A Corrective Advertising Study

Harold H. Kassarjian, University of California, Los Angeles
Cynthia J. Carlson, Cornell University
Paula E. Rosin, Smith College
[ to cite ]:
Harold H. Kassarjian, Cynthia J. Carlson, and Paula E. Rosin (1975) ,"A Corrective Advertising Study", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 02, eds. Mary Jane Schlinger, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 631-642.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1975      Pages 631-642

A CORRECTIVE ADVERTISING STUDY

Harold H. Kassarjian, University of California, Los Angeles

Cynthia J. Carlson, Cornell University

Paula E. Rosin, Smith College

[The contributions of Jay S. Haladay, Masao Nakanishi and Richard Lutz in the data processing phase of this study are gratefully acknowledged. Philip G. Kuehl and Robert F. Dyer were instrumental in arranging the availability of subjects. H. Keith Hunt's critical advice is deeply appreciated. Portions of this study were carried out while the authors were associated with the Federal Trade Commission. This paper represents the interpretations and opinions of the authors, and not those of the Federal Trade Commission or any individual Commissioner.]

In recent years the concept of corrective advertising has become an issue of considerable concern to advertiser, academic, and government decision maker. Unfortunately, the number of research studies on the topic has been precious few. This paper attempts to expand previous findings and further test the effects of corrective advertising in an experimental study. The results support previous research -- that exposure to a corrective advertisement does tend to undo some of the attitudes created by misleading, deceptive and unfair advertising.

Corrective advertising generally refers to a Federal Trade Commission order that a firm not only cease and desist from its deceptive advertising, but also refrain from future advertising of a product for a specified period of time, unless it corrects the misleading impression that its prior false advertising may have created (Anon., 1972). The belief is that the issuance of a conventional cease and desist order is ineffectual and does not-help dissipate deceptive impressions that may linger in the mind of the consumer.

The concept of corrective advertising was first formally presented in May, 1970 to the FTC by a group of law students organized under the acronym SOUP -- Students Opposing Unfair Practices, Inc. The students attempted to intervene as representatives of the public interest in the Campbell Soup Co. case. The proceedings concerned Campbell's practice of adding marbles to its soups before showing them in television commercials such that the solid ingredients were displaced, giving the product a deceptively rich appearance. The Commission denied SOUP permission to intervene and Campbell agreed to a simple cease and desist order. Four months and one chairman later, a majority of the commission on its own initiative endorsed the concept of corrective advertising (Anon., 1971).

In rapid succession the staff of the Federal Trade Commission asked for corrective advertising in cases of national scope such as Firestone Tires, Hi-C Fruit Drink, Domino Sugar, Wonder Bread, and Standard Oil's Chevron F-310, in addition to other cases of deceptive local and regional advertising.

In August of 1971, the FTC issued its first final order requiring corrective advertising. The order was directed against the ITT Continental Baking Co., marketers of Profile Bread. The product had been advertised as having fewer calories than ordinary bread and as being of weight reducing value. The FTC charged that in fact the bread had fewer calories per slice only because it was more thinly sliced. The uncontested order required that ITT cease and desist all advertisements for Profile Bread unless not less than 25% of expenditures (excluding production costs) for each media in each Market be devoted to advertising stating that Profile Bread is not effective for weight reduction, contrary to possible interpretations of prior advertising (Anon., 1972).

The assumption that when a product is heavily advertised over long periods of time there may be a deep and long lasting impact on the attitudes, beliefs and behavior of consumers is nothing new to the consumer researcher. Topics such as changes in purchase behavior and purchase intentions, demand for specific products and brands, cognitive reorganization of opinions and beliefs, learning and recall of message content and company image, etc., have long been studied. Further, we have good evidence of the lingering effects of a learned behavior pattern, recall of message content, carry-over effects of advertising, and the forgetting or decay of advertised messages.

Lack of decay is not a rare occurrence in advertising. In a splendid paper by Ray, Sawyer and Strong (1971), all of their 36 analyses indicated some degree of non-decay and two-thirds of their learning curves showed a substantial lack of decay. The tendency toward decay was more evident in such routine measures as advertising recall, but in measures of attitude change, beliefs, ratings of the product, brand preference, and usage, the lack of decay was quite pronounced. In fact, for some measures, in some situations, not only can we expect a lack of decay but actually an increase rather than a decrease of a learned response after an advertising campaign has ended and the consumer is no longer exposed to the message. This finding, coined the sleeper effect by Hovland, Lumsdaine and Sheffield (1949), has been extensively researched and superbly reviewed by Capon and Hulbert (1973). These authors point out the rather respectable research tradition supporting this view and conclude that, although there may be some doubt of a generalized sleeper effect, it is detectable for certain subsets of the population.

The Ray interpretation of the sleeper effect is that, "the advertising itself becomes noxious to the audience after a certain point. Up to this point, advertising helps to hold attitudes or may actually help to improve attitudes. After this point, the ad exposures may actually get in the way of favorable opinions of the product or brand" (Ray, Sawyer and Strong, 1971, p. 16). Thus, when an advertising exposure has ended, the long term favorable response continues undiminished by the unfavorable responses caused by excessive and annoying repetition of the advertisement.

Whether or not this interpretation is correct, the available data point out that the effects of some messages, under certain conditions, are extremely difficult to eradicate, and, in fact, the mere stopping of exposure to advertising may not only fail to cause rapid decay, as assumed by cease and desist orders, but may in fact cause an increase in the level of material learned from the advertised message.

Such data as the Ray, Sawyer and Strong findings are, of course, heavily supported by hundreds of studies in experimental psychology on the-extinction of a learned response. Most psychologists, in fact, believe that once something is learned it is never truly forgotten. That is to say, a response tendency cannot be extinguished either by non-reinforcement or non-exposure alone. For a response to be extinguished, the animal or the intelligent consumer must be carefully taught to unlearn the response or to replace the learned response with another learned response.

An uncontested commission order for Hawaiian Punch illustrates how such conclusions gleaned from learning theory can be applied to corrective advertising. The complaint alleged that, through featuring fresh fruits and fruit trees prominently in television commercials and through the use of the phrase "seven natural fruit Juices", advertisements had represented that Hawaiian Punch beverages consist predominantly of natural fruit Juices. In fact, the complaint said, the predominant ingredients are water and sweetening agents which were added to fruit Juice and other ingredients. In addition to banning misrepresentation of natural fruit Juice content, the order prohibited for a one-year period any advertisement or label which depicted fruit or Juice unless the total percentage of single strength fruit Juice concentrate contained in a serving was clearly and conspicuously disclosed, or unless the product contained 100% single strength fruit Juice.

This provision in the order was to remain in effect until the firm submitted to the Commission a survey on consumer perception of Hawaiian Punch fruit Juice content. The form of the survey was included in the order. The affirmative disclosures were not to be required after the one-year period if 67% of current purchasers of fruit flavored beverages, or 80% of current or prospective purchasers of Hawaiian Punch product, or 95% of current purchasers of these products thought that Hawaiian Punch contained no more than 20% natural fruit juice (Kassarjian, 1974).

In this order, the R. J. Reynolds Foods Company was not only asked to cease and desist alleged misrepresentations, but it had to disclose the true facts until such time as a substantial proportion of consumers were no longer misled into thinking that Hawaiian Punch contained major amounts of "seven natural fruit Juices", i.e., until a true process of unlearning, decay or extinction and relearning had successfully occurred. The commission apparently felt that consumers must be carefully exposed to the fact that what they learned earlier was in error, lest they continue to suffer from the misleading effects of that earlier "learning".

RESEARCH ON CORRECTIVE ADVERTISING

The crucial questions, of course, are, "Does corrective advertising do what it is intended to do, counteract previous deception? Does it accelerate unlearning of the original response or accelerate decay of the advertising effect? If so, does the corrective information about a given brand generalize a negative image to the product class, the image of the advertiser or to the credibility of the retailer?" Only two sets of studies have examined these issues. The first is a series of studies by Keith Hunt (1972a, 1972b, 1973). Hunt used the allegedly deceptive ad originally published by Standard Oil of California touting its miraculous new additive F-310. One group saw only the original ad. Two groups saw a counter advertisement, one supposedly produced by a competitor and the other a public service advertisement from a consumer organization. Two additional groups saw a corrective ad, one supposedly voluntarily produced by Chevron and the other apparently published by Chevron under orders of the Federal Trade Commission. His results indicated that exposure to a corrective or counter ad definitely had a negative influence on the favorableness of attitudes toward the product. Further, he found no source effect. Whether the "correction" came from Standard Oil itself, a competitor, a government agency or an independent consumer organization, the results were identical - in the direction of neutralizing the positive attitudes created by the original advertisement. Further, it made little difference whether the second ad made an explicit point-by-point attack on each deceptive statement or merely a general unsupported statement such as "previous advertising by Chevron F-310 was found to be false and deceptive." Only the ad by a competitor without explicit support did not significantly change attitudes in a negative direction.

Hunt then asked, "What happens to consumers' beliefs about the sincerity, honesty and expertise of the errant company when a corrective ad is ordered?" His data indicated that an explicit attack reduced the overall credibility of other advertising for the same brand. Further, seeing a corrective or counter advertisement hurt the reputation of the company. On the variables of honesty and sincerity, the attitude scores dropped significantly while on an expertness dimension the scores did not change. Apparently, a deceptive ad is perceived as a result of dishonesty and insincerity and not a mistake due to lack of expertise. It seems a corrective ad is a liability to the perceived honesty of the firm and not just the particular product being deceptively advertised. Interestingly, the negative attitudes toward the Chevron brand did not generalize to other gasoline brands.

A basic fear of advertisers is that the corrective advertising attacks might generalize and reduce the credibility of all advertising in general. Based on Hunt's study, the fear does not seem to be well founded. The study indicated that the negative attitudes toward Chevron F-310 did not generalize to "advertising in general" or to other brands and other product classes. He did find, however, that the honesty, sincerity and expertness of the Federal Trade Commission was considerably enhanced when subJects saw a corrective ad mentioning the name of the regulatory agency.

The second set of studies were conducted by Dyer and Kuehl (1973, 1974). They studied not only print advertising but radio ads as well. The products selected were a diet soft drink and a suntan lotion, with two sources of information for the correcting message. One of these was the company itself with no mention of a regulatory agency, and the other was presented as a Consumer Bulletin of the Federal Trade Commission. The results indicated that in print, but not broadcast advertising, "intentions to buy" decreased when the corrective advertisement was identified as an FTC source, but did not decrease when the source of the advertisement was identified as company originated. Further, under certain conditions, when the FTC was identified as the source of the message, the company was perceived as being more unscrupulous as compared to a control group. When the company was identified as the source of the message, the firm was judged to be more trustworthy. In general, however, the results support those of Hunt. Corrective advertising is effective in undoing the damage of a deceptive ad, both in attitudes and "intentions to buy". Testimony from ITT Continental Backing Co. officials presented in adversary arguments to the Commission further makes the claim that Profile Bread corrective ads caused a drop in sales of from 20-25%. If this claim is accurate, it presents further evidence that corrective advertising not only affects learned attitudes toward the brand and "intentions to buy", but produces an actual drop in sales.

PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY

The purpose of this study was to contribute a third study to the precious few that exist on the effects of corrective advertising. Further, whereas the Hunt and Dyer and Kuehl studies examined the effect of corrective advertising on the image of the manufacturer in addition to the effects on the advertised product, they did not examine the effects of corrective advertising on the retailer carrying the product. The present study used a local newspaper advertisement for a brand of product not nationally recognized and attempted to assess the impact of corrective advertising on the local retailer required to place the advertisement above his own name. Because of their particular experimental designs, both the Dyer and Kuehl and the Hunt studies presented subJects with deceptive and corrective ads out of context. In the Hunt study, subJects were presented with the ads in a booklet of questionnaires. Dyer and Kuehl presented subjects with a series of ads among which were the experimental stimuli. This study presented subJects with the newspaper in which the critical stimuli were placed.

Methodology

The product chosen for the study was a safety device used by some motorcyclists. Both for reasons of convenience and to obtain a homogeneous population with some awareness of the existence and use of the product, the subjects of the study were male and female undergraduate college students at the University of Maryland and at George Washington University.

The basic design of the study was as follows:

The experimenters approached students in the classroom and presented them with photostatic copies of five pages of the June 13, 1973, issue of the New York Daily News. They were told that this was a study of newspaper readership and were asked to please read the paper in the same manner that they usually read any newspaper. They were asked not to study or memorize the stories and advertisements, but rather go through the paper as they usually might, skimming the stories of little interest and perhaps spending more time with those of greater interest. They were given about 10 minutes to do so.

Within the newspaper one of the published ads had been clipped out and the original deceptive safety device ad inserted before photostating, so each paper in this phase included an ad for the device supposedly sold in New York by a retailer which could well have existed in New York. The ad claimed to offer protection with the world's safest device: one piece for lighter weight with increased strength. Government approved.

After reading the newspaper, including the deceptive ad, subJects were handed a questionnaire and were asked to:

1. Remember the stories they read or noticed and identify each on an open end questionnaire.

2. Complete a multiple choice "test" on several of the stories.

3. Identify each ad they remembered reading or seeing (unaided).

4. Check the ads they noticed from a list. (Some of the ads, in fact, did not exist in the newspaper and others did. This was a measure of aided recall.)

5. Rate another advertised product (bathing suits) on a semantic differential attitude scale.

6. Rate the retailer of the other product.

7. Rate the safety device and the retailer of these devices.

The purpose of asking irrelevant questions about newspaper stories and other ads was to cover the real purpose of this study, the ads for safety devices.

Upon completing this phase of the study, the questionnaires were collected and the subJects presented with some pages of the June 18, 1973 edition of the New York Daily News. In this version, an actual ad in the paper was replaced with one of eight versions of the corrective ads to be studied. Each corrective advertisement contained at least the following copY:

The advertisement shown above appeared in this newspaper. We have now been informed that the (device) advertised is not the world's safest (device). The (device) in question is made of (plastic). Although such a (device) may meet (government) standards, no (plastic device) has yet met the most rigorous standard set out under the test procedures to qualify for (agency) approval.

Because of the error under which this device was advertised and sold, (Retailer) will, for 33 days following the appearance of this notice, accept the return for full cash refund on any (device) purchased as a result of the above advertisement.

Sixty-four subjects were then asked to read this newspaper as they had the earlier one and then complete a second questionnaire. This questionnaire again included questions on advertisements in the newspaper and repeated the semantic differential scales on the safety device found in the first phase questionnaire.

Upon completion the subJects were told that the study concerned advertising and were asked to go back to the newspaper and carefully reread the ad for the safety device. This phase of the study is similar to the work of Hunt and of Dyer and Kuehl in that subJects specifically focused on the corrective ad, rather than having it buried in the newspaper.

At this point, the subJects were again asked to complete the semantic differential scale on the product. After collecting several other minor questions and some demographic information, the subJects were debriefed and told the real purpose of the study. All questions were answered to alleviate any concern that may have been generated in the subJects since, to a small extent, they had earlier been deceived about the true purpose of the experiment.

The experimental methodology consisted of a 2 x 2 x 2 x 15 analysis of variance design. The variables consisted of three copy and layout variations and the 15 item semantic differential scale. The 64 subJects were randomly assigned, 8 subJects to each of the eight cells. Each experimental treatment or advertising variation was identical in the placement in the newspaper, in copy, in graphics, and in text, except for the experimental manipulations.

A second group of 32 subJects (control group) were presented with only the June 18 edition of the newspaper, each containing one of the eight versions of the corrective ad. They were not exposed to the first phase of the study and did not see the original deceptive advertisement. A comparison of the control group with the experimental group would indicate the effect on consumers who are exposed to a corrective ad, but who did not see the original deceptive ad. Further, the data may be interpreted as a measure of the biases inherent in the experimental design. Although every effort was made to cover the purpose of the study, it may be that the experimental subjects were more sensitized to observing the second ad, since this group had been previously exposed to the same product and a similar advertisement.

RESULTS

The first analysis considered the effect of the eight variations of advertising stimuli. Among the 64 experimental subjects exposed to both the original ad and one of the corrective versions in the natural context of a newspaper, the data indicated no significant three-way interaction effect (repeated measures analysis of variance design F= 1.046; 1/56 df) and no significant two-way interaction effects. Further, none of the copy and layout variables (main effects) were significantly different from each other. Results of analyses of variance for the 32 control subjects were similar. In short, stimulus variations in copy and layout had no significant effect in this study. Since the text and layout made no difference in the effectiveness of the corrective message, the data were pooled into a single experimental and a single control group.

Effect of Corrective Advertising on Attitude Change

Using the semantic differential scale as a measure of product perception, the effect of being exposed to a deceptive advertisement and then a corrective advertisement can be seen in Figure 1. The broken line represents attitude scores of the 64 subjects after having seen only the original deceptive ad and before exposure to the corrective ad. The solid line represents semantic differential scores after having been exposed to the corrective ad. Upon having been exposed to the corrective ad, the product is perceived as being less reliable, less effective, less believable, more worthless, inferior, deceptive, mistaken, misleading, more poorly made, and less recommendable.

The two profiles are significantly different from each other at the .01 level of confidence (repeated measures design analysis of variance F = 7.54; 1/56 degrees of freedom). Interpretation of the results indicates that the overall effect of presenting a corrective ad changes perceptions of the item advertised as measured by the semantic differential in a direction that makes it less desirable: the change is in a negative direction.

Perception of the Retailer

The purpose of these particular ads was to change views of the product and not the retailer. The question that arises, however, is, "Having seen a corrective ad for a product that is now perceived as more negative, do the subjects generalize the negative view not only to the product but also perceive the retailer as being more unreliable and more negative?"

Figure 2 presents these results. The differences in attitudes before and after having seen the corrective ads are not statistically significant. The overall profiles do not differ from each other, with the variations likely due to chance.

Both Hunt and Dyer and Kuehl had found that under certain conditions the manufacturer of a product with a corrective ad was perceived as less honest and sincere, hence it would be reasonable to expect that if a retailer published an ad for a product that is perceived as deceptive, the retailer himself might also be perceived as deceptive, mistaken and misleading. Nevertheless, the data in this study indicate that the retailer is not affected by publishing a corrective advertisement. Whereas attitudes toward the product become significantly more negative, the attitudes toward the retailer do not change significantly.

FIGURE 1

SEMANTIC DIFFERENTIAL SCALES (SAFETY DEVICE)

FIGURE 2

SEMANTIC DIFFERENTIAL SCALES (RETAIL STORE)

Effects of Forced Exposure

As already mentioned above, the previous studies in corrective advertising presented the ads out of context, under forced exposure conditions. In this study, the ads were presented in the context of a newspaper. However, upon completion of the first two phases of the study, subjects were specifically asked to turn to the corrective ad, study it carefully, and then again asked to complete the semantic differential measure. The results indicated no significant difference in profiles toward the product having viewed the ad under "natural" conditions and under conditions of forced exposure. For example (and simplicity), the overall mean of all subjects over all scales for the forced exposure conditions was 4.78, and under the non-forced condition 4.52. The difference is not significant at the .05 level of confidence. However, under conditions of forced exposure, one of the copy and layout variables suddenly took on some significance. Apparently under natural "reading" conditions minor changes in the message itself make little difference, but upon forced exposure, changes in the text and layout do take on significance. [This conclusion must be somewhat tempered by the fact that because of experimental exigencies we did not use a second control group that viewed the ads only under forced conditions. The forced condition subjects were the same ones that had previously been exposed to the corrective ad under non-forced conditions.] Again, these findings were quite similar to the previous studies. On an overall basis, it makes little difference whether subjects are shown the ad under natural conditions or on a forced exposure condition.

Control Conditions

Whenever a corrective advertisement is published, two groups of readers will be exposed to the correction. One group are those who saw the original deceptive advertisement, and in the other group are those who did not see the original ad and are being exposed to the product advertisement only under the corrective conditions.

To examine what the effects would be on readers who did not see the original advertisement, 32 control subjects were exposed to one of the versions of the corrective ads. Under both forced exposure and non-forced exposure conditions, none of the layout or copy variables nor interaction effects were significant.

The profile of the semantic differential scales for rating of the product for the control group (did not see the original ad) under non-forced exposure conditions (overall mean = 4.521) was not significantly different from the mean of the experimental group who saw both ads (overall mean: 4.520). Under forced exposure conditions, the overall mean of the profile toward the product of the experimental group who saw both the original and the corrective ad was 4.78. For the control group who saw only the corrective ad, the overall mean was 5.06. Again, neither these means nor the profiles differ significantly. These findings imply that exposure to a corrective ad produces perceptions toward the product that are quite similar regardless of whether or not the consumer has been exposed to the original deceptive ad.

In summary, the results of this study indicate the following findings:

1. Reading a corrective ad in a newspaper tends to undo some of the positive attitudes toward a product created by a deceptive advertisement.

2. Negative effects created by a corrective advertisement do not generalize to the local retailer who placed the ad, in this case for an item not identified by a nationally known brand name.

3. When exposure to an ad is forced upon a subJect, the profile changes that result are not significantly different than if he is exposed to it under more natural conditions.

4. Subjects who did not see the original ad but were exposed only to the corrective ad had identical profiles toward the product as did subJects who saw both ads.

The results of this study support the findings of previous work that exposure to a corrective advertisement does tend to undo some of the attitudes created by misleading, deceptive and unfair advertising at least in laboratory settings. The ITT claims of a 25% drop in sales of Profile Bread adds further data. Unfortunately, just as the research supporting the placement of corrective advertising is beginning to emerge, the Federal Trade Commission appears to be turning away from the concept and returning to merely requiring "cease and desist" action. Every single corrective advertising order prepared by the staff and contested by the respondent has been turned down by either the adjudicative judge or by the Commission on appeal. It is unfortunate, for as the Washington Star newspaper has editorially pointed out, ". . . the sponsor who paid to mislead the public must now pay again to correct the previous deception is the essence of (corrective advertising). A diabolically clever scheme and a simple one that makes monumental good sense" (Randal, 1973).

REFERENCES

Anon. Corrective advertising and the FTC: No, Virginia, Wonder Bread doesn't help build strong bodies twelve ways. Michigan Law Review, 1971, 70, 374-399.

Anon. Corrective advertising--the new response to consumer deception. Columbia Law Review, 1972, 72, 415-431.

Capon, N. & Hulbert, J. The sleeper effect: An awakening. Public Opinion Quarterly, 1973, 37, 333-358.

Dyer, R. F. & Kuehl, P. G. Source and strength effects in corrective advertising. In S. Ward & P. Wright (Eds.), Advances in consumer research. Vol. 1. Urbana: Association for Consumer Research 1973. PP. 85-86 ( abstract).

Dyer, R. F. & Kuehl, P. G. The 'corrective advertising' remedy of the FTC: An experimental evaluation. Journal of Marketing, 1974, 38 (1), 48-54.

Hovland, C. I., Lumsdaine, A. A. & Sheffield, F. D. Experiments in mass communication. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1949.

Hunt, H, K. Reception, inoculation, attack: Implications for inoculation theory, public policy, and advertising strategy. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University, 1972.

Hunt, H. K. Source effects, message effects, and general effects in counteradvertising. In M. Venkatesan (Ed.), Proceedings, third annual conference, Association for Consumer Research, 1972.

Hunt, H. K. Measuring the impact and effectiveness of counter messages. Paper presented at the American Marketing Association Conference, "Advertising and the Public Interest," Washington, D.C., May, 1973.

Kassarjian, H. H. Applications of consumer behavior to the field of advertising. Journal of Advertising, 1974, 3, 10-15.

Randal, J. Washington close up: 'Unlearning' the ad effects. Evening Star and Washington Daily News, Thursday, June 14, 1973, Page A 20.

Ray, M. L., Sawyer, A. G. & Strong, E. C. Frequency effects revisited, Journal of Advertising Research, 1971, 2 (1), 14-20

----------------------------------------