Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992 Pages 756-761
CONSUMERS AND MOVIES: INFORMATION SOURCES FOR EXPERIENTIAL PRODUCTS
Elizabeth Cooper-Martin, Georgetown University
Experiential products are defined as ones which consumers choose, buy and use solely to experience and enjoy; movies are studied as an example. This paper identifies two types of information sources for such products: experiential, which convey a sense of the consumption experience, and non-experiential, which do not describe consumption. Results of a survey indicate that subjects find experiential sources more useful and credible than non-experiential for choosing movies. More specifically, for subjective features, subjects report that experiential sources are more useful and credible than non-experiential sources but report no differences for objective features.
All goods and services are consumed, but for some products, like the performing arts, wine, and vacations, the consumption experience is an end in itself and serves as the primary benefit in use. This paper focuses on this type of product and labels them experiential products. Consumers choose, acquire and use experiential products solely to experience them and enjoy them. Experiential products include both physical goods, such as wine and recreational drugs, and services, such as sporting events and restaurant meals. The dominant benefit of these products is hedonic consumption, that is the feelings, emotions and sensations experienced during product usage (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982).
Given the special nature of experiential products, consumer behavior for them is likely to differ from that for other types of products. Building on an earlier study (Cooper-Martin 1991), the purpose and contribution of this study is to further understand the unique aspects of consumer behavior for these special products by studying the information sources consumers use to choose them. This paper builds on the experiential or hedonic perspective (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982) by using the consumption experience, which differentiates experiential products from others, to identify two types of information sources. They are experiential, which convey a sense of the consumption experience, and non-experiential, which do not describe consumption. Specifically, this paper uses movies as an example of the class of experiential products.
The next section discusses experiential products in more detail and develops the hypotheses on the types of information sources that consumers use for movies. The following two sections describe the methodology and results. The discussion section includes suggestions for additional research on experimental products and potential implications for managers interested in marketing movies.
Experiential products are defined by their dominant emphasis on the consumption experience. The main benefit from these products is the pleasure or hedonic value in consumption. Experiential products contrast with goods and services that primarily fulfill utilitarian functions. For example, the major benefit of shampoo is to leave hair clean and shiny, blankets keep one warm, a visit to the dentist protects one's teeth. Clearly, there may be hedonic aspects of consuming non-experiential products; for example, the lovely fragrance of a peach-scented shampoo or the fondness for a blanket received from a dear relative. But the primary reason for consuming these products is not to experience them.
Just as utilitarian products may have some hedonic value, experiential products may have some utilitarian functions. For instance, food clearly has the utilitarian benefit of keeping one alive. Thus under certain circumstances, for example grabbing a quick snack to stave off hunger pangs, food is more of a utilitarian product. But under certain circumstances, food can be an experiential product; for example, in a first-class restaurant. The emphasis then is clearly hedonic; to enjoy the sight, aroma, texture and taste of the food. A restaurant meal can be hedonic in other ways: savoring a fine wine, soaking in the elegant surroundings, enjoying the luxury of excellent service.
This paper uses movies as an example of experiential products because they appeal to a wide range of consumers, compared to the arts (see summary in Capon and Cooper-Martin 1990) or wine (Jobson 1989). Further, movies are purely experiential, as compared to television and radio which may accompany other activities. For example, broadcast music can serve as a background for shopping (Milliman 1982) or a restaurant meal (Milliman 1986). Further, it appears that consumers do consider movies to be experiential; an earlier study found that involvement for movies (as well as for another experiential product, wine) is dominantly hedonic (Cooper-Martin 1991).
For experiential products, such as movies, consumers search two types of information sources: experiential and non-experiential. To learn about experiential products, consumer should turn to experiential sources which are distinguished by their ability to convey a sense of the consumption experience, that is, of what it is like to see, hear, taste, touch or smell the product. In a survey of information sources for movies, subjects rated previews and friends' comments as more useful and more credible for evaluating movies than magazine advertisements, radio advertisements or critics' reviews (Faber and O'Guinn 1984). Compared to the latter three sources, television advertisements were rated more useful, but not more credible. Previews and television advertisements are experiential sources; they provide a chance to try the movie. Friends who have seen the movie can describe it and so are another experiential source. Non-experiential sources, such as print or radio advertisements, are less useful because they do not illustrate or mimic the consumption experience. Although reviews should be an experiential source, the subjects found them less useful. But, in general, the following hypothesis seems justified.
H1. For experiential products, experiential information sources are more useful and credible to consumers than non-experiential information sources.
In selecting a hedonic or experiential product, such as movies, consumers rely more on subjective than objective features (Cooper-Martin 1991). ("Feature" is used here to refer to a product characteristic defined by consumers. It is not used in the sense that such characteristics are dichotomous.) Subjective features describe the consumption experience, for example, what it is like to see and hear the movie. Objective features can be externally verified; examples for a movie are the director, starring actor, admission price or schedule convenience.
In choosing experiential products, subjective features are more useful than objective features for two reasons: their abstractness and their reflection of the hedonic experience. Features that are more abstract describe a greater number of alternatives than concrete features (Johnson and Kiselius 1985). Hence, they facilitate comparisons with different product classes; for experiential products, such as movies, consumers consider other product classes as alternatives (Cooper-Martin 1991). Because the benefit from experiential products is pleasure in consumption, consumers should choose movies and similar products based on what they like and enjoy, on what pleases them, in other words, based on intrinsic preference (O'Shaughnessy 1987). Subjective features reflect this viewpoint, that is, the personal nature of the experience. Such product features are important from an experiential perspective (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982) and by extension are important for experiential products. In fact, these subjective features can be described as aspects of consumption (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982).
Consumers also consider objective features of experiential products; they are often tangible and utilitarian (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982). They should be less important for experiential products than subjective features because such products, by definition, do not fulfill utilitarian functions.
The different types of information sources, experiential versus non-experiential, relate to subjective and objective features as follows. The usefulness and credibility of an information source may depend on what information it provides. Specifically, a non-experiential source (e.g., a magazine ad) may be just as credible and useful as an experiential source (e.g., a friend) to determine objective features (e.g., the movie's director). However, for subjective features (e.g., how funny the movie is), experiential sources (e.g., a friend) should be more credible and useful than non-experiential sources. This reasoning leads to the following hypotheses:
H2. For subjective features of experiential products, experiential information sources are more credible and useful than non-experiential sources.
H3. For objective features of experiential products, experiential and non-experiential information sources are equally credible and useful to consumers.
The subjects were 98 undergraduate students enrolled in a business course; they received course credit for their participation. The sample was 31% women and 69% men; ages ranged from 18 to 30 years and the mean age was 20.4 years. This age group is very appropriate for a study about movies, because 15-24 years old account for nearly half of movie admissions (Newspaper Advertising Bureau 1984).
Subjects responded to a written survey; they were tested in two groups but each subject filled out the survey individually. Subjects rated each of seven information sources on four questions: credibility for learning about an objective feature, usefulness for learning about an objective feature, credibility for learning about a subjective feature, and usefulness for learning about a subjective feature. Examples of a question on usefulness and on credibility are in the Exhibit. Note that questions on usefulness defined it as capable of providing the information and that questions on credibility defined it as believable. Subjects answered each question for all information sources before proceeding to the next question. The order of the questions was systematically rotated across all subjects and the order of the information sources for each question was randomized.
The seven information sources were chosen from a set identified as those involved in the initial decision of whether to see a particular film (Faber and O'Guinn 1984). This set excluded newspaper advertisements, which are used more for the decision on when and where to see the film, but included radio advertisements. The latter were eliminated because in an earlier survey, the same population as the current study almost never mentioned radio advertisements as an information source for movies. This deletion also had the advantage of shortening the questionnaire.
Because of the emphasis on experiential sources, Faber and O'Guinn`s (1984) source, comments from friends, was expanded to two sources: comments from friends who have seen the movie (an experiential source) and comments from friends who have not seen the movie (a non-experiential source). Thus, the survey used five experiential sources: comments from friends who have seen the movie, critics' reviews, television ads, previews, and comments from someone you know and who you consider to be a film expert, and two non-experiential sources: comments from friends who have not seen the movie and magazine ads.
EXAMPLES OF QUESTIONS ON USEFULNESS AND CREDIBILITY
To insure generalizability, this study included three subjective features used to choose a movie: serious, good, and funny, and three objective features used to choose a movie: the producer, the setting, and the leading actor or actress. An earlier survey of the same population produced lists of subjective and of objective features (Cooper-Martin 1991); the features in this study were taken from these lists. From the list of objective features, those related to movie-going (e.g., location or price) were eliminated. Of the remainder, all of which were related to the movie itself, the three most frequently mentioned ones were used in this study. From the list of subjective features, those which could not be used with every information source in this questionnaire (e.g., others wanted to see it) were eliminated. Of the remainder, the three most frequently mentioned ones were used in this study.
Each subject answered questions on only one subjective feature and on one objective feature. All possible pairs of the three objective and three subjective features were used and rotated across all subjects.
The results for credibility and usefulness were analyzed separately with a 2 (information source) X 2 (feature) repeated measures ANOVA. The two levels of information source were experiential (consisting of the sum of comments from friends who have seen the movie, critics' reviews, television ads, previews, and comments from someone you know and who you consider to be a film expert) and non-experiential (consisting of the sum of magazine ads plus comments from friends who have not seen the movie); the two levels of feature were subjective and objective. Due to missing data from one subject, the analysis incorporated only 97 subjects.
The main effect for source in the ANOVA tested Hypothesis 1. As predicted, subjects rate experiential sources (5.33) as more credible than non-experiential sources (3.46, F(1.96) = 483.0, p < .0001). Also, as predicted, subjects rate experiential sources (5.38) as more useful than non-experiential sources (3.45, F(1.96) = 439.5 p < .0001).
To test H2, planned contrasts between experiential sources and non-experiential sources for subjective features were used. As predicted, for subjective features, experiential sources (4.96) are more credible than non-experiential sources (2.84, F(1.96) = 4.18, p < .05). Also, as predicted, for subjective features, experiential sources (5.17) are more useful than non-experiential sources (2.87, F(1.96) = 5.21, p < .05).
To test H3, planned contrasts between experiential sources and non-experiential sources for objective features were used. As expected, for objective features, experiential sources (5.71) are not more credible than non-experiential sources (4.09, F(1.96) = 3.13, p > .05). Further, as predicted, experiential sources (5.58) do not differ in usefulness from non-experiential sources for objective features (4.04, F(1.96) = 1.95, p > .10). These results for H2 and H3 are consistent with significant interactions between source and feature in the ANOVAs for both credibility (F(1,96) = 22.8, p < .0001) and usefulness (F(1,96) = 43.9 p < .0001) (see Figure).
As expected, this study confirms the greater credibility and usefulness of experiential over non-experiential information sources for movies, as an example of experiential products. Such sources provide a sense of the consumption experience which is an end in itself for experiential products. Thus experiential sources are particularly valuable to consumers for information on subjective features, those characteristics which reflect the personal nature of the consumption experience. For objective features (those which can be externally verified), at least of movies, the two types of information sources do not differ on credibility and usefulness.
It appears that experiential sources, by illustrating or describing consumption, provide a trial of the product. Faber and O'Guinn (1984) argued that previews serve this role. Such trial seems particularly useful for experiential products like movies or the performing arts which are typically new or unfamiliar to the consumer; consumers usually go to a movie that they have not seen before. For new products, trial is a useful step in the decision process, before final adoption (Wilkie 1990, p. 360).
The relative usefulness and credibliity of six of the information sources tested converge well with the findings of Faber and O'Guinn (1984), who also used a seven-point semantic differential scale. To make this comparison, the results from this study were averaged across both subjective and objective features. Rankings on credibility from Faber and O'Guinn follow (with the most credible first and the least credible last): experts' comments, friends' comments, previews, critics' reviews, television ads and magazine ads. (In tests of differences between the sources, Faber and O'Guinn (1984) found no differences between the first three sources and the last three sources in this list.) The ranking from this study was almost identical; the only difference was that the rankings of previews and critics' reviews were reversed. The rankings on usefulness differed more. However, previews, friends' comments and expert's comments were in the top three in both studies; likewise, critics' reviews, television ads and magazine ads were in the bottom three sources in both studies.
Another useful distinction among information sources used by consumers is personal versus impersonal sources (e.g., Engel, Blackwell and Miniard 1990). The experiential sources used in this study included both personal sources (i.e., critics' reviews, comments from film expert, and comments from friends who have seen the movie) and impersonal ones (i.e, previews and television ads). Likewise, one non-experiential source was personal (i.e., comments from friends who have not seen the movie) and one was impersonal (i.e., magazine ads). Because both experiential and non-experiential sources include both personal and impersonal sources, this difference does not support an alternate hypothesis for the results. Further, all the analyses reported above were repeated for personal versus impersonal sources. Neither the main effect for source nor the contrasts on credibility and usefulness for subjective versus objective features were significant. Thus, the distinction between experiential and non-experiential sources seems more useful in understanding consumer behavior for movies, and likely for experiential products, than the difference between personal and impersonal sources.
The current findings are limited by a non-random, relatively small sample that focuses on the most important age group for movie-goers but neglects other important age group targets, such as teenagers. If a study with a bigger, projectable sample confirms the current findings, then certain managerial implications would result. For example, communication efforts for movies and other types of experiential products should focus on experiential sources. Although some of these sources (e.g., word-of-mouth by friends and experts) are difficult for marketers to control, they can put more emphasis on vehicles such as television advertisements and previews rather than on magazine advertisements. The former two sources should be particularly effective in communicating the subjective nature of the product; for example, whether a movie is funny, suspenseful, scary, or romantic. If the marketer prefers to emphasize objective features, then television advertisements and previews should be more effective than magazine advertisements, but the difference in effectiveness is somewhat less.
Beyond replicating this study with a larger and broader sample, future research using the same dependent variables should consider the use of MANOVA for the analysis, as usefulness and credibility may be related. Further it would be helpful to test the credibility and usefulness of experiential versus non-experiential sources with utilitarian or non-experiential products, as well as other examples of experiential products. Another study on movies might use the director as an objective feature, as directors (e.g., Spike Lee, David Lynch) typically have more impact on the film's quality than the producer (a feature used in this study).
In trying to understand the role of experiential versus non-experiential sources, this study incorporated the differences between subjective and objective features of a product. In keeping with the experiential perspective, it would be worthwhile to explore the relation of these two types of sources to the differences between verbal and nonverbal (i.e., sensory) product cues (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982), as well.
The results of this study are encouraging and support the idea that experiential products have specific patterns of consumer behavior. It appears that hedonic consumption can define a category of products and, further, that such consumption is key for understanding them. This emphasis thus contributed towards the need in the field of consumer behavior to address the experiential aspects of consumption (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982).
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