Selling Images Versus Selling Products: Motivational Foundations of Consumer Attitudes and Behavior

Mark Snyder, University of Minnesota
[ to cite ]:
Mark Snyder (1989) ,"Selling Images Versus Selling Products: Motivational Foundations of Consumer Attitudes and Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, eds. Thomas K. Srull, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 306-311.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, 1989      Pages 306-311

SELLING IMAGES VERSUS SELLING PRODUCTS: MOTIVATIONAL FOUNDATIONS OF CONSUMER ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOR

Mark Snyder, University of Minnesota

[This research and the preparation of this manuscript have been supported by the National Science Foundation and by the Fragrance Research Fund.]

It has been called "the most potent influence in adapting and changing [our] habits and modes of life, affecting what we eat, what we wear, and the work and play of the whole nation" (Coolidge, cited by Fox, 1984, p. 97). It has been compared with "such longstanding institutions as the school and the church in the magnitude of its social influence" (Potter, 1954). It "dominates the media, it has vast power in the shaping of popular standards, and it is really one of the very limited groups of institutions which exercise social control" (Potter, 1954). "It" is advertising, whose messages reach out to us, with their words and their pictures, from our newspapers and our magazines, from our radios and our televisions.

Like it or not, advertising is virtually impossible to avoid or to ignore; on television alone, viewers are exposed to tens of thousands of commercial messages every year (Hacker, 1984). So pervasive is the reach of advertising that it is difficult, if not "impossible to visualize an America without it" (Hacker, 1984). The commercial messages of advertising may be viewed as attempts at persuasion and social influence. Indeed, as one of the giants of the advertising industry, William Bernbach of Doyle Dayne Bernbach once said that "Advertising is persuasion, and persuasion is ... an art. Advertising is the art of persuasion" (cited by Fox, 1984, p. 251).

Persuasion is, of course, not only an art; it is also a science, and, as such, principles of persuasion can be investigated with scientific methods. And, for those of us concerned with the scientific study of persuasion, advertising can provide one laboratory within which to investigate principles of persuasion, to understand the science behind the art of persuasion. As students of persuasion, my co-workers and I have often used advertising as a vehicle to test hypotheses about the motivational foundations of attitudes and behavior. Although I am by no means an expert on advertising, I have been exposed to enough ads in my role as a consumer to have become aware of two contrasting approaches to advertising.

THE MESSAGES OF ADVERTISING

Some ads, I have noticed, appeal to the images associated with the use of the product, images that one may gain and project by using the product. Practitioners of this image-based approach to advertising seem to believe that how a product is packaged by its advertising is as important as the product itself. Therefore, they tend to create advertisements that are very striking in their visual appeal, paying particular attention to the finer details of form and color. Typically, the copy associated with these ads emphasizes the image of the product or, more specifically, the images associated with the use of the product. These image-oriented ads rarely, if ever, emphasize the features of the product itself. Consider two of the images currently being offered to North American men -- the rugged masculine man, who smokes Marlboro cigarettes and the beautiful androgynous man, who wears Calvin Klein jeans. In neither of these cases does the ad contain any explicit information about the product itself, only allusions to the images to be gained by identifying oneself with the product.

Other ads, it strikes me, focus on claims about the intrinsic merit, inherent quality, and functional value of the product self. These ads tell the consumer how good the product is, how well it works, or, in case of things to eat and drink, how good they taste. Recent advertisements for Total cereal, emphasizing its nutritional benefits, clearly fall into this category. So too ads featuring the Pepsi challenge taste tests, designed to communicate the supposedly superior taste quality of Pepsi. And, of course, there are all those ads that claim that great taste is reason we should smoke this or that cigarette and all those ads that promise how much we will savor the fine taste of this or that whisky.

In some of our research, we have inquired into the effectiveness of these two advertising strategies. That is, we have asked: What is it that makes image and product appeals succeed in engaging, motivating, and persuading consumers? One way to address such a question is to identify categories of people who are especially responsive to either type of advertising, one category of people who are especially responsive to advertising that is based on appeals to image considerations and a contrasting category of people who are especially responsive to advertising that focuses on information about products themselves. Such a strategy reflects a larger, global strategy for the study of links between personality and social behavior (see Snyder & Ickes, 1985). According to this strategy, one seeks to identify categories of people who typically manifest contrasting behavioral orientations in social situations, with the members of these categories then serving as subjects for investigations of the processes that account for these contrasting orientations.

DIFFERENT MESSAGES FOR DIFFERENT PEOPLE

Are there, then, these two categories of people who are differentially influenced by these two types of advertising? In our research, we have found the psychological construct of self-monitoring (Snyder, 1974, 1979, 1987) helpful in answering this question. High self-monitors typically strive to be the type of person called for by each situation in which they find themselves (Snyder & Monson, 1975). They are concerned about, and are adept at, tailoring their behavior to St social and interpersonal considerations of situational appropriateness (Lippa, 1976) and, as a result, their behavior often displays marked situation-to-situation shifts in the images they convey to other people (Danheiser & Graziano, 1982; Shaffer, Smith & Tomarelli, 1982).

High self-monitors are identified by their relatively high scores on the Self-Monitoring Scale (Snyder, 1974). Items typically endorsed by high self-monitors include: "I would probably make a good actor.", "In different situations and with different people, I often act like very different persons.", "I'm not always the person I appear to be.".

Because of their concerns with being the "right" person in the "right" place at the "right" time, high self-monitors ought to be very sensitive to the images of self that they project in social situations (indeed, there is some suggestion that they may be; Snyder, Berscheid, & Glick, 1985; Snyder, Berscheid, & Matwychuk, 1988) and, as such, they may be especially attentive to, and influenced by, advertising messages that convey information about the images that they will acquire and project by virtue of using particular consumer products. That is, to the extent that an advertisement allows high self-monitors to perceive that a given product has the potential to be used to create or enhance an image, they should react favorably to it. They should resonate to the cigarette ad that promises sophistication (even if the ad says nothing about the quality of the tobacco in the cigarette), to the car ad that features a sporty-looking car (even if the ad says nothing about the performance and handling characteristics of the car), and the toothpaste ad that offers whiter teeth and brighter smiles (even if the ad says nothing about the cavity-fighting capability of the toothpaste).

By contrast, low self-monitors typically do not attempt to mold their behavior to fit situational and interpersonal considerations (Snyder & Monson, 1975). Instead, they tend to guide their behavioral choices on the basis of information from relevant inner sources, such as attitudes, feelings, and dispositions (Snyder & Tanke, 1976). As a result, low self-monitors typically display substantial correspondence between their private attitudes and their actual behavior in social contexts (Snyder & Swann, 1977; Zanna, Olson, & Fazio, 1980).

Low self-monitors are identified by their relatively low scores on the Self-Monitoring Scale (Snyder, 1974). Items typically endorsed by low self-monitors include: 'I have trouble changing my behavior to suit different people and different situations.", 'I can only argue for ideas which I already believe.", "I would not change my opinion (or the way I do things) in order to please people or win their favor.".

Unlike their high self-monitoring counterparts, low self-monitors are less concerned with the images they project to others in social situations; instead, they are more concerned that their behavior in social contexts be an accurate reflection of their underlying attitudes, values, and dispositions. As such, they may be particularly responsive to advertisements that feature attributes of the product itself. Information about product attributes may be readily interpreted by these people in terms of their underlying attitudes, values, and other evaluative reactions. Take, for example, a low self-monitor who is partial to Scotch whisky. To maximize the consistency between his or her favorable attitude toward Scotch and the behavior of drinking a Scotch whose taste he or she will actually enjoy, this low self-monitor ought to drink only those brands of Scotch that taste like good Scotch should taste, brands whose taste he or she therefore would enjoy. Hence, he or she should be particularly attentive to and responsive to advertisements that inform consumers about the good taste of particular brands of Scotch. Such ads would provide information useful in making consumer decisions that provide opportunities to act in a manner consistent with underlying attitudes.

IMAGES VERSUS PRODUCTS IN ADVERTISING MESSAGES

Are high and low self-monitors differentially responsive to ads that promise images and those that inform about the product itself? To answer this question, we have created advertisements that, in pictures and words, presented image-versus product-oriented messages to consumers. Reactions to our ads, collected in a series of empirical investigations, suggest that high self-monitors are particularly responsive to image-oriented advertising and that low self-monitors are particularly responsive to product-oriented messages (see Snyder & DeBono, 1985; 1987; 1988).

In our research, we have worked with simulated ads for products as diverse as coffee and cars, for whiskeys and cigarettes, for shampoos and tanning lotions, for- perfumes and colognes. Typically in these studies, we have created mock-ups of advertisements for a particular product, with each ad being made up of a picture and a slogan. Consider specifically one study in which we worked with ads for perfumes and colognes (Snyder & Attridge, 1988). In this study, we designed our mock-ups of ads so that both the pictorial message and the written message would convey information either about the image associated with the fragrance and its users or about the fragrance product itself.

Thus, an ad for a women's perfume featuring a picture of a couple in a romantic setting and the slogan 'Timeless Romance" would be constituted of an image-oriented pictorial message and an image-oriented written message, whereas an ad featuring a picture of the fragrance product itself and the slogan "A Soft Floral Scent With a Hint of Musk" is constituted of a product-oriented pictorial message and a product-oriented written message. Similarly, an ad for a men's cologne featuring a young man who is the picture of success and upward mobility and the slogan "Success Has Always Been Your Style" would be constituted of an image-oriented pictorial message and an image-oriented written message, whereas an ad featuring a picture of the fragrance product itself and the slogan "A Fresh Spicy Blend of Citrus and Jasmine" is constituted of a product-oriented pictorial message and a product-oriented written message.

When we had college students evaluate these ads on a series of dimensions designed to tap their evaluative reactions to the ads, we found that high self-monitors assigned more favorable evaluations to those ads that convey information about the images to be gained by using the particular fragrance whereas low self-monitors assigned their most favorable evaluations to those ads that convey information about the fragrance product itself. Specifically, when evaluating image-oriented ads, the higher a respondent's self-monitoring score, the more favorable their evaluations; by contrast, when evaluating product-oriented ads, the lower a respondent's self-monitoring score, the more favorable their evaluations. Moreover, when asked their reasons for using fragrance products, high self-monitors are substantially more likely than low self-monitors to cite considerations of creating, enhancing, and maintaining social images.

In addition, by including other relevant personality measures, we were able to more precisely specify what type of person will respond most strongly to image-oriented advertising and what type of person will respond most strongly to product-oriented advertising. In addition to being a high self-monitor, the person who finds image-oriented advertising appealing is also likely to be high in public self-consciousness (Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975) and high in fashion awareness (Hirschman & Adcock, 1978). And, in addition to being a low self-monitor, the person who finds product-oriented advertising appealing is also likely to be low in public self-consciousness and low in fashion awareness. That is, when evaluating image-oriented ads, the higher a respondent's public self-consciousness and fashion awareness, the more favorable their evaluations; by contrast, when evaluating product-oriented ads, the lower a respondent's public self-consciousness and fashion awareness, the more favorable their evaluations.

The results of this investigation reinforce those of our earlier work with advertising messages for other products, including ads for coffee, whisky, and cigarettes (e.g., Snyder & DeBono, 1985). By considering systematic and global differences in personal and social orientations (such as self-monitoring), we were able to identify distinct types of people particularly likely to respond either to the appeals of image-oriented advertising or to the claims of product-oriented advertising.

The differing kinds of persuasion involved in advertising are also revealed by people's reactions to ads involving endorsements and testimonials. For example, the race car driver who lends his expertise about things automotive to this or that brand of motor oil may be most influential with low self-monitoring consumers, who might weight his credibility highly in their judgments of the oil's quality. But, the movie star who lends her aura to this or that brand of coffee may be most impressive to high self-monitoring consumers, who may be attracted to the image-fashioning potential of being identified with such an alluring figure.

Indeed, there is some support for these notions. In one study (Snyder & Miene, 1987), college undergraduates examined a profile of a fictitious person who would be giving a testimonial endorsement, either for a stereo headset or for a camera. Half of them read a profile of a person with a socially attractive personal image while the other half read a profile of a person possessing expertise with the product endorsed. These profiles contained no information or ad slogans about the product itself; the profile was simply paired with the name of the product. A content analysis of free responses to these profiles revealed that low self-monitors demonstrated a clear preference for an endorser with expertise, while high self-monitors showed a clear preference for an attractive endorser.

In related work, we have also found parallel differences in how people use information concerning product form and product function in evaluating t consumer products. For example, in one study in t which people evaluated automobiles, high self-monitors responded more favorably to the car with the | more attractive appearance, judging it to be of higher quality; by contrast, low self-monitors assigned higher quality ratings to the less attractive car, perhaps reflecting an implicit theory that one should be wary of the quality of attractive products, since an attractive exterior may be hiding inner deficiencies (DeBono Bc Snyder, in press).

Quite conceivably, our findings may have implications for the working worlds of advertising and marketing. Consider just two speculations. First, i image-oriented advertising campaigns that have worked (such as the one with the Marlboro man) may have worked because they have succeeded in engaging and motivating the image concerns of one identifiable subset of consumers, namely high self-monitors; by the same token, product-oriented advertising campaigns that have succeeded (such as that for Total cereal) may have succeeded because they have been effective in engaging and motivating the product concerns of another distinct group of consumers, namely low self-monitors. Second, image-oriented high self-monitoring consumers may display less "brand loyalty" than low self-monitoring consumers. That is, high self-monitors may purchase a variety of different brands, each with a different image, and switch among them in their attempts to display a variety of different images, each specifically appropriate to one of the different roles they play in their lives. Low self-monitors may strive to find that one brand that best captures the essence of their personal attitudes, values, and preferences; having found it, they may stick with that brand with great loyalty.

FUNCTIONAL BASES OF ATTITUDES AND PERSUASION

As tempting as it is to offer words of wisdom to the advertising industry, the fact of the matter is that (as I stated at the outset) our simulated ads essentially have been vehicles for conducting basic research on the processes of attitudes and persuasion. And, we have learned several lessons from our endeavors. One of these lessons concerns the functions of attitudes, and about the functional bases of persuasion and social influence. Taken together, our studies provide evidence, albeit indirect, that attitudes may be serving different functions for high and low self-monitors. In our studies, high self-monitors seem to have formed more favorable evaluations of ads that potentially could aid them in choosing consumer products useful for the purpose of creating and displaying social images. By contrast, low self-monitors in our studies reacted positively to ads that would allow them to choose consumer products that might help them to express their underlying attitudes, values, and personal preferences.

The notions that people may hold similar attitudes for different reasons, and that the same attitude may serve different functions for different people, are the fundamental tenets of the functional theories of attitudes (e.g., Katz, 1960; Smith, Bruner, & White, 1956). Theoretical analyses of self-monitoring (e.g., Snyder, 1987) provide a framework for articulating the functional implications of our research on reactions to advertising messages. To the extent that the characteristic interpersonal orientation of high self-monitors is a pragmatic one of fitting themselves to their social circumstances, this interpersonal orientation may also include social attitudes that are formed on the basis of how well they serve the ends of behaving in ways appropriate to the various reference groups that make up their social circumstances. As such, the social attitudes of high self-monitors may be said, in the language of the functional theorists, to be serving a social adjustive function. By contrast, to the extent that the characteristic interpersonal orientation of low self-monitors is a principled one of choosing behaviors that accurately reflect, truthfully express, and meaningfully communicate their own personal attributes, that interpersonal orientation may also include social attitudes formed on the basis of how well they reflect, express, and communicate more fundamental underlying values. As such, the social attitudes of low self-monitors, once again in the language of the functional theorists, may be said to be serving a value expressive function.

I should emphasize, though, that our research on reactions to advertising provides only indirect evidence that the attitudes of high and low self-monitors may be serving different functions. The messages associated with the various advertisements focused on implications or consequences of holding value expressive or social adjustive attitudes, but not on the actual functions themselves. More direct evidence that attitudes may be serving different functions for different people would be provided by studies involving interventions designed to directly engage particular functions.

A study by DeBono (1987) employed precisely this approach. By manipulating the functional relevance of a message, DeBono demonstrated that, in accord with the hypothesized social adjustive function of their attitudes, high self-monitoring students were particularly influenced by the message that played upon social adjustive concerns (in this case, what their peers thought) and, in keeping with the hypothesized value expressive function of their attitudes, low self-monitoring students were more influenced by the message that addressed itself to value expressive concerns (in this case how their attitudes meshed with important values).

These results (and related ones by DeBono and his co-workers; DeBono, 1988) highlight the utility of adopting a functional approach to the study of persuasion and social influence. They suggest that the persuasion settings necessary for successful social influence may need to be very different for different people. That is, people may have different motivational bases for maintaining their attitudes and, for a message to have its maximal impact, these motivations must be identified and addressed.

THE BOUNDARIES OF THE FUNCTIONAL APPROACH

Earlier, I characterized our strategy of inquiry as one borrowed from the domain of personality and social behavior. In this strategy, researchers try to identify categories of people who typically manifest the phenomena of concern to them. One benefit of this strategy may be its ability to help define and articulate the scope of the functional theories themselves. A (if not the) fundamental proposition of the functional approach is that the same attitude may serve different functions. What are the boundary conditions of this proposition -- when does it hold and when does it not? At least two kinds of factors can, in principle at least, be specified: those dealing with the attitudes whose functions are of concern, and those dealing with the situations in which these attitudes can and do operate (cf. Snyder & DeBono, 1988).

Some attitudes may be capable of serving a wide variety of-functions. Other attitudes, by contrast, may be capable of serving a somewhat narrower range of functions. And, some attitudes may even serve one and only one function. Only to the extent that attitudes are capable of serving multiple functions will it be possible to verify the fundamental tenet of functional theories. Only then will it be possible to identify classes of people whose attitudes typically serve one or another function. That is, properly speaking, the functional theories apply only to attitudes - hat are capable of serving multiple functions. For this reason, we have heeded this prescription in our research. Thus, for instance, in our studies of people's reactions to advertising messages, we specifically chose products that could be advertised equally well (and, in fact, are being advertised) with appeals to social adjustive and value expressive considerations. It remains, of course, to identify the moderating variables that specify the range of functions potentially served by particular attitudes.

Just as attitudes may vary in the functions they potentially can serve, so too can the situations in which attitudes operate vary in the functions they can engage. Some situations may be so clearly structured that they can and do engage attitudes serving one and only one function. Other situations, may be more conducive to multiple functions; that is, they may have the potential to engage multiple functions. Needless to say, it is this latter type of situation that has been of interest to us in our research. We intentionally have worked with situations in which it would be possible to observe some people responding as if motivated by social adjustive considerations and other people acting as if motivated by value expressive concerns. Again, properly speaking, the functional theories only apply to situations of this latter type -- those that "afford" multiple functions to be engaged and served.

In closing, I should note that interest in the functional approaches has waxed and waned over the years. Elsewhere, we have speculated on some of the reasons for the rise and fall and rise again of the functional perspective (Snyder & DeBono, 1988). That they initially rose to prominence, and that they are once again attracting attention, reflects the enduring importance of their central goal, that of discovering and understanding the psychological functions served by attitudes. The lesson our research and theorizing teaches is that: Taking into account the dynamic interplay of features of individuals, of attitudes, and of situations may permit more precise specifications of the functional bases of attitudes, persuasion, and social influence. The functional approaches, long out of fashion, may once again be ready to claim the allegiances of new generations of basic and applied researchers.

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