Regulatory Focus Theory: Gain and Avoidance

ScalesIn some of the previous posts on persuasion I’ve made the underlying assumption that individuals are goal driven, i.e. they try to attain some form of endstate as a result of their actions. Higgins (1998) has looked in greater detail at what strategies people use to attain their goals. His Regulatory Focus Theory (RFT) posits that people can either maximise gains (i.e. promotion focus) – or they can avoid risk and loss (i.e. prevention focus).
Although RFT derives from psychology, it has started to gain some momentum within the marketing arena as a way to explain motivational factors. The most obvious application of RFT is within the health and social marketing area – and more precisely in relation to messages promoting positive health outcomes – or avoiding negative health outcomes. For example, Kim 2006 and Zhao & Pechman (2007) looked at how RFT influences anti-smoking messages, and Wang & Lee (2006) applied RFT to motivations for purchasing toothpaste. Further, Aaker & Lee (2001) studied RFT with stimuli related to juice, while Wirtz & Lwin (2009) showed how it can be applied to privacy concerns in the context of relationship marketing.
One of the problems with using RFT in large scale marketing campaigns is of course how to know who is prevention and who is promotion focused. However, luckily there may be a shortcut – as RFT has been proven to be relatively culture bound (Kurman & Hui, 2011), in particular, promotion focus is linked to people holding individualistic values, while prevention focus is associated with collectivistic values – thus, existing cross-cultural models (such as Hofstede‘s cultural dimensions) may be a useful guide for marketers in different cultural settings.

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