Effects of Individual Difference Variables on Responses to Factual and Evaluative Ads

Meera P. Venkatraman, Boston University
Deborah Marlino, Simmons College
Frank R. Kardes, University of Cincinnati
Kimberly B. Sklar, Pugh-Roberts Associates
[ to cite ]:
Meera P. Venkatraman, Deborah Marlino, Frank R. Kardes, and Kimberly B. Sklar (1990) ,"Effects of Individual Difference Variables on Responses to Factual and Evaluative Ads", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, eds. Marvin E. Goldberg, Gerald Gorn, and Richard W. Pollay, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 761-765.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, 1990      Pages 761-765

EFFECTS OF INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCE VARIABLES ON RESPONSES TO FACTUAL AND EVALUATIVE ADS

Meera P. Venkatraman, Boston University

Deborah Marlino, Simmons College

Frank R. Kardes, University of Cincinnati

Kimberly B. Sklar, Pugh-Roberts Associates

[The authors are grateful to Robin Higie for her very helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.]

Previous research has shown that factual ads that contain logical, objectively verifiable descriptions of tangible product features are more effective than other message appeals (Golden and Johnson 1983; Kuritsky, et al. 1982). Our research demonstrates that this is true only for people with certain cognitive personality orientations. We find that people who enjoy thinking, problem solving, and other mental exertions are more persuaded by and have greater confidence in factual ads. In contrast, people who strive to simplify their environment and avoid cognitive stress respond to evaluative ads that contain emotional, subjective impressions of intangible aspects of a product.

BACKGROUND

A considerable body of research has examined the relationship between person factors and responses to advertisements such as recall, recognition, and persuasiveness. Persuasiveness has been defined in many different ways and as used here encompasses the believability of an ad and how convincing it is, amongst other dimensions. Much of the research focuses on demographic factors (Lipstein and McGuire 1978). Although the findings are inconsistent, which make definitive statements difficult, this research seems to indicate that age is negatively related and education and income are positively related to commercial recall (Schlinger 1983). While these findings have had considerable impact on research in advertising effectiveness (in the design of copy testing experiments, for example), in comparison with demographic factors the relationship of other person factors, such as personality, with responses to ads has been neglected.

The study of individual difference personality traits in advertising research is important for several reasons. From the methodological perspective, researchers interested in improving the statistical power of their experiments but not specifically interested in individual difference effects must control for these effects if they are demonstrated to be related to ad persuasion (Sawyer and Ball 1981). From the advertising research perspective, demonstrating that personality factors influence persuadability of ads has practical implications for copy testing procedures. Since existing procedures control for demographics and product purchase readiness stage in subject selection, they are based on the implicit assumption that personality factors are not important. However, if personality traits are related to persuadability, it means that an advertisement which is effective with a specific personality type may not be effective with another. Understanding this will help tailor advertising messages to different target audiences, target it more effectively, and better utilize advertising dollars.

In spite of the considerable potential importance of personality factors in advertising research, there are several good reasons for its neglect. Primarily, these variables have been found to be relatively ineffective in explaining different facets of consumer behavior (Kassarjian 1971; Wells 1975). One possible explanation is that the personality traits examined in previous research were borrowed from standardized personality inventories originally developed to measure abnormal personality predispositions and therefore not specifically relevant in the advertising context.

Individual difference personality traits that can be theoretically related to persuasion may be more effective in explaining responses to ads. One objective of this research is to show that personality traits that capture an individual's cognitive orientation will be effective in explaining responses-to ads which include the persuadability of and confidence in ads. Consider, for example, the style of processing scale developed by Childers, Houston and Heckler (1985) which differentiates verbally oriented people from visually oriented people. Verbally oriented people have a preference and propensity to engage in verbal information processing. They agree more with items such as "I enjoy work that requires the use of words," and "I like to think of synonyms for words." In contrast, people who have a preference and propensity to engage in visual information processing agree more with items such as "My thinking consists of mental pictures and images." Childers, Houston, and Heckler (1985) hypothesized and found that verbally oriented people have better advertisement recognition and recall as compared to visually oriented people.

The Childers et al. (1985) study suggests that traits that capture a person's cognitive orientation are related to responses to advertising. But is this equally true for different types of ads such as emotional and factual ads? Intuition and research suggest not. For example, Rossiter and Percy (1978) found that preference for engaging in imaginal processing as measured by the Visualizer-Verbalizer scale (Richardson 1977) was strongly related to positive affective reactions to visually oriented print advertisements. The findings of Childers et al. (1985) combined with those of Rossiter and Percy (1978) suggest that in addition to individual differences, message content is an important determinant of responses to ads. The importance of message content in understanding responses to ads is supported by Holbrook and Lehmann (1980) who found that message content factors such as type of appeal are important predictors of advertising recognition over and above the predictive power of mechanical ad factors such as size and effects of product class.

In this context, another objective of this research, besides demonstrating the relationship between traits that capture a person's cognitive orientation and responses to ads, is to show that personality traits and ad content interact in affecting responses to ads. It is hypothesized that certain cognitive personality traits are related to responses to factual ads that contain objectively verifiable data and others are related to responses to evaluative ads that contain subjective, emotional appeals. The specific responses studied here are the persuadability of ads and confidence generated by the ads.

HYPOTHESES

This research studies the relationship between traits that capture facets of cognitive orientation such as style, preference for engaging, effortful cognitive activities, preference for cognitive stimulation and responses to factual and evaluative ads. Of the different traits that capture an individual's cognitive orientation this research focuses on: cognitive style, an individual's characteristic way of dealing with uncertainty (Cox 1967); need for cognition, an individual's tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive endeavors (Cacioppo, Petty and Kao 1984); style of processing, a preference and propensity to engage in a verbal and/or visual modality of processing (Childers et al. 1985); and cognitive innovativeness, an individual's preference for engaging in new activities that stimulate thinking (Pearson 1970).

Consider the cognitive style of people identified as "simplifiers" (Cox 1967) and that of visually oriented processors (Childers et al. 1985). Simplifiers strive to achieve cognitive structure by avoiding new information. According to Cox, they not only ignore new information, they also deny it, distort it, or in other ways defend themselves against its impact, thereby avoiding ambiguity and cognitive stress. Similarly, people who have a propensity to engage in visual processing (Childers et al. 1985) prefer watching demonstrations, using diagrams or pictures instead of reading instructions. Therefore, it is expected that simplifiers and visual processors should not respond to the objective, logical factual ads but should prefer evaluative ads that contain subjective, emotional impressions of products. In this context, it is hypothesized that simplifiers and visually oriented people should be more persuaded by and have greater confidence in the evaluative ad as compared to the factual ad.

People with high need for cognition, cognitive innovativeness and verbally oriented people will respond differently from simplifiers and visually oriented people. According to Cacioppo and Petty (1982), people who have a high, as opposed to low, need for cognition are likely to acquire, elaborate on, and evaluate new information to which they are exposed because they enjoy effortful cognitive activities. Similarly, people who have high cognitive innovativeness enjoy thinking, pondering, and puzzling over issues and other mental exertions and seek new information that stimulate these mental activities (Pearson 1970). Also verbally oriented people enjoy reading, learning new words, thinking up synonyms for words, and doing work that requires the use of words (Childers et al. 1985). This suggests that people with high need for cognition and cognitive innovativeness, and verbally oriented people should be more persuaded by and have greater confidence in the factual ad as compared to the evaluative ad. In summary, the hypotheses are:

H1. The cognitive style of simplification and visual style.of processing have a significantly stronger relationship with the persuasiveness of and confidence in the evaluative as compared to factual ad.

H2. Need for cognition, cognitive innovativeness and verbal style of processing have a significantly stronger relationship with the persuasiveness of and confidence in the factual as compared to evaluative ad.

METHODOLOGY AND ANALYSIS

The Factual and Evaluative Message

Factual and evaluative messages used in past research were selected as stimuli (Holbrook 1978). These ads describe six attributes of a fictional new automobile called the Vendome: (1) appearance, (2) handling and ride, (3) interior comfort and roominess (4) safety features, (5) service record, and (6) economy of operation. Pretests revealed that the two messages were perceived to be equivalent in meaning, favorability, length, and features described.

Procedure

Subjects were 78 undergraduate students attending a large north-eastern university. In two separate in-class sessions, subjects completed the cognitive style, style of processing, need for cognition, and cognitive innovativeness personality scales. In a third session, scheduled a week later so that the connection between the personality tests and their responses to the ads would not be made, the same subjects were randomly assigned to either the factual or the evaluative message condition. After reading the messages, each subject completed a questionnaire that measured responses to the advertising messages. Responses were measured on a nine-point scale ranging from (1) "not at all" to (9) "extremely" for 10 items used by Holbrook (1978) which were found to tap persuadability of the ads and extent of confidence in the ad message (Items are shown in Table 1).

TABLE 1

LOADINGS OF THE AD RESPONSE VARIABLES ON TWO VARIMAX-ROTATED FACTORS

Preliminary Analyses

Responses to Ads. Of the 78 subjects, 37 were assigned to the factual and 41 to the evaluative message condition. Of these, 5 subjects were excluded from the analysis due to missing data. A principle components analysis was performed on ad responses yielding two factors that accounted for 60.6% of the variance in the original ten variables. The varimax-rotated factor loadings are presented in Table 1. These factors were interpreted as (1) persuasiveness, and (2) confidence. Factor scores were employed in all subsequent analyses involving responses to ads.

Reliability. All scales, except the verbal and cognitive style scales, satisfied the Nunnally (1978) reliability criteria of .70. The Cronbach's alpha for the need for cognition scale was .83, visual and verbal scales were .76 and .58, cognitive style scale was .42, and cognitive innovativeness scale was .88. Hence, in general, scale reliability is considered adequate. The correlations between the scales are reported in Table 2.

Hypotheses Testing

The statistical analysis used to test this hypothesis measured the differential effect of the independent variables (cognitive style, etc.) on the dependent variable (responses to ads) as a function of message content (factual/evaluative). Each ad response (persuasiveness and confidence) was regressed on the trait variable separately for the factual and evaluative message condition (Arnold 1982; Baron and Kenny 1986). If the unstandardized regression coefficients differ significantly, then the hypothesis is supported. The significance test is:

                  B21-B11

t =                                           

           (SE2B21+SE2B11)1/2

where

B21 = slope of Y on X regression line for those cases assigned to evaluative ad

B11 = slope of Y on X regression line of those cases assigned to factual ad

SE2B21 = standard error of estimate of B21

SE2B11 = standard error of estimate of B11

n1 = number of cases assigned to factual message

n2 = number of cases assigned to evaluative message

RESULTS

H1 is supported for cognitive style. The higher the cognitive style of simplification, the greater the persuasiveness of (t= 1.94, df=73; p < .05) and confidence in (t=2.00; df=73; p < .05) the evaluative as compared to the factual ad (Refer Table 3). However, H1 is not supported for visual style of processing. There are no significant differences in the relationship of persuasiveness and confidence with visual style of processing between the evaluative and factual ad.

H2 is supported for both need for cognition and cognitive innovativeness but not for verbal style of processing. The higher the need for cognition the greater the persuasiveness of (t=4.18; df=73; p < .01) and confidence in (t=2.37; df = 73; p < .01) the factual as compared to the evaluative ad. Similarly, the greater the cognitive innovativeness score the greater the persuasiveness of (t= 1.74; df=73; p < .05) and confidence in (t=1.55; df=73; p < .10) the factual as compared to evaluative ad. However, contrary to expectations, verbally oriented style of processing is not related to persuasiveness and confidence in a factual as compared to evaluative ad.

TABLE 2

CORRELATIONS BETWEEN THE PERSONALITY TRAITS

TABLE 3

THE EFFECT OF PERSONALITY TRAITS ON RESPONSES TO FACTUAL AND EVALUATIVE ADS

DISCUSSION

The results suggest that different cognitive orientations are related differently with responses to factual and evaluative ads. The cognitive style of simplification is related with responses to the evaluative ad, and traits that capture effortful cognitive activity are related with responses to the factual ad. The hypothesis, however, is not supported for style of processing. Contrary to expectations, verbal style of processing is not related with responses to the factual ad and visual style of processing is not related with responses to the evaluative ad. In the case of verbal style of processing, it seems reasonable to expect that people who have a preference for verbal information processing would respond to the factual ad. Perhaps they respond by reading the factual ad and therefore they can recognize and recall it as found by Childers et al. (1985). But in the case of the ads used in this study, they do not believe what they read and are not convinced by it, therefore verbal style of processing is not related to persuasiveness of the factual ad. For the visual style of processing, the lack of support for the hypothesis may be due to the fact that the ads do not contain any visuals like pictures, charts or diagrams. Perhaps visual processors respond to pictorial ads more than ads that are factual and verbal.

These findings extend previous research on responses to factual and evaluative ads (Golden and Johnson 1983; Kuritsky et al. 1982). Previous research found that factual ads tend to be more effective than other message appeals. Our research replicates this finding for cognitive innovators and people who are high on the need for cognition. However, people who are not cognitive innovators and do not have a need for cognition do not respond to factual ads. Further, simplifiers respond to evaluative ads. However, since our study used student subjects before any generalization can be made to "all consumers" it must be replicated with a sample representing this population.

In addition to extending past research, our results have implications for procedures used to test ad copy. Existing procedures are based upon the implicit assumption that personality factors do not affect responses to ads. This study, however, provides some empirical evidence to the contrary. These findings indicate that an advertising appeal that persuades and generates confidence for one personality type might not do so for another. Hence, advertisers should carefully consider the personality characteristics of their message recipients, and tailor their persuasive messages to match the characteristics of their target audiences.

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