My mother was an expert at many things: making me feel loved, encouraging me, providing a safe and comfortable home for our family, and keeping me mentally, physically, and spiritually well. But she could also send me on a guilt trip like no one else could.
Why did it work? Because I love my mother and I wanted to please her. I wanted her to think good of me. Did I know she was manipulating me to do something? Most of the time, yes, but I did it anyway.
Guilt is an incredibly powerful way to make other people feel a sense of responsibility, change their behavior, or take a specific action simply to feel better about themselves or to make someone else view them more favorably.
Marketers, of course, know this.
But so do consumers, which is why marketers need to tread lightly when employing the guilt strategy.
Consider these examples…
You tell busy parents who don’t have much time to prepare healthy dinners for their families that your ready-made meals are so packed with nutritious ingredients, they’ll feel like they came out of their own kitchens, or…
You highlight the superb clarity and sound of your new cell phone to geographically separated families, telling them the quality of your video calls is so real that it will feel like they’re together, even when they can’t be, or…
You make healthy eaters or diet-conscious consumers feel better about a little chocolate indulgence by telling them “it’s the simplest way to make your afternoon delightful*.”
In each of these cases, you can subtly address issues people feel guilty about without directly calling them out on their failures and by offering them a positive solution or a short-term benefit.
Guilt doesn’t have to leave people feeling bad. In fact, when executed well, it can leave them feeling a little more hopeful.