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Helping me, helping you: self-referencing and gender roles in donor advertising


  • This research was supported by a McMaster University start-up research grant and by JAN Kelley Marketing, which supplied the color advertisements and participant incentives.

Maureen E. Hupfer, DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, L8S 4M4; e-mail:


BACKGROUND:  Donor advertising typically emphasizes altruism, but an appeal to individual self-interest may be more effective in heightening blood donation intentions among youthful nondonors.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS:  A total of 292 undergraduate business students at a Canadian university provided complete data in response to a between-subjects full-factorial advertising experiment with sex, self-referencing, and message strategy factors. Self-referencing, or mental processing that links information to the self-concept, was elicited at either a low or moderate level, whereas the message strategy was either agentic (donate blood because you may need it yourself) or communal (donate blood because someone close to you may need it). Dependent variables included identification with the ad, donation intentions, and a discrimination measure of recognition memory.

RESULTS:  A three-way interaction among sex, self-referencing level (low or moderate), and message (agentic or communal) was found. Two-way self-referencing by message graphs of donation intentions and ad identification showed a parallel structure for males in that their responses were generally more favorable when self-referencing was at a moderate level, regardless of the message type. Among women, however, crossover interactions between the level of self-referencing and the message type (agentic vs. communal) were observed, such that the message’s effect differed with the level of self-referencing. For both men and women, the agentic message was more effective than communal ad copy when a moderate level of self-referencing was achieved.

CONCLUSION:  Collection agencies should consider appealing to young nondonors by suggesting that they give blood to make it available for themselves if required.