Applications of Mood Inducement in Buyer Behavior: Comments

Russell W. Belk, University of Utah
ABSTRACT - Together, these two very different papers demonstrate the need to consider factors affecting buyer mood as well as some of the controllable antecedents, psychological processes, and consequences that are involved. However, the papers neglect certain issues, research, and assumptions that should be considered if mood inducement is to be effective.
[ to cite ]:
Russell W. Belk (1984) ,"Applications of Mood Inducement in Buyer Behavior: Comments", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 544-547.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Pages 544-547


Russell W. Belk, University of Utah


Together, these two very different papers demonstrate the need to consider factors affecting buyer mood as well as some of the controllable antecedents, psychological processes, and consequences that are involved. However, the papers neglect certain issues, research, and assumptions that should be considered if mood inducement is to be effective.


The papers by Kroeber-Riel and by Kotler and Rath differ in two major ways. The first is that while Kroeber-Riel concentrates on the narrow application area of magazine advertising, Kotler and Rath focus on design factors involving product, price, outlets, and offices. Since Kotler and Rath strangely omit advertising, the two papers are complementary in considering different aspects of the marketing mix. The second significant difference in the paper is that whereas Kroeber-Riel begins with a theoretical premise and seeks to develop a specific type of application, Kotler and Rath begin with a survey of stimulus features constituting design and seek to develop a process for more effectively using design elements in marketing. The latter has more of an input/output orientation with little theoretical concern for intervening consumer processes while the former reverses these concerns.

Because the papers are different in scope and purpose, I will begin by evaluating each paper on its own merits. Following that I will briefly consider the more general prospects for applying mood inducement in buyer behavior.



Kroeber-Riel's paper has two significant strengths. The first is that it is based on a systematic research program. This research has generated at least tentative support for many of the ideas presented. Furthermore, since this research is partially based on psychobiological measures, it is perhaps better able than most research with advertising stimuli to distinguish emotional responses from cognitive responses and belief-based affect. These distinctions are critical to the paper's thesis.

A second major strength of the Kroeber-Riel paper is its conceptual contribution to clarifying as well as merging hypotheses concerning low involvement, affect primacy, classical conditioning, and cognitive response. While the ideas connecting these concepts are not unique to Kroeber-Riel, he provides a more complete and extended model than has previously been attempted. Distinct hypotheses are advanced concerning the eight buyer behavior conditions that emerge from combinations of:

1. Low involvement/passive versus high involvement/ active processing,

2. Cognitive versus emotional response, and

3. Prepurchase versus postpurchase experience.

Although the model needs to be further refined to resolve ambiguities, it appears promising and ties together several conceptual formulations in a unique and seemingly useful way.

The model advocates a view of low involvement learning that is markedly different from the low involvement models that view advertising effects as beginning with minor cognitive changes (Krugman 1965; Ray, et al. 1973; DeBruicker 1979; Smith and Swinyard 1980; Assael 1981). It hypothesizes that advertising effects begin instead with affective changes. If cognitions change, Kroeber-Riel says this can occur before or after purchase, but in both cases is due to an inferential belief change to "explain" the affect felt toward the brand. This is an intriguing hypothesis that may also explain behavior when affect is a primary response to a stimulus (Zajonc 1980) as well as a conditioned response.


There are also two major areas of weakness in Kroeber-Riel's formulation. The fire.t concerns the effects of repetition. The notion that twenty to thirty repeated pairings of a brand stimulus and an emotion-eliciting stimulus are needed (at least under low involvement/passive learning conditions) to condition an emotional response to a brand, is central to Kroeber-Riel's arguments. The underlying process is seen as classical conditioning. However; the alternative explanation of mere exposure (Zajonc 1968; Mitchell and Olson 1981; Gorn 1982) suggests that the same effects could be achieved due to a preference for familiar stimuli, even without the presence of the emotion-eliciting stimulus. While Kroeber-Riel notes this competing hypothesis, he does not describe the portions of his research that attempt to rule it out.

Furthermore, there is no consideration given to forces that may be opposed to building affect through repeated exposures to an advertisement. If the focus was on cognitive responses rather than emotional responses these forces might involve the "semantic satiation" that occurs when a frequently heard or seen message loses its meaning or ability to stimulate cognitive processing. But in focusing on emotional response, the opposing force involves habituation to the emotion-eliciting stimulus so that it becomes essentially neutral. While it has been difficult to demonstrate advertising wearout in cognitive learning contexts (e.g. Craig, Sternthal, and Leavitt 1976), the possibilities for declining or even negative effects seem greater where conditioned affect is the concern. It was widely thought, for instance, that nightly U.S. television coverage of casualties in the Vietnam War desensitized the American population to the horrors of war (through over-exposure).

A second major weakness of Kroeber-Riel's treatment concerns the nature of stimuli. The paper proposes that for classical conditioning of affect to take place, not only should the presentation be uninvolving and create 2 passive exposure situation, but the emotional stimuli with which the brand is paired should be intense. There seems an inherent contradiction in these two specifications. If the unconditioned stimulus is intensely emotional it seems likely to attract sufficient attention and involvement that passive processing is precluded. Little description is given in the paper of exactly what sort of pictoral stimuli are and are not appropriate or how they might be selected.



The paper by Kotler and Rath also has two major strengths. The first is that it calls attention to an important but greatly neglected class of marketing variables. The suggested areas of design application include product or service appearance, packaging, furnishings, wall decor, architecture of stores, offices, and plants, exterior and interior landscaping, lighting, statuary, annual reports, trademarks and logotypes, stationery, vehicle decals, uniforms, business cards and catalogs. The design parameters for these stimuli are exemplified by style, lines, controls, materials, finish, form, color, function, technical performance, quality, durability, workmanship, distinctiveness, decoration, features, ease of repair, price, textures, sounds, smells, and layout. Furthermore, it is urged that the selection of design parameter combinations be coordinated as a meaningful whole, presumably aimed at meeting specific corporate objectives and goals. This is logical suggestion.

The second major strength of the Kotler and Rath paper is its suggested solution to potential conflicts between creative design and measures of consumer preferences. The difficulty exists both because creative designers and artists gain personal and peer esteem by breaking with tradition and creating new perspectives (Hirschman 1983), and because consumers may not always know what they want. As Bill Wells once pointed out, it is extremely doubtful that women can accurately envision or predict the fashions they will aspire to own in a few years or that men could have anticipated their acceptance of hand-held hair dryer/stylers a year or two before other men began to use such products. The solution proposed by Kotler and Rath is to use both consumer input and designer creativity to generate design ideas, but to have these designs market-tested before committing to them. Given the problems and expense of test markets this may not be a perfect solution in all instances, but it does seem a practical solution to this troublesome problem in the case of major design decisions.


One weakness of the Kotler and Rath approach is its failure to consider how and why design affects buyers. Such conceptualization of the mechanisms of design influence seems essential if marketers are to regard design as something other than a mysterious and unfathomable art. Furthermore some potential explanations of design effects already exist. Besides mere exposure effects predicted to result in favorable response to familiar stimuli (Zajonc 1968), the spread of affect from one stimulus to another (Thorndike 1932; Razran 1938; Janis, Kaye, and Kirshner 1965), synesthetic effects on the judged compatibility of two stimuli (e.g. Holt-Hansen 1968), and mediation through pleasure, arousal, and dominance responses of consumers (Mehrabian and Russell 1974; Lutz and Kakkar 1975; Donovan and Rossiter 1982) are among the previously suggested explanations of at least some design effects.

Another weakness of the Kotler and Rath paper is that it fails to consider existing research on design effects in marketing. This research includes investigations of the effects of color (Srivastava and Peel 1968; Bellizzi, Crowley, and Hasty 1983), music (Smith and Curnow 1966, Milliman 1982; Gorn 1982), shelf arrangements (Cox 1964, 1970; Kruekberg 1969; Kotzan and Evanson 1969; Fladmark and bennett 1969), point-< f-purchase design (McKenna 1966; McClure and West 1969; McKinnon, Kelly, and Robison 1981), and store layout (Colonial 1964; Harrell, Hutt, and Anderson 1980). Relying instead on anecdotal examples of design without clear measures of their success or failure is potentially misleading. But at least the authors did not cite Braniff Airline's design innovations as an example of successful marketing.


The most basic issue if marketers are to affect buyer moods and emotions is what moods and emotions there are to affect. Both papers, as well as other recent treatments (e.g. Gardner and Raj 1983; Lutz, MacKenzie, and Belch 1983; Peterson and Sauber 1983; Srull 1983) see mood as a single dimension (good to bad) related to a single emotion (positive to negative affect or pleasure). This seems a gross oversimplification at best. Consider three possible stimulus sets that might produce positive affect in advertising or retail display: (1) babies and puppies shown in warm pastel colors, (2) scenes from an old Marx brothers ' film, and (3) attractive young people sunbathing at the beach. While all three are likely to evoke positive emotions, they are each likely to produce very different positive emotions. The first may evoke feelings of warm parental love, the second humor and nostalgia, and the third contentedness or sexual arousal. Obviously these are not interchangeable emotions. While affect is a major component of emotional response, it is probably quite misleading to base application-oriented theory and research solely on this component.

A second issue concerns the type of emotion-eliciting stimuli that should be considered. Both Kroeber-Riel and Kotler focus almost exclusively on visual stimuli. Yet olfactory cues and music are known to be powerful emotion-eliciting stimuli. Voices, jingles, temperature, and even air ionization are other ignored stimuli that have been found to be related to emotion and behavior. Thus the focus on selected aspects of only visual stimuli seems to be short-sighted.

A third major issue, on which these comments will conclude, is the ultimate response for which mood inducement might be attempted. Again the range of responses considered in the present papers is quite limited. Both papers are primarily directed toward enhancing company or brand attitudes to increase the probability of patronage behavior. But this is only one of several ways in which induced moods should be important to buyer behavior. Still within an information processing paradigm, communication-elicited emotion may also attract attention, create a receptive mood for an appeal, or arouse appropriate moods and associations. While Kodak films may wish to arouse nostalgia, Hallmark cards may wish to play on interpersonal emotions. These are not random positive emotions selected only for their ability to condition positive affect for the brand. Besides such information processing applications, in purchase contexts emotions may help to precipitate buying behavior. Lavidge (1966) noted that cupie doll sales seem to require the moods induced by a carnival atmosphere. Koestler (1964) described this motivation as a "self-transcending emotional state." Research indicates that emotions are a key ingredient in stimulating impulse purchasing (Weinberg and Gottwald 1982). Mood also seems to be a key ingredient in determining whether we feel like "rewarding" ourselves with a purchase and "sharing" by giving to others (Mischel, Coates, and Raskoff 1968; Moore, Underwood, and Rosenhan 1972; Underwood, Moore, and Rosenhan 1973; Moore, Clyburn, and Underwood 1976).

The issues remaining to be investigated regarding the role of mood inducement in buyer behavior are many. The application papers presented in this session represent useful perspectives on the determinants and process of mood inducement, but they tap only a small portion of the relevant array of emotion-eliciting stimuli, emotional processes, and buyer responses. In order to understand the full impact of moods on buyers, different perspectives are also needed.


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