Television Advertising: a Study on Its Applicability For Promoting the Disadvantaged to Employers

James E. Haefner, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
[ to cite ]:
James E. Haefner (1975) ,"Television Advertising: a Study on Its Applicability For Promoting the Disadvantaged to Employers", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 02, eds. Mary Jane Schlinger, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 905-914.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1975      Pages 905-914


James E. Haefner, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

[This researcher is indebted to the Division of Vocational and Technical Education, State of Illinois, for providing funds to conduct this research. Only a small part of the results of this study will be presented.]

[James E. Haefner is an Assistant Professor of Advertising at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (103 Gregory Hall).]

A field study was made in three cities of Illinois: Peoria, Rockford and Decatur. Ten television spot announcements dealing with the hiring and retraining of disadvantaged individuals were shown during prime television time for six weeks in Peoria and Rockford. The spots were not shown in Decatur. Pre-measurements of the behavioral intentions of employers to hire or retrain disadvantaged people were taken simultaneously in all three cities. Post-measurements of intentions were gathered in all three cities after the ad campaign was completed. In addition, measures of message recall and comprehension were collected in the Peoria and Rockford areas. Recall and comprehension rates for the spot announcements were very high for employers in Peoria and Rockford, much above many past informational advertising campaigns. Negative shifts in behavioral intention measures occurred, however. The most likely explanation for these results can be found in reactance theory. When an individual perceives that his alternatives are being restricted, he will tend to view the object or stimulus that is attempting to restrict his alternatives in a more negative manner. The spot announcements appeared to be viewed by employers as an attempt to restrict alternatives in the area of hiring and retraining. The study indicates the need for less "hardsell" messages in this area of informational advertising.


This paper presents the results of a field study made in three cities of Illinois: Rockford, Peoria and Decatur. A six-week, informational, television-advertising campaign was conducted to improve employer knowledge and behavioral intentions toward the hiring and training of groups of disadvantaged adults. The advertisements were shown in Rockford and Peoria while Decatur was the control community. Interviewing before and after the campaign was conducted in each of the three cities to determine what effects, if any, the campaign had on employers.

Effectiveness of Past Informational Advertising Campaigns

Studies of past informational campaigns reveal that: (1) relatively few informational campaigns have been evaluated, and (2) when systematic tests of the effectiveness of informational campaigns have been run, the results have been discouraging (Haskins, 1968; Klapper, 1960; Douglas, 1970; Salado and Scherer, 1973). For example, traffic safety campaigns, such as "Buckle Up for Safety," and "Watch Out for the Other Guy," were judged to be inconclusive, although over $40 million in advertising space and an unknown amount of creative and administrative effort were expended (Salado and Scherer, 1973). In another campaign, ads were developed to inform the audience about the United Nations and its functions. The campaign produced no increase in audience knowledge about the United Nations (Star, 1950).

This is not to say, of course, that all informational advertising campaigns have been unsuccessful. Some examples of the few successful campaigns include Kate Smith's selling of more than 39 million dollars of bonds in 18 consecutive hours (Kotler, 1969); Douglas and others' (Douglas, 1970) ability to change community attitudes toward mental retardation, and Salcedo and others' (Salcedo and Reed, 1974) ability to increase audience knowledge of, and strengthen attitudes toward, pesticide safety and the pesticide label.

Overall, however, informational advertising campaigns have generally been unsuccessful in achieving their given goals: developing of awareness, imparting of information, changing of attitudes, or bringing about action. Why the great failure in informational advertising while more traditional product-oriented advertising has been more successful? The reasons are several. First, most, if not all, of these campaigns have relied entirely upon public service time and space to disseminate their messages. These public service announcements are placed on the air at the discretion of the public service director or station manager, and more likely than not they are aired at 6:30 a.m. or at 11:30 p.m. It is highly unlikely that any significant number of the intended audience will be watching the station at these times. Gruenhagen (1969) in a recently completed study indicated that one of the reasons his campaign failed was the lack of prime time exposure his ads were given.

A second reason for the failure of these informational campaigns is that they have often dealt with firmly entrenched attitudes and values. Attempting to instill new attitudes or values in such areas such as sex education, racial relations, fluoridation, or birth control present a much more difficult problem for the communicator than attempting to reshape existing attitudes. For example, the seller of toothpaste does not have to socialize persons into new dental care habits, but rather into which brand of a familiar and desired product to purchase (Kotler, 1971, p. 6). This is not meant to imply that instilling new attitudes or behavioral patterns is impossible, but that it requires a more sophisticated and concentrated effort than many traditional product promotions.

A third reason for the poor results of informational campaigns is failure on the part of the communicator to recognize that he may have to do more than just advertise his idea or service. The great success of the rightist, Father Coughlin, in the thirties was due to a combination of an ad campaign (Coughlin's addresses on nationwide radio), plus the coordinated distribution of newspapers, pamphlets, and locally organized face-to-face discussions among relatively small groups (Lazarfeld, 1949). What is needed is a sound marketing strategy and not just a sound advertising strategy.

In summary, the review of the literature reveals the following:

1. Few informational campaigns have been evaluated.

2. When informational campaigns were evaluated, the results were often negative.

3. Failure of these campaigns has probably resulted from their sole reliance on public service spots, their attempt to deal with issues that require social reconditioning, and their reliance on advertising alone to create the desired changes.



Employers were operationally defined to include respondents who could hire or were in a position to recommend the hiring of an individual. As a result of this definition of employers, potential respondents were divided into three groups: l) president or owner, 2) personnel manager or personnel director, and 3) foreman or supervisor. The sample for each city contained an adequate number of individuals for each of three sub-classifications.

A total of 105 (Peoria), 101 (Rockford), and 80 (Decatur) employers were contacted for the pre-measurement phase of the project. Sample sizes for the post-measurements were Peoria (94), Rockford (93), and Decatur (74).


For each city, a directory of area employers was obtained. Those firms employing fewer than five people were excluded. From the remaining list, 100 firms were selected in Peoria, Rockford, and Decatur with probabilities proportioned to size (measured by number of employees). For each selected firm, the number of interviews to be completed with management personnel was assigned proportionally to the size of the firm. The total sample for each city was then randomly divided into three equal groups designated high level (president, owner); medium level (personnel manager, personnel director); low level (foreman, supervisor).

All employers in the final sample were contacted by telephone for their pre-measurement responses. The same group of employers was again contacted by telephone for their post-measurement responses.

Stimulus Material

Ten color television spot announcements, five were 60 seconds in length and five were 30 seconds in length, were developed. Two major themes evolved: one theme indicated the importance of employers hiring the disadvantaged; and the second theme dealt with the need to retrain and upgrade the existing skills of disadvantaged people already employed by them. Disadvantaged adults were portrayed in the ads as those who might be discriminated against because of age, sex, or race. At the end of each message, the seal of the State of Illinois appeared.


A before-after with control group was utilized as the experimental design. Peoria and Rockford were designated as the test cities while Decatur was the control community.


Each employer was asked a series of demographic items dealing with such areas as age, education, length of employment, position within company, and present training programs for employees. In addition, behavioral intention questions modeled after Fishbein (1972) were also asked.


The post-measurement questionnaire for employers was the same as the pre-measurement questionnaire with three changes: 1) the demographics collected earlier were not collected again, 2) a section was added to measure advertising recall, and 3) a section was added to measure message comprehension.

The recall questions asked respondents whether they remembered seeing any television ads that had the themes, "When They Succeed, We All Do;" and "Take Another Look." If a respondent answered in the affirmative, he was then asked what he thought the messages were trying to say (message comprehension). For those respondents who indicated that they were not sure whether they saw the messages, they were given a series of statements which described each of the ads designed in such a way that the description would have not indicated what the themes of the messages were. The list also contained some statements describing fictitious ads and was thus used as a checking device to prevent respondents from saying they had seen all the ads. If a respondent stated he remembered seeing the fictitious ads, he was not counted as having recalled the ads.


Departing from the usual practice of informational advertising campaigns, it was decided not to rely on free public service spots for the ad campaign. Instead, time was purchased at the local affiliates of ABC, CBS, and NBC in Rockford and Peoria (the experimental cities). Table 1 reports on the frequency schedule of the ten announcements.



Note. The frequency schedule was the same for both Rockford and Peoria. The ads were shown on the local affiliates of ABC, CBS, and NBC, and were run from September 3, 1973 to October 14, 1973.

Simultaneous pre-measures were taken before the campaign began in all three cities and simultaneous post-measures were taken in all three cities directly after the campaign.


Sample Statistics

Table 2 presents some summary sample statistics for employers in each of the three cities.



Adequate numbers of top, middle, and lower management personnel were obtained from each city. The employer respondents were with the firm in question for a fairly large number of years, thus indicating that they understood the hiring and training mechanisms of the company. It is also interesting to note the fairly large number of women respondents that were obtained. Other demographic data collected along with those presented in the paper indicated that the samples were homogenous enough to permit comparisons amongst them. No data is presented for the second wave sample as they were very similar to the first wave respondents.

Message Recall and Comprehension Frequencies for Peoria and Rockford

Table 3 presents the results of recall and comprehension for the campaign.



Recall rates for employers were very strong with 70.6% of the combined Peoria and Rockford samples indicating that they had seen the messages. Although comprehension rates for employers fell to 51.3% for the combined samples, this is certainly a more than acceptable rate for a six week campaign. It should also be noted that the hiring theme was comprehended most clearly for employers; only a small percentage perceived a training theme.

Behavioral Intention Results

Table 4 presents the results of the test conducted on two behavioral intention questions (willingness to hire and willingness to retrain the disadvantaged). Only those employers who both recalled and comprehended the messages were included in the analysis.



Note. Since employers were administered two behavioral intention questions, one dealing with willingness to hire and the other dealing with willingness to train, two sets of mean change scores are reported.

Significant changes in intentions to hire and retrain occurred in all cases. In the Peoria vs. Decatur (willingness to hire), Rockford vs. Decatur (willingness to hire), and Rockford vs. Decatur (willingness to retrain), all significant changes were negative; behavioral intention scores decreased from pre to post-measurement. Only for Peoria vs. Decatur (willingness to retrain) was there a significant positive change in intention scores.


The strong message recall and comprehension rates for the campaign were a result of the purchase of television time rather than relying upon public service information spots. With the purchase of time, it was possible to ensure that the target market of employers would be adequately reached.

Only one positive shift in behavioral intentions occurred (Peoria vs. Decatur willingness to retrain). This shift had limited implications as a few members of the Peoria employer sample indicated very large shifts while the greater part of this sample indicated no shifts or small negative shifts.

The more interesting finding dealt with the constant negative shifts that occurred in intentions for all other measurement situations. An explanation for this behavior can be found in Brehm's work (1966). Psychological reactance theory was formulated to explain why some people respond negatively to any force which they perceive restricts their freedom of action:

"....when a person believes himself free to engage in a given behavior, he will experience psychological reactance if that freedom is eliminated or threatened with elimination. Psychological reactance is defined as the motivational state directed toward the re-establishment of the threatened or eliminated freedom, and should manifest itself in increased desire to engage in the relevant behavior...."

Reactance theory research has produced unequivocal results in the literature (Biondo, 1971; Grebitz-Gniech, 1971; Wicklund, 1968) as well as indicating important marketing applications (Mazis, 1973; Venkatesan, 1966).

It may be that the ads produced a reactance or "boomerang effect" on employers, because they perceived the messages as a "hardsell" that attempted to threaten their freedom of choice in the hiring and retraining areas. Three reasons can be given in defense of the above reasoning: (1) Interviewers on the project indicated that many of the employer respondents stated that they were tired of being told what they should do with disadvantaged members of their community. (2) If an individual perceives that a stimulus is threatening a reduction in choice alternatives, reactance effects can be produced (Brehm, 1966, pp. 71-90). Thus actual removal of choice alternatives need not occur to produce psychological reactance. (3) Since the seal of the State of Illinois appeared after each ad, employers may have perceived the sender of the message to have more legitimate power than the sender actually did. The message sender, therefore, may have been perceived to have the power to follow up on the message with more tangible actions.

Two major alternatives can be offered to the "hardsell" communication tactic. First, messages should be developed which mainly discuss the benefits to the company of hiring or retraining disadvantaged people. This "softsell" approach could be combined with other information in an ad that would indicate that some agency (local, state, or federal) would be available to assist in the initial implementation of a disadvantaged hiring or retraining program. With the message and source being perceived more in a coordinating role rather than in an enforcement role, psychological reactance will be less likely to occur.

Secondly, it may be that the advertising function alone will not be able to bring about significant behavioral changes in this area. A social marketing program (Kotler, 1971), with advertising but one of its tools, may provide more positive results. Recognition of the costs involved in hiring the disadvantaged, the problems in obtaining disadvantaged community members when an employer needs them, as well as the need to communicate effectively with employers may provide more effective results in this area of societal concern.


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