Processing Advertising Information

Claude R. Martin, Jr., University of Michigan
[ to cite ]:
Claude R. Martin, Jr. (1984) ,"Processing Advertising Information", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 24-25.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Pages 24-25


Claude R. Martin, Jr., University of Michigan

The following are this discussant's review of the three papers offered at the session on Processing Advertising Information:



The initial paper by George t. Belch and Michael A. Belch has a commendable purpose: examining the impact of repetition on the communication effectiveness of humorous and serious commercials. Despite this, there are some serious flaws in the study.

Student Subjects

The use of student subjects as a sample requires the researcher to be especially careful in their research design (Goodwin and Etgar 1980). A problem occurs if students are used in studies of advertised products primarily used and/or purchased by consumers in more advanced life-cycle stages. Yet the student sample may be entirely acceptable and consistent with the improved external validity if the product classes advertised are salient to them (Goodwin and Etgar, 1980). Thus, it is important to employ subjects who are representative of the target for the chosen product (Burnkrant 1978). The mere convenience of a student sample does not eliminate this serious question of validity. Regarding this point the authors admit: "It is unlikely that college students would have much of a need for an overnight delivery service...."

The subjects in this study were all enrolled in introductory marketing courses. The reasonable assumption is that they are members of the same peer group and have fashioned a network of interactions among themselves. Unfortunately the study does not control for conditioning effects on those who participated at later times in the experiment than those initially exposed. We could expect that the purpose of the study - examination of the Federal Express ads--would be networked early among this peer set and precondition the attention and subsequent reactions of the subjects.

Preconditioning of Subjects

While the authors do acknowledge the difficulty of using existing commercials, the measurement of lack of awareness of these previous ads is inadequately treated. Certainly this could be a crucial factor influencing the results and there is a need to describe the debriefing methodology that ascertained there was "little, if any, prior awareness or familiarity with the stimulus commercials."

Delivery Vehicle

The delivery vehicle enveloping the stimulus commercials was a half-hour program about a new Playboy Club. Presumably there were both male and female students in the sample and the potential for controversial programming content seems obvious. The authors might have measured attitude toward the program vehicle itself and related that to the results for the stimulus commercials. We would expect some significant potential effect on the dependent measures, particularly attitude toward the ad and total positive and negative thoughts.

Longitudinal vs. Immediate Effect

Because of the research design, using same day measures, the various dependent measures essentially address the question of the immediate effect of repetition. As the authors have indicated, the longitudinal effect of wearout would be potentially very valuable. The concern of this reviewer Is the use of the term "wearout" in the decision and summary sections of the paper--that terminology infers a longer term impact than the immediate effect actually studied.


Despite the comments above, the concept of examining the effect of repetition on humorous and serious messages is worthwhile. The authors are encouraged to address the factors above and move ahead in their research effect. Their citation of the Calder and Sternthal (1980) research and adapting it to wearout of humorous messages seems most appropriate.



This paper by Martin R. Lautman and Larry Percy reports a conceptually sound research effort.

The research design of the study called for respondents to see a test TV commercial and then a print advertisement. Individual print ads were intended to "mirror" the individual television advertisements. As described in the paper, treatment cells for five different campaigns were considered. Among the major conclusions was that the product/attribute-based campaign outperformed the end-benefit created campaign." While Mssrs. Lautman and Percy cite some reasonable "reason why" for the findings, we would offer other possibilities. Our concern is the findings are tainted by the media used and an ordering effect brought on by the research design. The attribute based campaign way be more powerful because print, of its very nature, is more appropriate for this type of campaign and there is an effect of recency induced by print being the second media vehicle used.

This reviewer was also concerned by the use of subjects recruited by mall intercepts. This commonly used recruitment technique can be challenged on the representativeness of the universe from which the sample was extracted. It may well be that persons who frequent specific shopping area types (e.g., shopping malls) are characteristically more influenced by product attributes than end benefits in general. Intuitively one could expect "shoppers" to be seekers of information at the point-of-sale relative to product attributes rather than end-benefits. The research would be enhanced by concern for such a possibility.

Given the caveats offered by the authors, the paper makes a worthwhile contribution to the advertising literature.



The third paper, by Sharon Shavitt and Timothy C. Brock, explores a potentially critical factor for much advertising research. The authors correctly point to the lack of attention to the social settings in which television research is conducted. They particularly cite the lack of naturalism; the failure to employ a within-subjects experimental design; and absence of important dependent measures, particularly the total number of cognitive responses.


The authors indicate that "copy testing research, to increase external validity, should attempt to be systematically representative of frequently occurring real-life viewing circumstances." They claim to have fashioned three experimental conditions that enhance this naturalism need. In the alone condition the subjects viewed the commercials with an experimenter present, there is no consideration given to the effect of not being "truly" alone There is far more concern for the June 2nd, June 4th, August 16th and August 18th groups. Here the alone Condition followed, on the same day, the attendance at either an aggregate and/or group session at which commercials for at least two of the product classes had been previously viewed and discussed. Indeed, for the June 5th and August 16th sessions the alone condition followed, again on the same day, two such sessions. Re offer an inquiry as to the effect such conditioning has on external validity.

The same criticism can be offered concerning the effect of participation in an aggregate or group session and the following that with the other type of multi-participant session. Experienced focus group users recognize this conditioning effect and preclude repetitive participation in group sessions. Particularly of concern is such repetition on the same day.

Within-Subjects Experiment Design

The authors indicate that research on cognitive performance is defective because of a failure to statistically exclude effects attributable to individual differences. Other than recruitment of subjects from a theoretically homogeneous universe - those who generally do their own cooking and laundry - there is no indication of a remedying the defect in this research.

The no-show rate of 29% for the first three sessions may be an indicator that those who responded were of the same cognitive type or were acquaintances. This latter possibility is clearly possible since recruitment procedures do not seem to test for or preclude acquaintanceship from participation. A number of researchers (Smith 1972, Payne 1976) call for focus group participants, in particular to be strangers. Indeed it is the use of subjects from the same universe - a -women's auxiliary and garden club - that causes concern for the very study (Fern 1982) that seemed to trigger this effort.

Dependent Measures

The authors have done a good job of researching the literature and considering the appropriate dependent measures. Again, we do have concern with the conditioning effect on these measures from same-day repetitive participation.


Proliferation of focus group usage makes this subject a critical area for investigation. Certainly the dependent variables developed by the authors are important. It is the experimental design itself where we have the most concern.


These three papers do make an important contribution to the advertising discipline. Obviously the role of a discussant is somewhat negative by nature it is inherently easier to criticize. For that reason the indulgence of the authors is requested. While we have indicated flats in each paper (no doubt some arguable, particularly by a dedicated author), it is our perception that none are fatal and are correctable. Our apoLogies to others who may have spotted flaws that we missed and should have dutifully considered.


Burnkrant, Robert E., "Cue Utilization in Product Perception," in H. Keith Hunt, ed., Advances in Consumer Research 5 (Atlanta: Association for Consumer Research, 1978): 724-28.

Calder, Bobby J. and Steinthal, Brian, "Television Commercial Wearout: An Information Processing View," Journal of Marketing Research 17 (May 1980): 173-186.

Fern, Edward F., "The Use of Focus Groups for Idea Generation: The Effects of Group Size, Acquaintanceship, and Moderator on Response Quantity and Quality," Journal of Marketing Research 19 (February 1982): 1-13.

Goodwin, Stephen and Michael Etgar, " An Experimental Investigation of Comparative Advertising: Impact of Message Appeal, Information Load, and Utility of Product Class," Journal of Marketing Research 17 (May 1980): 197-202.

Payne, Melanie S., "Preparing for Group Interviews," in Beverlee Anderson, ed., Advances in Consumer Research (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1976) 434-436.

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