The email said "Business Secrets Revealed!" The magazine said "Lose 10lbs in 10 days!" The package claimed that the skin care product could reduce 7 signs of aging!

What do these and dozens of other similar activities have in common? They are creating "hope."

Every day, millions of people respond to these types of statements by investing in the stock market, buying lottery tickets, purchasing cosmetics, buying self-help books, visiting therapists, and cheering sports teams. Hope is so widespread we even use it on product names. A recent search on and revealed 4,936 books, 202 CDs, and 229 songs with hope in the title.

Hope is pervasive in marketing, so let's think about what it is, how to generate it, and its consequences.


Hope is quite simply the desire for a positive yet uncertain future outcome. Take note that a positive outcome here means not just having something good happen (e.g., winning the lottery) but avoiding having something bad happen (e.g., becoming older). Why are things uncertain? Because people don't completely expect that the outcome will happen-either because they lack the confidence that it will happen or the ability to control it to make it happen.


Let's not mince words here. A lot of what people hope for is really just plain hype. For example, think about the statement you often see on magazine covers: "5 New Secrets to Losing Weight." Do you really think there are new ways to lose weight beyond the basic ideas of eating right, exercise, etc? Probably not, but people read this stuff hoping to find something new.

Frankly the same is true in business and marketing. You can easily find web sites that claim to reveal new business and marketing "secrets." Do you really believe there are new marketing secrets? You probably hope so, even though a lot of these "secrets" are just repackaged basic ideas.


Certain tactics work to create hope because they make the positive outcomes seem more positive, make desire stronger, and make it seem more likely that the positive outcome will indeed occur. Consider the pervasive before-after photos (e.g., before vs. after using a weight loss product). Such photos consumers more certain that they can achieve the same outcome as the person in the photo-after all, they did it, right? Let's see some other "secret" "tips" that work.

Link your claims to scientists or scientific evidence - Appeals to science can increase hope by making people think that the positive outcome is more likely to occur. After all, such appeals base themselves on the latest, state-of-the-art knowledge. Hence, communications touted as "developed by a physician"; "based on scientific research" or "proven in the lab" are likely to generate your customer's hope.

Show people that the product works without the bad stuff that normally goes with it - What happens when you diet? You feel deprived, cranky and irritable, right? But diet ads that say you lose weight while eating normally affect hope because they affect your desires. Not only do you have your cake, you can eat it too!

Imply easy, rapid, and permanent success - Achieving things we really want is sometimes pretty hard. Learn marketing by studying the basic ideas closely and working really hard for a deep understanding. But - now you can find all sorts of claims that this hard work can be avoided. It's similar to the claims that you can reduce the signs of aging in one week, or finding long long-term success in losing weight and keeping it off by just 20 minutes of our special exercise a day, 3 times per week. These tactics work because they make the outcome we want to achieve much more desirable-because it is so much easier to achieve than we thought.

Highlight Novel Solutions - How many magazine covers have you seen that promote tools, secrets, tricks, tips, formulas, and secrets to a better sex life, a more alluring body, younger looks, better relationships with your children, wealth and financial freedom and better job performance (remember the "marketing secrets" revealed?).

These advertised tricks, tips, solutions etc. create hope because they affect expectations that the positive outcome can be achieved-we just didn't have to tools before! But now, here they are-odd perhaps or perhaps shrouded in mystery. In fact, maybe they are pretty much what we knew before. Imagine, we had the tools all along and just weren't confident that it would work!


So, you've created hope. Is this good or bad? It depends. On the one hand, hope is linked with motivation, so enhancing hope should increase the likelihood that people will want to buy your product. But what if people now become pretty confident that they can achieve what they hope for (you've affected their expectations, confidence and perceptions of control, right?) but your product doesn't follow through. Chances are people are going to be very disappointed and upset.

So while consumers should beware of what they hope for - so should you. Don't create hopes you can't fulfill.

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image of Debbie MacInnis

Dr. Deborah J. MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, and a co-author of Brand Admiration: Build a Business People Love. She has consulted with companies and the government in the areas of consumer behavior and branding. She is theory development editor at the Journal of Marketing, and former co-editor of the Journal of Consumer Research. Professor MacInnis has served as president of the Association for Consumer Research and vice-president of conferences and research for the American Marketing Association's Academic Council. She has received the Journal of Marketing's Alpha Kappa Psi and Maynard awards for the papers that make the greatest contribution to marketing thought. She is the co-author of a leading textbook on consumer behavior and is co-editor of several edited volumes on branding.