study Tucker (2012) found that users on social network sites would share content if they new someone else would have a similar emotional response.