Source and Strength Effects in Corrective Advertising (Abstract)

Robert F. Dyer, George Washington University
Philip G. Kuehl, University of Maryland
[ to cite ]:
Robert F. Dyer and Philip G. Kuehl (1974) ,"Source and Strength Effects in Corrective Advertising (Abstract)", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 01, eds. Scott Ward and Peter Wright, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 85-86.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1974    Pages 85-86


Robert F. Dyer, George Washington University

Philip G. Kuehl, University of Maryland

The Federal Trade Commission's corrective advertising program was developed to go beyond cease and desist orders to negate the residual effects of deceptive advertisements. In applying corrective advertising to a series of cases in the gasoline, fruit drink, bakery products, household cleaning agents, and over the counter drug products categories, the Commission has made decisions covering every aspect of a remedial ad (messages, media, scheduling, etc.) without supporting consumer evidence.

The purposes of this study were to test the communication effectiveness of the Federal Trade Commission's "corrective" advertising remedy as currently employed and to evaluate alternative types of affirmative disclosure. Experimental subjects consisted of 485 University of Maryland students. The subjects were informed they would be participants in a dress rehearsal presentation of creative techniques in advertising to be used at the University.

Corrected and uncorrected print and radio advertising stimuli were introduced during the presentation. Each student completed a post-stimulus questionnaire which measured awareness of the brand, attitude toward the brand, attitudes toward the brand's advertisement, perception of corporate image, and recall of corrective advertising messages. Additional information was gathered to classify respondents (e.g., sex, age, marital status, father's occupation, etc.).

The major independent variables examined in this study were the source and strength of corrective advertisements. Source effects were considered important because all corrective advertisements employed to date have used the respondent firm as the source of the remedial message. Corrective statements with the FTC noted as the source may generate higher perceived credibility among consumers. The strength variable was employed to obtain information about consumer response to messages where the guilt of the firm charged with deceptive advertising was directly stated compared to less conspicuous disclosures.

A 2x3 factorial design was employed to experimentally manipulate two levels of message source (identified as FTC source or company source) and three levels of message strength (high: direct and conspicuous statement of prior alleged or actual guilt of an FTC advertising violation; low: no direct mention of FTC findings, message stating that previous ads may have caused a misunderstanding; and zero: no corrective mention). Subjects were exposed to message treatments either in print (Coppertone Suntan Lotion) or in radio spots (Diet Pepsi). Ads for other products in the same and other product categories were included. In conformity with some of the FTC "corrective ad" orders, the messages were constructed so that 25 percent (space or time) would be devoted to the remedial message.

Analysis of variance tests generated the following evidence:

1. FTC source messages decreased intention to buy the brand.

2. Zero and low strength messages were rated as less offensive than the company source-zero strength (regular) ad.

3. High strength messages were perceived as less offensive than the regular message.

4. Any source-strength message was thought to be more informative than the unaltered ad.

5. A company source message produced a more trustworthy image of the firm.

6. FTC-high strength messages produced an image of a less trustworthy firm, whereas company-high strength messages resulted in a more trustworthy image.

7. High or low strength messages left the impression of a more careless firm.

8. Any source-strength combination produced perceptions of a more withdrawn firm

Findings 1 and 5 produce interesting insights concerning potential source effects of corrective advertising. In the print ad treatment (Coppertone), "intention to but" was decreased when the corrective ad source was identified as FTC but not when the company was designated as the source. The image or status of the FTC as communicator may be responsible for this source effect. The source treatment also affected the responses to evaluations of the advertiser's credibility. Company source messages produced a more trustworthy rating. This information suggests the impact an FTC disclosure inserted in an advertisement may provide (messages may appear similar to the Surgeon General's "Warning" Statements for cigarettes).

Finding 6 illustrates an important interaction effect that occurred between the source and strength factors. Under conditions of high message strength. when the print treatment noted the FTC was the source, the company was viewed as more trustworthy. One interpretation for this result is that the company source--high strength treatment is similar to the "two-sided" messages discussed in communications research. A corrective ad that permits presentation of information favorable and unfavorable to the firm may be optimal for buyers with little loyalty to the brand and may immunize the firm against future competitive (or regulatory agency) attacks in the media. It is not difficult to envision how consumers might be left with the impression "here is a company that is leveling with the consumer". Thus, for certain consumers the message might have more credibility than in its "uncorrected" form.

As is true of early research in any applied public policy area, these results must be regarded as tentative. The experiment does, however, suggest that corrective advertising can be implemented in various ways to achieve certain objectives. In the event that company source-low or high strength messages do not correct falsely-based consumer information, the FTC could utilize FTC source messages. Furthermore, in cases where guilt of deception has been proven involving dangers to consumers' health or safety, FTC source-high strength messages might be employed.

Additional research is needed to overcome the limitations of this study. The external validity of the experiment is questionable since natural message exposure conditions weren't present. The study was cross=sectional so no inferences can be drawn about the important matter of corrective advertising's long term effects. Long run placement of corrected ads (even company source versions) may decrease intention-to-buy. It would also be meaningful to study consumers' prior brand attitudes and usage, attitudes toward the FTC and advertising in general, and other factors that might moderate corrective advertising effects.