Faculty of Business Administration
FBA Distinguished Scholar Seminar
Hosted by The Business Research and Training Center


The Negative Side of Using Organ Anthropomorphism in Health Communication: Caution and Solution

Prof. Echo Wen Wan
Professor in Marketing,
The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, SAR, China

Date: Wednesday, 28 April 2021
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Format: Online via Zoom

Online registration:



An emerging health marketing tactic is to anthropomorphize human organs; that is, to attach human features to the organs in health messages. Marketers and policy makers use this tactic to increase people’s attention to health promotion messages. We examine how organ anthropomorphism in health communication influences people’s follow-up health behavior. Six studies conducted in the field, the laboratory, and online (with over 4,000 participants) demonstrate that organ anthropomorphism can thwart people’s learning about health and engaging in health behavior. Our studies reveal that this detrimental effect occurs because anthropomorphizing organs increases the perceived psychological distance to the organ (i.e., reducing the psychological connection and relevance to the organ). Consistent with this mechanism, we propose that messages should emphasize the organ as a part of the human body, thereby diminishing the negative effect. We also identify individuals’ initial concern on the organ health as a boundary condition. Our results contribute to theory on anthropomorphism and health marketing. We also provide practical implications for enhancing the effectiveness of health marketing.


Professor Echo Wen Wan is Professor in Marketing and Associate Director for the Contemporary Marketing Center, at HKU Business School. Professor Wan’s research is in the area of consumer behavior, specifically focusing on the impact of social and environmental factors on consumption decision, anthropomorphism marketing, and new consumption mode in digital era.  Professor Wan has published at premier academic journals such as Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Academy of Marketing Science, and Journal of Consumer Psychology. She receives the honor as the Marketing Science Institute Scholar in 2020 and the Marketing Science Institute Young Scholar in 2013. She has received the award of outstanding researcher in HKU Business School, research output prize in HKU, and JCR outstanding reviewer.  Professor Wan currently serves as Associate Editor for Journal of Consumer Research and the Editorial Board member for Journal of Consumer Psychology. She served as the Co-Chair for Association for Consumer Research, Asia-Pacific Conference in 2015.