Consumer Evaluation of Informative and Non-Informative Ads

Gundolf Meyer-Hentschel, University of the Saarland (W. Germany)
ABSTRACT - Most print advertisements contain a considerable amount of body copy. Measures of recognition indicate that readership of copy is usually rather low. This study investigates how the mere presence of body copy, when it is only notices but not read, affects the perceived credibility of ads. It was found that the presence of copy influences ad credibility. But, contrary to what is sometimes assumed by practitioners, body copy affects ad credibility not only positively but also negatively. Results indicate that the differences in effects are due to interaction of advertiser credibility and consumer competence.
[ to cite ]:
Gundolf Meyer-Hentschel (1984) ,"Consumer Evaluation of Informative and Non-Informative Ads", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 597-600.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Pages 597-600

CONSUMER EVALUATION OF INFORMATIVE AND NON-INFORMATIVE ADS

Gundolf Meyer-Hentschel, University of the Saarland (W. Germany)

ABSTRACT -

Most print advertisements contain a considerable amount of body copy. Measures of recognition indicate that readership of copy is usually rather low. This study investigates how the mere presence of body copy, when it is only notices but not read, affects the perceived credibility of ads. It was found that the presence of copy influences ad credibility. But, contrary to what is sometimes assumed by practitioners, body copy affects ad credibility not only positively but also negatively. Results indicate that the differences in effects are due to interaction of advertiser credibility and consumer competence.

INTRODUCTION

From many studies it is known that leadership for body copy in print ads ("read most" score) is usually rather low. The longer the copy, the less consumers read it carefully (e.g. Diamond 1968; Faison 1980, p. 392; Krober-Riel 1980) Therefore, it can be argued that the informative effects of body copy, in comparison to other ad elements, are quite small. This raises the question whether copy possibly contributes to the effectiveness of an ad in some other, positive or negative. manner.

There is a considerable amount of research dealing with "mechanical factors" of print ads. The objective of this research is to look for relationships between mechanical factors (e.g. size, color, layout, etc.) and the attention-getting power of an ad. Some studies (Diamond 1968; Hanssens and Weitz 1980; Holbrook and Lehmann 1980) analyzed factors like "copy space", "length of copy", etc.. They found that the amount of body copy had only little impact on the attention-getting power of an ad, measured by recognition. This result even holds for industrial ads in which information is often assumed to be of special importance. The present study is designed to examine potential effects of body copy on the perceived credibility of an ad.

HYPOTHESES

We hypothesize a "mere presence" effect of body copy on the perceived credibility of an ad. Presumably, even if it is only noticed but not read, copy affects consumer evaluation of an ad. To specify character and direction of this influence, we refer to two variables which have been shown to be of importance regarding the effectiveness off (persuasive) communication: credibility of the communicator and felt competence of the recipient.

There is a large body of research on communicator credibility (for a review with respect to consumer research, see Sternthal, Phillips, and Dholakia 1978), and it is one of the most reliable effects observed in communication research that highly credible communicators induce greater persuasion than less credible communicators. In terms of information processing, this effect can be explained as follows: A highly credible communicator inhibits the retrieval and rehearsal of a recipient's own thought repertoires, and thus, the formation of possible counterarguments (Sternthal and Craig 1982, p. 296). People have little motivation to check the validity of communicator's information.

In the context of our research, we assume that the credibility of the communicator (i.e. brand, company) influences the evaluation of body copy, and consequently the perceived credibility of the ad. We hypothesize that copy positively influences the credibility of an ad when consumers perceive the source as highly credible and especially as trustworthy. On the other hand, it is hypothesized that copy negatively influences ad credibility when consumers perceive the source as low credible.

The other variable that appears to be important is the felt competence of the recipient. As Wicklung and Brehn (1968) demonstrated, the felt competence of the recipient can be a crucial variable in the communication process. They found that subjects who feel themselves to be highly competent with regard to the topic of a communication perceive more pressure, and hence, exhibit more reactance. Taking into account this result, we suppose that felt competence of a consumer concerning a purchase decision in a special product category influences his or her evaluation of body copy.

We hypothesize that copy positively influences the perceived credibility of an ad when consumers feel low competence concerning the advertised product.

Body copy will negatively influence ad credibility when consumers feel themselves to be highly competent. Furthermore, it is assumed that there is an interaction between the credibility of the brand and the felt competence of the consumer. We expect that the combination of low credibility of the brand and high competence of the consumer will produce the strongest negative effects of body copy on ad credibility. On the other hand, the combination of high credibility and low competence should result in a strong positive effect of body copy.

METHODOLOGY

Products

For reasons of external validity, we tested these hypotheses with print advertisements for eight products of different levels of importance. These products were selected according to a pretest (N = 33) out of fifteen products, and ranged from low to high importance (low importance: brandy, liqueur, dishes; medium importance: shower booth, film (for color prints), motor oil; high importance: stereo equipment, photo camera).

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We used ads that were actually run in West Germany. We did so because we wanted to test our hypotheses under realistic conditions to increase external validity. The ads were full-page and in color. They were selected according to the quality image of the advertised brand.

As a result, each product-importance category was represented by brands with a low (medium) and a high image respectively. For our test purposes, the ads were manipulated by professionally retouching their body copies.

Measurement Instruments

Felt competence of the subjects was measured by a question concerning the amount of information needed to make purchase decisions for products in the category. "How much time would you spend to gather information if you were to buy ...?" The scale was labeled little time - much time (l to 7). It was assumed that subjects who stated they would spend little time to search for information, felt competent and vice versa.

The credibility of the brands was measured by a question concerning the perceived quality of the brands. It was assumed that perceived quality is an indicator of prestige, expertise, and trustworthiness of the source. Credibility of the ads - the dependent

Variable - we measured by four unipolar seven-point scales: credible, objective, hard selling, and pushy. The mean of the two positive items - credible and objective, was interpreted as a "credible score", the mean of the two negative items - hard selling and pushy as a "pressure score".

Subjects

Subjects were 164 male students recruited on the campus. Of those, 46 % were students of business administration, the others coming from other departments. The mean age was 23.6 years (range: 19 to 35). Subjects volunteered to attend in return for a six-pack of beer.

At first, subjects responded to a questionnaire concerning their information need with respect to the eight products (felt competence) and the perceived quality of the corresponding brands (credibility of the brands). This questionnaire also contained demographic variables.

Then, they were randomly assigned to one of the two experimental groups. One group was presented slides with the original ads, the other group saw the manipulated ads. Each slide was presented for 3 sec. This exposition time seemed to be appropriate to give a full impression of the ad, but was too short to read the body copy. Therefore, copy could affect the evaluation of the ads only by its presence but not by its content. Following the presentation of each ad, subjects rated the credibility of the ad.

RESULTS

Splitting the Experimental Groups

One way to examine the effects of advertiser credibility and consumer competence on the credibility of the ads (with and without body copy) is to split the experimental groups into groups which are more homogeneous with respect to these variables and test the hypotheses in the groups separately (Lutz, MacKenzie and Belch 1983, p. 534). Therefore, for each ad we split the experimental groups into subgroups, according to whether subjects were below or above the median on the variable brand credibility for the corresponding brand. The same was done with respect to the variable felt competence.

Interaction Effect of Body Copy and Brand Credibility

To test the hypothesized interaction effect of body copy and brand credibility on the credibility of the ads, we analyzed the group which had rated brand credibility as high separately from the group which had rated brand credibility as low. T-tests on the credibility and pressure scores for each ad reveled only moderate effects of body copy, but the effects were in the same direction for all ads, except for one in each group. Therefore, we decided to average the credibility and pressure scores across the eight ads, and to run paired t-tests on the means. Results of this procedure are summarized in Table l. We had hypothesized that copy would increase the credibility of ads when it is associated with high brand credibility. Looking at the credibility and pressure scores for ads with, respectively without, body copy, we found the expected results. Body copy increased significantly (p < .01) the credibility score, but there was no effect on the pressure score.

Testing the effects of low brand credibility, we found an unexpected and at first inconsistent result. Body copy significantly increased the pressure score but also the credibility score. This inconsistency will become clear below.

TABLE 1

INTERACTION EFFECT OF BODY COPY AND BRAND CREDIBILITY ON THE CREDIBILITY OF ADS

Interaction Effect of Body Copy and Consumer Competence

Table 2 shows the interaction effect of body copy and consumer competence on the credibility of the ads. The results were as hypothesized. When felt competence of the consumers was high, body copy exerted a strong negative effect. The pressure score was significantly higher whereas there was no effect on the credibility score. When consumer competence was low the opposite pattern emerged. Body copy enlarged the credibility of the ads but did not effect the pressure score.

TABLE 2

INTERACTION OF BODY COPY AND CONSUMER COMPETENCE ON THE CREDIBILITY OF ADS

Interaction Effect of Body Copy, Consumer Competence, and Brand Credibility

A further step of the analysis was to investigate the combined effects of body copy, consumer competence, and brand credibility on the perceived credibility of the ads. To do so, we split the experimental groups according to whether subjects were below or above the median on the variables brand credibility and felt competence. This procedure resulted in eight cells, whose scores for credibility and pressure are presented in Table 3.

TABLE 3

INTERACTION EFFECT OF RODY COPY, CONSUMER COMPETENCE, AND BRAND CREDIBILITY ON THE CREDIBILITY OF ADS

When felt competence was high and brand credibility low, there was a significant pressure effect (p < .05) as expected.

The results in the second line suggest that this effect is mainly produced by brand credibility. In the high competence/high credibility combination the pressure effect disappears.

The results of the third line (low competence/low credibility) indicate that the above reported inconsistent effect of brand credibility is due to subjects feeling different in competence. When brand credibility is low and competence high, body copy exerts the already reported pressure effect. The effect of copy becomes inconsistent when low credibility comes together with low competence. In this situation, copy slightly increases the credibility score (p < .10) as well as the pressure score.

More elaborate analysis of the date still outstanding could show whether this result indicates an intrapersonal conflict (subjects rate the ads with copy more credible as well as more manipulative) or goes back to interpersonal differences (some subjects rate the ads more credible whereas others evaluate them more manipulative).

A clear-cut result can be seen in the last line, again. When subjects felt low competence but perceived brand credibility as high, body copy produced a significant credibility effect (p < .01).

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS

The results indicate that the mere presence of body copy in a print advertisement may affect its perceived credibility. Crucial variables of this effect appear to be felt competence of the consumers regarding the advertised product and perceived credibility of the brand (source). The interaction of these two variables specifies the effects of copy on ad credibility. This result is similar to that of Baseheart and Bostrom (1972) who found a comparable interaction effect of communicator credibility and recipient competence on attitude change.

On the basis of this experiment it is hard to estimate the practical relevance of the discovered body copy effects. Therefore, we will restrict ourselves to only some of the possible implications of these results. Advertisers whose products are perceived to be of low quality (credibility) should be aware of possible negative effects of copy. This could be especially true for low importance products. Data of the present experiment indicate that most consumers feel medium to high competence concerning such products. Advertisers of high quality products probably do not have to fear negative effects of copy. On the contrary, they can expect positive effects, especially when consumer competence is low. Most often, this should be the case with high-importance products.

Further research could specify and broaden the present results. For example, it would be interesting to investigate how the reported body-copy effects are influenced by the amount of copy by systematically varying copy space. Furthermore, it would be interesting to test whether similar effects can be observed with commercials.

REFERENCES

Baseheart, J. R. and R. N. Bostrom (1972), "Credibility of Source and of Self in Attitude Change", Journalism Quarterly. 49, 742-745.

Diamond, D. S. (1968), "A Quantitative Approach to Magazine Advertisement Format Selection", Journal of Marketing Research, 5, 376-386.

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Holbrook, M. B. and D. R. Lehmann (1980), "Form Versus Content in Predicting Starch Scores", Journal of Advertising Research, 20, 53-62.

Kroeber-Riel, W. (1980), Konsumentenverhalten (Consumer Behavior), 2nd ed., Munchen: Vahlen Verlag.

Lutz, R. J., S. B. MacKenzie, and G. E. Belch (1983), "Attitude Toward the Ad as a Mediator of Advertising Effectiveness: Determinants and Consequences", Advances in Consumer Research, Vol X, (eds.) R. P. Bagozzi and A. M. Tybout. Ann Arbor: Association for Consumer Research 532-539.

Sternthal, B. and C. S. Craig (1982), Consumer Behavior, An Information Processing Perspective, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

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Wicklund, R. A. and J. W. Brehm (1968), "Attitude Change as a Function of Felt Competence and Threat to Attitudinal Freedom", Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 4, 64-75.

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