The ads of the pandemic: An effect study of formal (V) and informal (T) pronouns of address on the persuasiveness of pandemic-related messages in Dutch and German students

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Vaccination hesitancy impedes nationwide vaccination coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision for such a vaccine may be influenced by the way that people are addressed in vaccination campaigns, as persuasion relies on effective communication strategies. A crucial element in this addressing process is the use of formal (V) and informal (T) pronouns of address, which, as research suggests, varies across cultures. Therefore, this study aimed to examine if the use of formal (V) and informal (T) pronouns of address affected the persuasiveness of pandemic-related messages in Dutch and German students. An experiment with a between-subjects design was conducted in which 53 Dutch and 41 German students were confronted with vaccination campaigns that differed in language, use of pronoun, and design. The participants had to evaluate them with a scale that measured perceived persuasiveness and that was divided into the elements effectiveness, quality, and capability. It was hypothesised that the Dutch participants would show a preference for the posters featuring a T version, in contrast to the German participants because they are used more frequently in the Dutch language. The findings do not align with the expected preference of Dutch people for the T and of Germans for the V version because the manipulation of the variable pronoun of address did not show a significant effect on the evaluation of effectiveness, quality, and capability that lead to persuasiveness. However, they indicate an effect of nationality on the evaluation of the variable quality, that is, Germans rating the posters higher than the Dutch participants. Hence, the findings contribute to a better understanding of cultural preferences regarding effective communication in public health care.
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