Influence of Brand Commitment and Claim Strategy on Consumer Attitudes

Sanford Grossbart, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
James Gill, Arizona State University
Russell N. Laczniak, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
ABSTRACT - Results indicate effects of alternative claim strategies depend on brand commitment. Consumers with higher levels of commitment are more positively influenced by a combination of objective and subjective claims than by subjective claims alone. In contrast, less committed persons are equally influenced by either type of claim strategy. Subjective claims have a similar impact on consumers, regardless of their commitment level. Exposure to a combination of objective and subjective claims produces more positive attitudinal effects only among more highly committed consumers.
[ to cite ]:
Sanford Grossbart, James Gill, and Russell N. Laczniak (1987) ,"Influence of Brand Commitment and Claim Strategy on Consumer Attitudes", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 510-513.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, 1987      Pages 510-513

INFLUENCE OF BRAND COMMITMENT AND CLAIM STRATEGY ON CONSUMER ATTITUDES

Sanford Grossbart, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

James Gill, Arizona State University

Russell N. Laczniak, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

ABSTRACT -

Results indicate effects of alternative claim strategies depend on brand commitment. Consumers with higher levels of commitment are more positively influenced by a combination of objective and subjective claims than by subjective claims alone. In contrast, less committed persons are equally influenced by either type of claim strategy. Subjective claims have a similar impact on consumers, regardless of their commitment level. Exposure to a combination of objective and subjective claims produces more positive attitudinal effects only among more highly committed consumers.

INTRODUCTION

In recent years researchers have become increasingly interested in consumer commitment. While the commitment construct is often studied and discussed within the context of consumer involvement (see, e.g., Lastovicka and Gardner 1979), several authors (including Traylor 1981, 1984; Crosby and Taylor 1983) have suggested it deserves separate attention. This paper provides a brief overview of the commitment construct and its application to consumer behavior and reports results of a study investigating the influence of two advertising message claim strategies on consumers with different levels of brand commitment. The research and managerial implications of these findings are also discussed.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

The construct has been employed to support the notion of a "behavior -- attitude relationship (Kiesler 1971). Commitment theory was proposed as one of a number of explanations for why individuals formulate attitudes which are consistent with their behaviors (dissonance theory being another). Commitment is also often linked to discussions about involvement with objects, social questions, political matters, etc. However, there is an important distinction between these two concepts.

For example, while the notion of involvement encompasses the perceived personal importance or relevance of entire issues, commitment applies to the stance that an individual might take with respect to a given issue. In a marketing context, this suggests product involvement reflects the personal relevance of an entire product class (Lastovicka and Gardner, 1979), while commitment relates to consumer dispositions toward a particular brand (Traylor 1981; 1984). For example, a consumer may be involved with the product class of sports cars and committed to Porsches but not Volvos. Thus, commitment and involvement are distinct but related constructs (Muncy and Hunt 1984).

Commitment has been defined as the pledging or binding of an individual to a behavioral act (Kiesler 1971). That is, given that an individual has performed some behavioral act (e.g., purchased a particular brand), s/he is likely to formulate favorable attitudes toward that act. Kiesler's reasoning suggests that after an individual performs an act, s/he is accountable for it. Consequently, her/his resulting attitudes tend to be in concordance with this previous behavior. The more committed the individual, the less likely s/he will be to "dispense with the resulting attitude.

However, Kiesler considers commitment to be more than an extreme attitude. He suggests commitment also implies an individual is familiar with the issue at hand and will socially support her/his position. This suggests that "committed individuals are knowledgeable about an issue and behaviorally reflect their commitment by advocating their stance in the presence of others. Consequently, commitment is apt to lead an individual to change her/his attitudes to be consistent with behavior, act in a fairly consistent manner, and resist attitude change efforts when her/his position is attacked.

In a marketing context (Lastovicka and Gardner 1979), commitment is considered to be a clear preference for one or more brands in a product class and is evidenced in beliefs about the product category and concern about brand selection. In this view, consumers are presumed to have some reasonable level of knowledge of alternatives, believe there are meaningful differences between these alternatives and place importance on whether their preferred brand(s) are available for selection. Consequently, commitment might be expected to manifest itself in strongly held attitudes toward brands consumers have purchased, positive dispositions to repurchase and resistance to advertisers' attempts to shift loyalties. Thus, a marketer who has a large number of consumers committed to her/his brand is in an advantageous position.

The literature on commitment in the marketing discipline suggests highly committed individuals: fix the committed to brand(s) as the only acceptable choice(s) within a product class (Traylor 1981, 1984), resist other brands' influence attempts (Traylor 1981, 1984), selectively perceive information which is consistent with their pre-election preferences when making postelection evaluations of their voting behavior (Crosby and Taylor 1983), and assimilate their pre-trial expectations in their post-trial brand evaluations (Keon and Kamins 1985). These studies, in the Kiesler (1971) tradition, have focused on the effects of attacks on attitudes toward the committed-to brand. Their findings suggest consumers committed to a particular brand are likely to maintain strongly held attitudes toward that brand. By implication, it is also suggested they are resistant to the promotional efforts of other brands. Thus, marketers competing with a brand which has a large number of committed consumers are in a difficult position since their persuasive efforts are expected to have little or no impact on these individuals.

Kiesler's findings also suggest committed individuals are likely to resist "attacks" on their position. His experiments typically involve the presentation of a document which directly attacks the subject's position on an issue. (For example, a flyer was sent to women "committed" to the notion of providing teenagers with birth control information which included a boldly printed headline which read, "birth control information for our teenagers? - NO! ). In a marketing context, such attacks are likely to occur in the form of comparative ads. McDougall (1978) has studied the effects of ads which suggest a competitive brand is superior (with respect to a salient attribute) to the subject's "loyal" brand. As would be predicted by commitment theory, committed subjects rejected the message and did not significantly change their attitudes toward the competing brand.

Kiesler's work also indicates committed persons are likely to reject less-direct attacks which advocate a counter-attitudinal position if the communication provided is weak enough to generate counterarguments (Kiesler 1971). In fact, he suggests counter-attitudinal information may even produce a "boomerang effect". This is likely to occur when messages are strong enough to break through the perceptual filter set up by the committed individual (Crosby and Taylor 1983), but weak enough to be counterargued. In these circumstances, committed individuals are likely to formulate stronger attitudes toward the committed-to-' position.

Kiesler's theory, however, does indicate that committed receivers of counter-attitudinal information may abandon their positions in the presence of strong message arguments. He suggests information strong enough to overcome counterarguing is likely to lead the receiver to abandon her/his previous position. This implies a marketer attempting to change the attitude of more committed consumers must provide a message which has strong enough claims to break through the perceptual filter and minimize counterargument. Well-conceived, plausible advertising messages may be strong enough to break through these perceptual barriers. Moreover, a combination of subjective and objective message claims should lead more committed receivers to formulate more positive attitudes about an advertised brand. This study initially examines attitudinal effects of objective and subjective claim strategies; it then considers the impact of alternative claim strategies on attitudes of consumers with different levels of brand commitment.

OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE CLAIM STRATEGIES AND COMMITMENT

In general, advertising claims fall into two categories: subjective and objective (Cohen 1972, Gill and Grossbart 1985). Subjective claims use surrogate indicators to suggest existence of brand attributes or benefits. Research suggests endorsements (e.g., by professionals in a field), symbols (e.g., phrases or brand names) and exaggerated magnitudes (e.g., those created by camera angles) may serve as surrogate indicators. Objective claims explicitly provide information about attributes or benefits of a brand, e.g., in the form of direct evidence, technical specifications or numerical cues. Advertisers typically rely exclusively on subjective claims or add objective claims to surrogate (subjective) support. The use of only objective claims is less frequent; consequently this research focuses on the two more frequently employed strategies.

Assuming plausible claims are made, research indicates a combination of objective and subjective claims is more potent than exclusive use of subjective claims (Gill and Grossbart 1985). Presumably, addition of objective information to subjective implications eases the receiver's processing requirements (Mitchell and Olson 1977)- It also provides more and varied arguments, which increase effects of repetition on learning (Greenberg and Suttoni 1973) and act as a peripheral cue which stimulates consideration of message points and enhances persuasion (Cacioppo and Petty 1984). Objective claims are also apt to be less ambiguous, have more perceived credibility (Holbrook 1978) and generate more support arguments and fewer counterarguments than subjective claims (Edell and Staelin 1983). Thus, consumers exposed to commercial messages with objective and subjective elements should form more positive attitudes toward an advertised brand than those exposed to messages with only subjective elements.

H1: Consumers exposed to ads with objective and subjective elements develop more positive attitudes than those exposed to ads with only subjective elements.

Our earlier reasoning suggests more committed consumers are apt to be more discriminating and more resistant to cognitive changes advocated by weaker advertising messages. Therefore, it seems likely that they would be more skeptical of, and resistant to, subjectively-based advertising claims than their less committed counterparts. This is likely to be the case because subjective claims provide less direct evidence and lack the substantive information content which would be necessary to generate more favorable attitudes among more committed consumers. In contrast, less committed individuals should be less discriminating and selective in their evaluation and use of commercial information.

H2: Among those exposed to ads with only subjective elements, consumers with lower brand commitment develop more positive attitudes than those with higher brand commitment.

However, the situation is apt to be different when subjective claims are supported by plausible objective information about determinant attributes. More committed individuals should be more receptive to these types of claims for several reasons. First, if they are noncomparative in nature, they present no direct attack on preferred brand(s). This decreases the likelihood of receiver resistance. Second, as noted earlier, they are likely to be less ambiguous, more credible and, therefore, of greater interest to those who believe there are meaningful differences in the product category and have a tendency to discriminate between brands. Third, less committed persons are less likely to make use of such information because they are less discriminating. In contrast, more committed consumers are more likely to employ objective information to evaluate brands.

H3: Among those exposed to ads with objective and subjective elements, consumers with higher brand commitment develop more positive attitudes than those with lower brand commitment.

METHOD

Product and Attribute Selection

A fictitious brand of running shoes was selected because the product hat been used in similar studies (Gill and Grossbart 1985; Lastovicka and Gardner 1979) and was suitable for developing commercials with both types of claim strategies. Two functional attributes - support and protection - were chosen based on free elicitation and attribute belief ratings obtained in a pretest tn 58). Results suggested these attributes, originally selected along with nine other attributes from a content analysis of industry advertising, were determinant. Functional attributes were chosen because of the necessity to develop both objective and subjective claims. There were no significant differences in identification of determinant attributes by more and less committed individuals.

Subjects

Students (n-109) enrolled in an introductory marketing class served as subjects for the study. They were selected because prior investigation indicated they varied in commitment level and constituted a sizable market segment for the product.

Commitment Measure

The commitment measure was extracted from Lastovicka and Gardner's (1979) "Product Class Involvement" battery. Factor analysis of this 22-item instrument (using 7-point disagree-agree scales) suggested use of an independent three-item commitment index. This is consistent with findings of Gill and Grossbart (1985). Reliability estimates (alpha - .68; beta - .59) indicated the index was relatively internally consistent for exploratory research and unidimensional (John and Roedder 1981). Items included such statements as -If my preferred brand in this product class is not available at the store, it makes little difference to me if I must choose another brand.-- Less committed subjects were designated as those with scores (13 or less) below the mean, while more committed subjects had scores of 14 or more. Means and standard deviations for the commitment index are listed in Table 1.

TABLE 1

RESEARCH MEASURES

Attitude Measure

The attitude measure was the summed product of subject beliefs about the two salient attributes multiplied by their respective importance measures. Belief (very unlikely = -3 to very likely ^ +3) and importance (very unimportant = 1 to very important = 7) ratings were assessed on seven-point bipolar scales. Means and standard deviations for this measure are listed in Table 1.

Research Design and Exposure Conditions

Subjects were randomly assigned to two treatment conditions. Group 1 (Ob/Sub) was exposed to television commercials which combined objective and subjective claims. Group 2 (Sub-Only) was exposed to commercials containing only subjective claims. Testing indicated there were no significant differences in the demographic profiles (sex, marital status, academic major, class year, type of residence and family income), product class experience (number of pairs and number of brands purchased in the last 5 years, familiarity with the 7 top-selling brands and miles run/jogged per week), or commitment levels of the two groups. Differences in group sizes were due to incomplete items; observation indicated incomplete items occurred in a random manner.

Subjects were told the study's purpose was to obtain opinions on television program content. Viewing occurred in classroom settings. Post-exposure belief levels and attribute importance ratings were gathered immediately after the subjects were exposed to a 30-minute general interest television program, which included three exposures to the test commercial. Ads were inserted at the same point during three commercial breaks with ads for car wax, soft drinks, beer, fast food and mops. In debriefing, subjects indicated they had not discussed the experiment, not found it difficult to understand claims, not deduced the study's purpose nor considered the experimenter rather than the company as the source of the ads. Ad repetition was not regarded as unusual since it often occurred on reruns of this and other programs.

Ads were professionally produced and directed, and featured Contour Gliders," a fictitious brand of running shoes. They stressed the support and protection attributes identified in the pretest as determinant. Subjective claims were made by references to sports medicine experts and emphasis on the shoe's contoured insole, extra padded heel, "Cavanaugh wedge" and brand name as well as by use of exaggerated camera angles. Objective claims included references to 75% more support for the foot, ability to absorb surface impact 60% better than other shoes, and 85% fewer injuries during 800,000 miles of testing.

RESULTS

Mean scores for each group are presented in Table 2. The overall pattern of results indicates more positive attitudes among subjects exposed to objective and subjective claims (19.64) than those exposed to only subjective claims (11.66). In addition, individuals with higher brand commitment evidence more positive attitudes (16.68) than those with lower commitment (14.75). Among those exposed to only subjective claims, the attitudes of low commitment individuals (14.00) exceed those of their high commitment counterparts (9.23). Among those exposed to objective and subjective claims, the reverse is true. High commitment group scores (22.94) are greater than attitude scores for the low commitment group (15.56).

TABLE 2

EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS

ANOVA results are presented in Table 3. As expected, a significant interaction effect (F=4.22; df=1; p = .04) is present. While scores are in the hypothesized directions, simple effects tests provide only partial support for H1. Although more highly committed persons exposed to objective and subjective claims have significantly greater attitude levels (F - 11.22; p = .001) than those who viewed only subjective claims, this is not the case among less committed individuals (F 5 O.13: o - .72). While results are also in the

TABLE 3

ANOVA RESULTS

expected direction for subjects exposed to only subjective claims, contrary to H2, there is no significant difference (F = 1.27; p -.26) between commitment groups. However, there is support for H3. More committed individuals exposed to a combination of objective and subjective claims have higher scores (F = 3.18; p - .08) than less committed persons exposed to the same claims.

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS

These results suggest consumers who are highly committed to one or more brands may in fact formulate positive attitudes toward a competing brand which uses advertising containing plausible and salient claims. This is consistent with earlier findings (Gill and Grossbart 1985) that commercials with plausible objective claims are likely to have a more pronounced impact on receivers' beliefs than those with only subjective claims. Moreover, our findings make it clear that effects of alternative claim strategies depend on audience commitment. Consumers with higher levels of brand commitment are more positively influenced by exposure to a combination of objective and subjective claims than by subjective claims alone. In contrast, less committed persons are equally influenced by either type of claim strategy. Subjective claims seem to have a similar impact on consumers, regardless of their commitment level. Exposure to a combination of objective and subjective claims produces more positive attitudinal effects only among more highly committed consumers.

In the past, researchers seem to have regarded brand commitment as an insurmountable barrier to competitors. According to this view, consumers committed to one brand can be assumed to reject promotional efforts of competing brands. Our results indicate this assumption may not hold. Highly committed consumers can be influenced by the promotional efforts of competitive brands. Future research may also reveal other communication strategies which can be used to influence more highly committed consumers. Clearly, there is a need to more closely examine the nature of commitment and its influence on consumer behavior.

The implications of this study for marketing practitioners are no less important. Results support the formulation of differentiated message strategies for alternative target audiences. While subjectively-based messages carry a limited amount of 'hard" information, they may be sufficient to influence less committed consumers. However, added objective content is advantageous when the objective is to influence attitudes of consumers committed to other brands.

Still, caution should be employed in basing conclusions on results from a single study using one product, a fictitious brand and two related attributes. Certainly, student subjects did not represent a cross-section of the market and may have been more analytic than other potential customers. Commercials were not seen in natural settings and there was no opportunity for repeated exposure over time. In more typical viewing conditions, brand commitment may cause greater differences in message awareness and attitudes. Conversely, message repetition over a longer period of time may have the opposite effect. Knowledge of effects is also restricted by the absence of multiple measures of attribute and benefit importance and beliefs. The present approach for examining effects of commitment can be extended in several useful ways. Other aspects of message structure and appeal should also be considered. Additional measures, such as claim perception, attitude toward the ad, recall and cognitive responses are needed to shed light on intervening activities which may have impacted results observed in this study.

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