The Impact of Sensory Preference and Thinking Versus Feeling Appeals on Advertising Effectiveness

Linda L. Golden, University of Texas at Austin
Keren A. Johnson, University of Texas at Austin
ABSTRACT - This paper investigates the effect of sensory preference (visual or auditory) and two types of appeals (thinking versus feeling) for four products and five dependent variables: affect, believability, quantity of information, usefulness of information and purchase intentions. Thinking advertisements were perceived as relatively more likeable, providing more information,providing more useful information, and elicited higher purchase intentions. Sensory preference was not an important (or significant) variable in influencing effectiveness of thinking and feeling advertisements. Rather. the interaction of sensory preference and product stimuli appear to be the most important influences upon advertising effectiveness as measured in this study.
[ to cite ]:
Linda L. Golden and Keren A. Johnson (1983) ,"The Impact of Sensory Preference and Thinking Versus Feeling Appeals on Advertising Effectiveness", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, eds. Richard P. Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 203-208.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, 1983      Pages 203-208


Linda L. Golden, University of Texas at Austin

Keren A. Johnson, University of Texas at Austin

[Linda L. Golden is Associate Professor of Marketing and Keren A. Johnson is a Lecturer.]


This paper investigates the effect of sensory preference (visual or auditory) and two types of appeals (thinking versus feeling) for four products and five dependent variables: affect, believability, quantity of information, usefulness of information and purchase intentions. Thinking advertisements were perceived as relatively more likeable, providing more information,providing more useful information, and elicited higher purchase intentions. Sensory preference was not an important (or significant) variable in influencing effectiveness of thinking and feeling advertisements. Rather. the interaction of sensory preference and product stimuli appear to be the most important influences upon advertising effectiveness as measured in this study.


Information processing is becoming an increasingly important-area of inquiry in the consumer behavior literature (e.g., Bettman 1979; Olson 1979; Wright 1980). As researchers attempt to better understand the way consumers process information, approaches to the study of information processing have become more varied. This has resulted in a focus on individual differences in information processing that is derived from the cognitive science literature. Using information processing as a dominant metaphor, this body of interdisciplinary research from psychology, computer science and psycholinguistics offers at least two ways to approach the study of individual cognitive differences among consumers (Hofstadter and Dennett 1981; Punt 1982): hemispheral lateralization and cognitive style.

While not the direct focus of this research investigation, the first approach, hemispheral lateralization, is increasingly evidenced in the literature and highlights the emerging importance of psychobiology to consumer behavior (Appel, Weinstein and Weinstein 1979, Hansen 1981; Hansen and Lundsgaard 1980; Kroeber-riel 1979). Hemispheral lateralization suggests that the ability to verbalize and to perform other sequential tasks may be reLated to increased activity in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain. Holistic perception--the ability to register sensory data and construct a gestalt--is believed to be associated with increased activity in the right cerebral hemisphere. Although every individual uses both hemispheres, he or she may be either right- or left-hemispheral dominant. The dominance of the right or left cerebral hemisphere is believed to contribute to individual differences both in initial stages of perception and in subsequent information processing. Thus, hemispheral lateralization refers to differential functioning of parts of the brain and this "subroutine model" (Hunt 1982) relates a particular process to a physiological structure. By contrast, a second approach to the study of individual differences and information processing, cognitive style, suggests how a (cognitive) structure may function and can thus be considered the process which may be related to a physiological structure.

The term cognitive style refers to how people perceive and process information from their surroundings (Keedy 1978). Early definitions of cognitive style were based on trait pairs, such as reflective--impulsive, field dependent--field independent and broad--narrow categories of organizing information. Recent schemes that purport to describe styles of thinking posit a more complex level of cognitive organization than do the earlier trait pairs. Accordingly, individuals engaged in processes of search, organization and transformation are believed to select certain cues and exhibit specific behavior based on a preference for operating in one particular "system." For example, Harrison and Bramson (1982) developed five categories of cognitive style: synthesized, idealist, pragmatist, analyst and realist. Each style exhibits a characteristic approach of the processing of incoming stimuli and the majority of individuals are believed to prefer a particular style, which may, however, shift under stress. In other taxonomies the system parts correspond to physiological or sensory modes--visual, auditory and kinesthetic (Bandler and Grinder 1976).

Clinical applications of sensory mode preference are increasing. Among the most striking of these is Bandler and Grinder's (1976) neurolinguistic programming approach, the basis of which is a protocol that integrates eye movements with linguistic measures. This diagnostic technique is devised to indicate a primary orientation in one physiological system. Familiarity with a client's primary system allows the therapist to restructure his or her linguistic cues in order to facilitate change in the client by using language to "reframe" experience.

Bandler and Grinder's work is one more result of the communication revolution spearheaded by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960's and appears to be a clinical extension of McLuhan's theory of sense ratios (McLuhan 1964). According to McLuhan's sense ratio theory, each culture prefers a certain arrangement of the five senses and communication patterns unique to that culture evolve from the weight accorded to each sense. This may be considered analogous to an individual preferring certain forms of sensory-input and exhibiting a dominant cognitive style.

In McLuhan's conceptualization, there are certain characteristics of auditory (aural) preference cultures and characteristics of visual preference cultures. Aural preference cultures are: drawn closer together, interdependent, more emotional and rely more heavily on gestalt pattern recognition. Visual preference cultures receive information primarily through print. They appear to prefer rational (thinking) approaches, linear and sequential information, exhibit a solitary rather than communal social structure and are not highly involved in pattern recognition. In a conceptual sense, the visual preference cultures (print dominated) may be thought of as more left hemispheral and the auditory preference cultures more right hemispheral. That is, use of the left or right hemisphere may be dominant in aural or visual cultures, respectively.

As with McLuhan's sense ratios and cultural topologies and Bandler and Grinder's (1976) psycholinguistic application of McLuhan's work, some of the recent work in advertising suggests that sensory mode preferences may be relevant to the effectiveness of advertising appeals.

Zielske (1982) found that day-after recall may penalize feeling television commercials relative to thinking commercials. From the perspective of hemispheral lateralization, any open-ended verbal response may indeed favor thinking advertisements because techniques requiring subjects to verbalize provide a left-brain biased cue. This cue may inadvertently match an innate trait to an experimental task requirement. Zielske (1982) suggests that masked-recognition recall may be a safer recall technique because it is less likely to penalize feeling advertisements. His results suggest a potential influence of sensory preference on the reported effectiveness of feeling and thinking advertisements.

Purpose of the Study and Hypotheses

The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between a stated preference for visual or auditory verbal information and responses to thinking and feeling television commercials. From the perspective of cognitive style, a differential response may occur for thinking or feeling advertisements because of an innate preference for receiving verbal information visually or aurally. Following McLuhan's theory of sense ratios, it is expected that aural preference individuals (being more emotionally based) will be more responsive to feeling advertisements and visual preference individuals will be more responsive to thinking advertisements (because they are theoretically more rationally oriented).

Hypotheses I: There will be a significant effect of sensory preference and advertisement type. For affect, believability, quantity of information and usefulness of information, it is expected that feeling advertisements will be more effective for aural preference subjects and thinking advertisements will be more effective for visual preference subjects.

The major impact of a preference for one particular sensory mode may be in the initial or encoding phase of information processing when activation or arousal is critical. While aural types are expected to find feeling advertisements more believable than visual types, decisions about purchase intentions may occur at later stages of information processing and be related to the specific product or brand featured in the message rather than be "strongly" influenced by innate characteristics of the individual. (In this study the brand was familiar.) Thus, no interaction between sensory preference and advertisement type is expected for purchase intentions.

Following from the potential interaction of measurement task and sensory mode preference demonstrated in Zielske's (1982) study, it is expected that thinking advertisements will be rated as generally more well liked, more believable, having a greater amount of information and more useful information than feeling advertisements, but with no differential effect on purchase intentions. Information in thinking advertisements is by definition, more "rational," so that the feeling advertisements may suffer from the same relative penalties for the dependent variables in this study found for day-after recall.

Hypothesis II: There will be a significant main effect of advertisement type such that thinking advertisements will be perceived as more likeable, more believable, providing more information and more useful information.

Again, no significant main effect is hypothesized for purchase intentions. The rationale is identical to that presented for Hypothesis I.

Although no formal hypothesis is advanced, it is expected that there will be no difference between visual and auditory preference individuals in their responses to the advertisements, per se. That is, no significant main effect of sensory preference is expected. The perspective is that differential responses will be a result of interactions between innate characteristics and stimulus characteristics, not simply a function of innate characteristics as measured in this study. This speculation is restricted to cognitive style as measured in this study.


The first phase of the methodology was to select a measure of sensory preference. The primary reason for selecting the Oakland Inventory of Cognitive Style (Keedy 1978) from among approximately ten cognitive style instruments considered was that it was the only cognitive style instrument to measure sensory preference. Other cognitive style variables are also measured by the Oakland Inventory (i.e., modalities of inference), but were not relevant to this study.

Advertisement Treatment Selection

A panel of four judges viewed over one hundred advertisements to select eight advertisements designed to meet the criteria below.

Four advertisements were to represent "thinking" advertisements and four were to represent "feeling" advertisements.

The thinking and feeling advertisements were to be advertising the same brand in the same category.

Thinking was defined as "appealing to the 'rationality' of the receiver" and feeling was defined as creating a mood and appealing to the emotions. The advertisements were to be "strong" representations of both types of appeals.

All eight advertisements were thirty-second spots and of similar quality.

All advertisements were to be for familiar products or brands that might conceivably be purchased by the subjects.

No advertisement in the study was to have been aired in the area, so that the advertisements themselves were "unfamiliar."

The judges were in agreement that the advertisements selected as manipulations met all six criteria and were the strongest manipulations for thinking and feeling treatment levels.

Advertisements for four product categories were used in the study for external validity purposes. Product categories represented were: airline, soft drink, petroleum company and hair care product. The only product category for which it was impossible to match the brands used in the thinking and feeling advertisements was soft drink.

The thinking advertisements made "objective" appeals and the feeling advertisements tended to rely on music or "drama" to create a mood. For example, the thinking advertisement for the hair care product described the benefits of use, such as healthy hair, while the feeling advertisement showed women dancing and shaking their "healthy" hair. The hair care product advertisements had the least amount of narrative in the feeling treatment.

In the instance of the petroleum product, the thinking advertisement discussed what the product could do for the consumer. The feeling treatment, however, showed an injured person being rushed to the hospital and stated that the product helped save the person's life. The thinking advertisements for the soft drink and the airline stated tangible product benefits while the feeling advertisements were mood provoking and attempted to create a feeling around product use.

Questionnaire Development and Administration

A four-part questionnaire was developed and pretested. The final instrument elicited affect, quantity of information, usefulness of information, believability and purchase intentions. The exact questions appear below.

Affect: "Overall, to what extent did you like or dislike the advertisement?"

Quantity of Information: "How much information do you think the advertisement provided?"

Usefulness of Information: "How useful do you think the information in the advertisement was?"

Believability: "To what extent do you believe the claims in the advertisements are true?"

Purchase Intentions: "How likely are you to purchase the brand named in the advertisement?"

Responses were elicited on a horizontal, bipolar seven-point scale with the lowest extreme equal to one and the highest equal to seven.

Two additional questions were asked as manipulation checks. Subjects were asked to race the advertisement as to how much it appealed to their "rationality." (That is, how 'thinking' is the advertisement?") Subjects also evaluated the degree to which the advertisements attempted to create a mood. ("That is, how 'feeling' is the advertisement?") A horizontal, bipolar seven-point scale appeared under each question.

The experimental manipulations and questionnaires were administered to eighty undergraduate business students at a large South-western university. The students were from several classes and agreed to provide their reactions to a series of advertisements. To avoid biasing the experiment with the measurement of cognitive style, subjects tilled out the cognitive style instrument five days prior to the experiment.

In the experimental setting, subjects viewed the first advertisement and then responded to the first page in the questionnaire for that advertisement (airline). Subjects were instructed not to turn the page until told to do so. Subjects filled out the questionnaire for each advertisement after exposure to that treatment.

There were three separate mass administrations of the experiment, with half the subjects receiving feeling treatments and half receiving thinking treatments. The groups varied in size so that two groups received feeling treatments and one received chinking treatments. Because of the mass administration, the order of products was not rotated. The advertisements were in identical order: airline, soft drink, petroleum and hair care. Cognitive style instruments and experimental treatment questionnaires were matched by social security number.


The data from the Oakland Inventory were scored for each subject's sensory preference. Sensory preference was measured by eight questions (four aural and four visual preference) to which subjects responded "usually," "sometimes," or "rarely." An example of a question is, "I would rather hear news on the radio than read it in the papers." A response of "usually" was scored a five, "sometimes" was scored a three and "rarely" was scored one DO int.

Subjects received a separate score for auditory orientation and visual orientation, and there was a maximum possible score of twenty points for each measure. If the auditory orientation score was higher than the visual orientation score, the subject was assigned to the auditory preference group. There were eighteen subjects with equal auditory and visual scores who were assigned to a third, neutral group.

The data were submitted to analysis of variance as a three-factor design. There were two levels of ad type (thinking or feeling), three levels of sensory preference (auditory, visual or dual preference) and four levels of product (airline, soft drink, petroleum and hair care). Subjects were assigned to either the thinking or feeling treatment levels and auditory, visual or dual preference conditions, with each subject being exposed to all four advertised products. Thus, products was the only within subjects factor.


As a manipulation check, subJects were asked to rate each advertisement as to how "thinking" and "feeling" it was. There was a significant main effect of advertisement type for both thinking and feeling measures. The thinking advertisements were perceived as significantly more thinking (mean 4.13) than the feeling advertisements (3.10) and the feeling advertisements were perceived as significantly more feeling (mean 5.28) than the thinking advertisements (mean 4.27). On a comparable scale (seven-point), the "feeling" advertisements were rated as more "feeling" than the "thinking" advertisements were rated "thinking" on the "thinking" dimension.

There was also a significant main effect of product for thinking-feeling ratings. The petroleum product was rated as the most "thinking" (mean of 3.58) and the soft drinks were seen as the least "thinking" (mean of 3.18). However, the soft drinks were rated as the most "feeling" (mean of 5.73), and the hair care product was rated as the least "feeling" (mean of 4.97). Thus, within advertisement (product), the advertisements were not exactly matched as to the strength of their being thinking and feeling. However, these results do indicate that the manipulations "took" in that the "thinking" advertisements were perceived as significantly more chinking and the "feeling" advertisements were perceived as significantly more feeling.

The tables present the results of the analysis of variance for affect, quantity of information, usefulness of information, believability and purchase intentions, respectively. There was a significant main effect of advertisement type for all dependent variables except believability. The thinking advertisement was better liked, perceived as containing a larger quantity of information and more useful information, and elicited higher purchase intentions than the feeling treatment.

Thus, Hypothesis II was supported for affect, perceived quantity of information and perceived usefulness of information. The hypothesis was not supported for believability and a significant main effect of purchase intentions was not expected. Not hypothesized, a significant effect of product across all dependent variables was unexpected. The pattern of mean ratings across products is identical for affect and purchase intentions; however, there is a stronger relationship between product and purchase intentions (eight percent explained variance) than between product and affect (two percent explained variance). The sort drink advertisement was the most well liked and elicited the highest purchase intentions, while the least liked advertisement was hair care, and this advertisement also had the lowest purchase intentions.





The advertisement for the petroleum product elicited the highest believability ratings and had the largest perceived quantity or information and usefulness of information. The lowest perceived quantity of information and believability (as well as purchase intentions and affect) occurred for the airline advertisement, while the soft drink advertisement elicited the lowest perceived usefulness of information.





Because thinking and feeling advertisements were two different advertisements, what is actually contained in the mean ratings for the four product stimuli is a combined reaction to two different advertisements for the same brand (except in the case or soft drink, where there were two brands featured in the advertisements). The results or this variable, which was included to increase external validity and avoid copy testing of two advertisements (thinking and feeling), indicate that the particular stimulus is an important element in reactions to advertising variables. This is neither a new nor startling finding. A main effect or product was not hypothesized because the variable was included for external validity purposes, and it is not surprising that subjects responded differentially to the product treatment.



In addition, the product variable may be measuring reactions to the brand, as well as the stimuli. All brands included in the study are nationally advertised, well-known brands, although the soft drinks in the study were not the market leaders. To control for previous attitudes toward or perceptions of the brand, these attitudes might be measured and treated as covariates. Such data were not a part of this study.

Hypothesis I was not supported for any dependent variable as there were no significant interaction effects of sensory preference and advertisement type. A significant interaction for purchase intentions was not expected.

There are several potential reasons for the lack of support for Hypothesis I. First, the measurement of sensory preference may not have been sensitive enough. In particular, a one point difference in score could have resulted in assignment to an auditory as opposed to visual group or visa-versa. Thus, an analysis of extreme types may he more likely to produce differential responses to thinking and feeling advertisements. Further, it may be that a visual or aural preference (as measured in this study) may not be strongly enough linked to rational and emotional orientations such that stimuli preference influences a preference for feeling or thinking advertisements. Further research is needed to clarify these results.

A significant interaction of sensory preference and product (Aud. Vis. x Product) occurred for all five dependent variables. This interaction explained thirteen percent of the variation in believability ratings but there was no consistent pattern of mean ratings across dependent variables. The only pattern is that visual people rated the hair care product as having the lowest affect, the least believability and the lowest purchase intentions

There was a significant interaction of advertisement type and product for affect toward the advertisements. This interaction explained more of the variation in affect ratings than did any other independent variable or interaction (thirteen percent). The best liked advertisement was the thinking airline advertisement and the least liked advertisement was the feeling airline advertisement. Again, there is nothing new or startling in these results as they simply indicate that the same advertiser can drastically alter reactions to an advertisement by the particular theme and message used.

The three-way interaction of sensory preference, advertisement type and product was significant for all five dependent variables, but no clear pattern emerged. Due to the difficulty in interpreting the mean ratings, means for this interaction are not presented. These results simply indicate that the three independent variables investigated interact together to influence reactions to the advertisements as measured by the dependent variables. Thus, reactions to an advertisement may be changed by changing any one of these three variables.


Similar to other studies focusing on thinking and feeling advertisements (Zielske 1982), this study indicates that thinking and feeling advertisements do produce differential communication effects responses. Conclusions drawn from this study are restricted to the methodology and sample characteristics of this investigation.

According to this study, thinking advertisements appear to be perceived as generally more well liked, to contain more information, more useful information, and to elicit higher purchase intentions than do feeling advertisements. While Zielske's study (1989) measured recall as the only dependent variable, this study provides further support for the notion that thinking and feeling advertisements are going to receive differential consumer ratings on other advertising effectiveness measures as well.

In spite of the tenuous interpretation of purchase intentions as a measure of behavior, the results also indicate that behavioral effectiveness of feeling advertisements may be lower than for thinking advertisements. However, as discussed by Zielske (1989), the lower ratings of feeling advertisements may be an artifact of the measurement task, such that filling out a questionnaire of the type used in the study is a "left brain task" and hence, the measurement favors "thinking" advertisements.

In essence, because the logical formulation of rational appeals and the sequential tasks involved in questionnaire response are both "left brain" activities, it may be easier to relate to a sequential measurement instrument. Protocol techniques may be useful here.

An extension of this study is needed to relate thinking and feeling appeals to sales effects. No differential effect of thinking or feeling commercials emerged as a result of innate sensory preference (two-way interaction). However, when the specific stimulus is considered (in this study, product), then auditory or visual preference may become an important determinant of advertising effectiveness. Thus, it cannot be concluded that sensory preference is not related to responses to thinking or feeling advertisements, but that the situation is more complex and the specific stimulus has to be considered also.

This study provides evidence that sensory preference does have an impact on perceptions when combined with certain other variables, such as advertisement type (thinking versus feeling) and product (specific stimuli). The extent to which individual differences might be explained by the existence of an overall sensory orientation would be an important factor in several currently popular areas or research in consumer behavior. For example, what would be the effect of sensory orientation on encoding in low-involvement decisions? Would that effect change for high-involvement decisions?

There is also an application of sensory preference to heuristics. Given the existence of one sensory orientation or another, what weight would be given to the preferred system in consumer decision? That is, how important is the type of stimuli received to information processing? Does a preference for one type of symbol input indicate, in any instances, a "need" for this type of symbol input in order for information to be processed?

One final word: we became interested in the effects of sensory orientation based on reports of successful clinical outcomes (e.g., Bandler and Grinder 1975; Harrison and Bramson 1982) using these techniques. In spite of some lack of supporting) laboratory reports in the educational literature, practitioners stated that this "worked."

In clinical settings, assessing sensory orientation is one tool that allows the therapist to communicate more effectively with his or her client in order to facilitate that client's perceptual and behavioral change. Communication techniques which have successfully induced behavioral change in clinical settings appear particularly relevant to research in consumer behavior. The impact of sensory preference and stimuli characteristics (i.e., is the stimuli spoken, printed, feeling or rational) on attitude and behavioral change has vet to be investigated. It is possible that this area of inquiry may have important implications for consumer behaviorists and advertisers, especially when viewed in conjunction with the recent surge of inquiry into psychobiological effects on consumer behavior.


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