The Importance of Peripheral Cues in Attitude Formation For Enduring and Task Involved Individuals

Robin A. Higie, University of Connecticut
Lawrence F. Feick, University of Pittsburgh
Linda L. Price, University of Colorado at Boulder
ABSTRACT - This research examines the importance of a communication's peripheral cues to consumers with enduring and task involvement. In particular, the study experimentally manipulated subjects' task involvement and the spokesperson's product category expertise. Subjects' enduring involvement with the product category was measured. Our results indicate that both enduring and task involvement increase attention to product-related information, but suggest that there are other important processing differences between the two types of involvement. Specifically, consumers with enduring involvement focus more on the spokesperson in the ad, and their attitudes are more dependent on spokesperson expertise.
[ to cite ]:
Robin A. Higie, Lawrence F. Feick, and Linda L. Price (1991) ,"The Importance of Peripheral Cues in Attitude Formation For Enduring and Task Involved Individuals", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 187-193.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 187-193

THE IMPORTANCE OF PERIPHERAL CUES IN ATTITUDE FORMATION FOR ENDURING AND TASK INVOLVED INDIVIDUALS

Robin A. Higie, University of Connecticut

Lawrence F. Feick, University of Pittsburgh

Linda L. Price, University of Colorado at Boulder

ABSTRACT -

This research examines the importance of a communication's peripheral cues to consumers with enduring and task involvement. In particular, the study experimentally manipulated subjects' task involvement and the spokesperson's product category expertise. Subjects' enduring involvement with the product category was measured. Our results indicate that both enduring and task involvement increase attention to product-related information, but suggest that there are other important processing differences between the two types of involvement. Specifically, consumers with enduring involvement focus more on the spokesperson in the ad, and their attitudes are more dependent on spokesperson expertise.

INTRODUCTION

Over the years, researchers have examined the effects of numerous consumer characteristics on processing style and ad persuasiveness. One characteristic of considerable interest has been consumer involvement. Although pioneers in involvement used the concept more generally, recent research distinguishes among types of involvement. In this study, we focus on the distinction between task involvement which is transitory and due to particular situations, and enduring involvement which is lasting and independent of situations (Celsi and Olson 1988; Houston and Rothschild 1978; Richins and Bloch 1986).

The present research examines the differential importance of peripheral cues for people with different levels of enduring and task involvement. We test the proposition that consumers with varying levels of enduring and task involvement differentially attend to a peripheral cue: spokesperson expertise. In addition, we examine the effects of these two types of involvement on various measures of persuasion, including individuals' attitudes toward the ad and brand, and intention to buy.

THEORY

Evolvement has been a focus of much research in advertising and marketing. Over the years, the involvement construct has been conceptualized and operationalized in many ways (Houston and Rothschild 1978; Laurent and Kapferer 1985). Therefore, before discussing specific hypotheses, it is important to carefully define and distinguish between enduring and task involvement.

Enduring Involvement

Research in marketing on enduring involvement dates to Houston and Rothschild (1978). Enduring involvement is an intrinsically motivated individual difference variable that is relatively long-lasting, and the focus of an individual's enduring involvement may be either a product or an activity. Enduring involvement varies with the degree to which the product is related to the individual's self-image or the pleasure received from thoughts about or the use of the product (Higie and Feick 1989). Research dealing with various product categories supports the hedonic and self-expression components of enduring involvement (Bloch 1981,1982; Richins and Bloch 1986). In other words, people not only find pleasure in products, but also use objects to help develop and project self-image (Belk 1988; Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981).

Task Involvement

Researchers have also examined involvement that is externally motivated, referred to as situational sources of personal relevance (Celsi and Olson 1988), issue involvement (Chaiken 1980; Petty and Cacioppo 1979), and situational involvement (Richins and Bloch 1986; Houston and Rothschild 1978). In such cases, factors or consequences associated with a particular task or situation result in some level of personal relevance. We refer to this type of involvement as task involvement. Researchers have examined naturally occurring task involvement, e.g., consumers considering product alternatives to purchase (Richins and Bloch 1986), but more commonly have used experimental manipulations to approximate the effects of naturally occurring task involvement (Celsi and Olson 1988; Park and Young 1986; Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann 1983).

Amount of Information Processing

Research has documented that consumers who have enduring involvement attend to product-related ads and magazines and think more about product-relevant information (Bloch, Sherrell and Ridgway 1986; Celsi and Olson 1988; Richins and Bloch 1986). Similarly, research demonstrates that people who have naturally occurring (Richins and Bloch 1986) or experimentally manipulated (Celsi and Olson 1988; Park and Young 1986; Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann 1983) task involvement attend to and process product-relevant information more than people who are not task involved. Thus, individuals should generate more thoughts the greater is either their enduring or task involvement.

Focus of Information Processing

Because people with task and enduring involvement are driven by different motivations, the focus of their thoughts is expected to differ. The Elaboration Likelihood Model and its supporting research (Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann 1983) suggest that individuals with high task involvement focus more on brand attribute information and less on peripheral cues (information other than brand attribute information) in deriving overall attitudes and impressions about a brand. Empirical tests of this theory have found that peripheral cues, such as source expertise, celebrity status, and attractiveness, are less important determinants of attitudes for subjects in high rather than in low task involvement conditions (Park and Young 1986; Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann 1983; Rhine and Severance 1970; Swasy and Munch 1985). Additionally, Celsi and Olson (1988) found that consumers with greater task involvement and greater product knowledge generated a greater proportion of product-related thoughts. Thus, as individuals' task involvement increases, they are expected to focus more thoughts on brand attribute information.

On the other hand, individuals with enduring involvement have an ongoing interest in the product category, pay close attention to product-related ads, magazines and other information (Celsi and Olson 1988; Richins and Bloch 1986; Higie and Feick 1989). Because people with enduring involvement have internally generated interest, and perceive the product to be part of their self-image and fun, we expect them to pay attention to all aspects of advertisements. Thus, whereas people with task involvement are attentive to brand attribute information, we expect that people with enduring involvement will attend not only to brand attribute information (Bloch, Sherrell and Ridgway 1986), but also to peripheral cues. Therefore, we expect that as individuals' level of enduring involvement increase, they will focus more of their total thoughts on the peripheral cues in an advertisement.

Persuasiveness of Advertisements

Because individuals with high enduring involvement are expected to attend to peripheral cues, we expect that these individuals will translate more positive peripheral cues into more positive brand and advertisement-related opinions.

For individuals with low enduring involvement, task involvement is important in determining their focus of processing and attitudes. As we have noted, subjects in experimentally manipulated high task involvement conditions rely on brand attribute information, whereas subjects in experimentally manipulated low task involvement conditions are more likely to rely on peripheral cues to derive attitudes and impressions. Hence, we expect individuals with low enduring involvement under conditions of high task involvement to focus primarily on the message. For these individuals, peripheral cues should not affect brand and advertisement-related opinions. Alternatively, we expect, individuals with low enduring involvement under conditions of low task involvement to focus primarily on peripheral cues. As individuals perceive the peripheral cues to be more positive, their brand and advertisement-related opinions will become more positive.

HYPOTHESES

Based on this theoretical development, we offer the following hypotheses. Because our study manipulated the peripheral cue of spokesperson expertise, our hypotheses are set in those terms.

Amount of Information Processing

H1A: As enduring involvement increases, more thoughts related to the product-relevant information will be generated.

H1B: As task involvement increases, more thoughts related to the product-relevant information will be generated.

Focus of Information Processing

H2A: As task involvement increases, a smaller proportion of the generated thoughts will focus on the spokesperson in the ad.

H2B: As enduring involvement increases, a larger proportion of the generated thoughts will focus on the spokesperson in the ad.

Persuasiveness of Advertisements

H3A: Individuals with high enduring involvement will focus on both the source and the message. As individuals perceive the spokesperson to have more expertise, their brand/advertisement-related opinions will be more positive.

H3B: Individuals with low enduring involvement under conditions of high task involvement will focus primarily on the message. For these individuals, perceived' spokesperson expertise should not affect brand/advertisement-related opinions.

H3C: Individuals with low enduring involvement under conditions of low task involvement will focus primarily on the spokesperson. As individuals perceive the spokesperson to have more expertise, brand/advertisement-related opinions will be more positive.

METHOD

The present study examined hypotheses about processing and persuasion reactions using an experiment in which subjects responded to print ads. Enduring involvement with personal computers (EI) is measured and subjects are classified as high (HEI) or low (LEI). Subjects' task involvement with personal computers (TI) and the spokesperson's expertise with personal computers (EX) are manipulated at high (HTI and HEX) and low (LTI and LEX) levels, respectively. The experiment is a balanced full factorial 23 design with seven male MBA students per cell. The 56 students were enrolled at three eastern universities.

Procedure

Subjects attended two sessions, held two weeks apart, for this "New Product Introduction Study." In Session 1, we collected measures of enduring product involvement, and product-related information search and transmission for four products: air conditioners, personal computers, dehumidifiers, and lawn mowers. The presentation order of the set of questions for the four products was randomized within questionnaires. In addition, subjects were informed that to limit the number of questions, each subject would be required to answer technical questions about only one product. The questionnaire had all four products listed as possible options, but all subjects answered questions about the personal computer.

During the week between Session 1 and Session 2, the scale measuring enduring involvement (EIS) was analyzed. Subjects whose personal computer EIS score was below the median were categorized as having LEI with personal computers, those above the median were classified as having HEI. Next, subjects were assigned randomly to one of the four task involvement/spokesperson expertise conditions.

Upon reporting to Session 2, subjects examined an ad booklet and completed dependent measures and manipulation and confound checks. A note debriefing the subjects was distributed after all subjects had completed Session 2.

Ad Booklet. Each ad booklet contained an instruction page with the task involvement manipulation and one advertisement for each of the four products. Five advertisements were used in the experiment -- two for the personal computer (expert/non-expert spokesperson, varied between subjects) and one for each of the other three products. Each of the advertisements contained a 3 by 5 inch black and white photograph of the spokesperson, a brief description of the spokesperson's background and qualifications, and the spokesperson's description of the product's attributes. The ads were of comparable quality.

Task Involvement Manipulation. Task involvement was manipulated using a distraction technique (Kahle and Homer 1985; Park and Young 1986). Subjects assigned to the high task involvement with personal computers condition read:

When examining this booklet, please ASSUME that you have decided to purchase a personal computer (or upgrade your present system). In addition, you have just received a telephone call from a close friend who just decided to purchase a personal computer, and would like for you to give him some advice. Please examine the booklet of advertisements for new products that will be introduced later this year, keeping in mind that you and your close friend are planning to purchase a personal computer in the next few months. After examining the booklet you will be taken through a simulated shopping experience in which you will be asked to identify the personal computer described in the advertisement from among several displayed brands.

The attention of subjects assigned to the low task involvement with personal computers condition was focused on the dehumidifier. These subjects read the message above, except that dehumidifier was substituted for personal computer.

Spokesperson Expertise Manipulation. The description of the expert and non-expert, respectively, were:

John Matthews is a Harvard-trained computer programmer. He has extensive business experience with IBM and WANG and is a recognized expert on personal computers. In addition, he writes a column for a major computer magazine.

John Matthews is an-elementary school teacher. Two weeks ago, he began a part-time evening job as a sales clerk at a computer store. He has little hands-on experience with personal computers, but plans to take a computer course in the near future.

Personal Computer Advertisement Message. The message included relevant product attribute information, and was derived using 1987 Consumer Reports product ratings (the study was conducted in June 19870 to identify important product attributes. The personal computer advertisement read:

The new personal computer is IBM compatible. It runs word processing and statistical software packages, and other popular game and educational software. This personal computer has six full-sized expansion slots, and its memory can be expanded to one megabyte. The personal computer is speed switchable (4.77 and 8 MHz), and has built-in high resolution text plus CGA, EGA and Hercules graphics compatibility. Moreover, this personal computer is less expensive than any IBM model, and it has a one-year warranty.

MEASUREMENT

Independent Variables

Enduring Involvement Measurement. Several researchers have developed scales to measure the general construct of involvement (Laurent and Kapferer 1985; McQuarrie and Munson 1987; Zaichkowsky 1985). Higie and Feick (1989), focusing on the self-expression and hedonic components, developed and validated the Enduring Involvement Scale (EIS), an elaboration of Zaichkowsky's Personal Involvement Inventory (1985). In this research, we used the EIS which includes ten seven-point semantic differential items, five measuring the self-expression component and five measuring the hedonic component. Cronbach's alpha for EIS was .91. The range of responses was 25 to 67, and the means on the EIS for the LEI and HEI groups were 37.6 and 55.1, respectively.

Product Knowledge Covariate

The hypotheses in this study are based on the effects of motivation to process information, not ability to process. Hence, it was necessary to control for product knowledge. Because objective product knowledge seems to better control for ability to process than subjective product knowledge (Brucks 1985), three people knowledgeable of personal computers developed a fourteen item multiple choice objective product knowledge test on personal computer software, hardware and operation. The test was culled to five items after pilot testing. Subjects received a 0 to 5 score, depending on the number of correct answers.

Manipulation Checks

Task Involvement. Three seven-point Likert scale items (involved in reading; concerned with understanding; careful in evaluating the personal computer advertisement), with endpoints labeled "not at all" and "very", were used to measure task involvement with the personal computer advertisement (Chaiken 1980). The scale formed by an unweighted sum of the items had a Cronbach's alpha of .93.

Spokesperson Expertise. Subjects responded to three seven-point Likert scale items (expert/not an expert; very/not at all knowledgeable; very/not at all experienced using personal computers) regarding their impression of the spokesperson's level of expertise (Petty and Cacioppo 1981). The scale formed by an unweighted sum of the items had a Cronbach's alpha of .94.

Dependent Measures

To examine processing and persuasion, we used two types of measures: an open-end cognitive response measure and closed-end attitude and intention measures.

Cognitive Responses. After examining the ad booklet, subjects recorded their cognitions about the personal computer ad. The instructions read:

We would like to know what you were thinking about while you looked at the personal computer advertisement in the booklet. Please list, on the lines below, any thoughts you had about the personal computer advertisement. Phrases are okay. Don't worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation. Write down only the ideas you were thinking about while examining the personal computer advertisement.

Three Judges familiar with the coding categories, but not with the experimental hypotheses, independently coded the cognitive responses as related to either 1)brand attributes, 2)spokesperson attributes, 3)ad execution comments or 4)other, and as either 1)positive, 2)negative or 3)neutral (MacKenzie, -Lutz and Belch 1986). A modal scoring convention was used. If at least two of the three judges agreed on the category for the response, it was assigned to that category. This scoring convention successfully coded 100 percent of the cognitions. Cognitive response data were used to derive total cognitions, percentage of spokesperson cognitions, and net valence of cognitions, i.e., the number of positive minus the number of negative brand, spokesperson and ad execution cognitions (MacKenzie, Lutz and Belch 1986).

"ad. The subject's attitude toward the personal computer advertisement was measured using a seven-point semantic differential item, "What is your overall opinion of-the personal computer advertisement?" The endpoints were "unfavorable" and "favorable".

"br. The subject's attitude toward the personal computer described in the ad was evaluated using three seven-point semantic differential items: bad/good; unsatisfactory/satisfactory; unfavorable/favorable. The scale formed by an unweighted sum of the items had Cronbach's alpha of .90.

Ibuy. Intention to purchase the personal computer in the ad was measured by two seven-point Likert scale items: "Suppose you were seriously considering purchasing a personal computer. Would you...1)seriously/not seriously consider the personal computer in the booklet, and 2)be not at all/very interested in the personal computer described in the booklet." The correlation between the items was .72.

RESULTS

Manipulation Checks

Task Involvement. Results of the three-way (EI x TI x EX) ANOVA indicated the successful manipulation of task involvement (F=17.43; d.f.=1,48; p<.001). The mean in the HTI condition was 5.21 compared to 3.81 in the LTI condition. (The average of the component items for all manipulation checks and dependent variables generated from closed-end scales are reported. The base for each was a seven point scale.) In addition, there was a significant TI x EX interaction (P=11.06; d.f.=1,48; p<.05). The TI manipulation was more effective when the spokesperson was not an expert (XLTI=3-07, xHTI=S.S9) than when the spokesperson was an expert (xLTI=4.54, xHTI=4.83). However, in both the expert and non-expert conditions, subjects in the HTI condition reported greater involvement than those in the LTI condition. No other main or interaction effects were significant.

Spokesperson Expertise. The three-way ANOVA results indicated a successful manipulation of spokesperson expertise (F=91.37; d.f.=1,48; p<.001). The personal computer spokesman in the expert condition was perceived as having significantly more expertise (x=5.48) than the spokesman in the non-expert condition (x=2.23). No other main or interaction effects were significant.

Product Knowledge Covariate

The objective product knowledge score was included as a covariate in a three-way ANCOVA for each dependent variable. It was a significant covariate only for total number of cognitions generated, and is discussed in those results only.

Dependent Measures

Amount of Information Processing. H 1 A and H1B predicted that as EI and TI increased, the total number of cognitions generated would increase. The three-way ANCOVA results indicated that product knowledge was a significant covariate in the analysis of total number of cognitions generated (F=4.20; d.f.=1,47; p=.05). The adjusted marginal means for EI are XHEI=2-47 and XLEI=2 07 and TI are xHTI=2.43 and xLTI= 2.11. Although the total number of cognitions generated increased with higher involvement, the effects were not statistically significant ( 1A: F=.82; d.f.=1,47, p=.37; H 1B: F=.54, d.f.= 1,47, p=.47).

There was, however, a significant TI x EX interaction (F=7.57; d.f.= 1,47; p<.01). When the spokesperson was a non-expert, the result was as expected: HTI subjects (x=2.93) listed more cognitions than LTI subjects i=1.36). On the other hand, when the spokesperson was an expert, LTI subjects (x=2.86) listed more cognitions than HTI subjects i=1.98). This finding might be explained, in part, by the greater than expected task involvement of subjects in the LTI/HEX condition, as reported in the TI manipulation check results. No other main or interaction effects were significant.

Focus of Information Processing. H2A predicted that as task involvement increased, a smaller proportion of thoughts would focus on the spokesperson. Alternatively, H2B predicted that as enduring involvement increased, a larger proportion of thoughts would focus on the spokesperson. Testing these hypotheses in a three-way ANOVA implies main effects of EI and TI. As predicted, HEI subjects (x=.37) reported a higher proportion of spokesperson cognitions than LEI subjects (x=.16; F=3.81, d.f.=1,48, p=.06). Also, as expected, LTI subjects (x=.31) generated a larger proportion of spokesperson cognitions than HTI subjects (x=.22; F=.99, d.f.=1,48, p=.33). Other main and interaction effects were not significant. The lack of a significant main effect of TI may have been due to the greater than expected task involvement in the LTI/HEX cells.

Persuasiveness of Advertisements. To determine the effects of EI, TI and EX on attitude formation, we analyzed four persuasion measures: net valence of cognitive responses (NETCOG), Aad, Abr and 1buy. The a priori hypotheses about particular comparisons were examined using 1 degree of freedom tests of simple effects (Keppel 1982; Rosenthal and Rosnow 1985). The Table reports the means and tests of significance for H3A, H3B and H3C.

H3A hypothesized that HEI individuals would have more favorable impressions of the product when they perceived the spokesperson to have more rather than less expertise. The results are directionally consistent with the hypotheses for all four measures of persuasion and statistically significant for NETCOG and Abr.

H3B hypothesized that the impressions of LEI individuals in HTI conditions would not differ across conditions of spokesperson expertise. The results for NETCOG, Aad and Abr support H3B. However, the expert created a significantly greater Ibuy than did the non-expert.

Finally, H3C hypothesized that LEI individuals in LTI conditions would have more favorable impressions of the product when they perceived the spokesperson to have more rather than less expertise. The results for the four measures of persuasiveness are directionally consistent with the hypotheses, but not statistically significant.

DISCUSSION

The concept of consumer involvement has interested marketers for years. This research, along with that of Richins and Bloch (1986) and Celsi and Olson (1988), emphasize the need to distinguish between intrinsically and extrinsically motivated involvement. Our study examines the importance of peripheral cues, in particular, spokesperson expertise, in creating-positive ad and brand impressions for people with varying levels of enduring and task involvement. The results discussed below are conservative in the sense that the study was based on a small sample size per cell and a median split used to categorize subjects' level of enduring involvement.

Involvement and Processing

Consistent with the findings of Celsi and Olson (1988), our results indicate that individuals who have greater involvement with a product (either task or enduring involvement) generate more cognitions. We found, however, that the focus of these cognitions varied with levels of enduring and task involvement. Specifically, as predicted, individuals with high enduring involvement (who were expected to focus more on peripheral cues) reported a greater proportion of source cognitions than did individuals with low enduring involvement. Individuals with low task involvement, as expected, relied on simple cues in information processing and generated a larger proportion of thoughts about the spokesperson than individuals with high task involvement.

TABLE

HYPOTHESES AND RESULTS FOR H3A, H3B, H3C

Involvement, Spokesperson Expertise and Persuasion

Consistent with past research (Petty, Cacioppo and Goldman 1981; Rhine and Severance 1970), our ad effectiveness results, in general, indicate that a more knowledgeable spokesperson is more persuasive. However, our findings are of particular importance because they indicate that the effects of spokesperson expertise on ad persuasiveness depend on the individual's levels of enduring and task involvement. Both the spokesperson cognition results and the persuasion results suggest that the expertise of the spokesperson is particularly important to individuals with high enduring involvement, and those who have both low enduring and low task involvement. One explanation for the importance of the expert spokesperson to high enduring involvement consumers is that their self-image is tied to the product category. Hence, it may be important to consumers with high enduring involvement that the spokesperson be someone they can respect and relate to. For consumers with low enduring and low task involvement, an expert spokesperson provides an attention-getting means for relaying credible information.

IMPLICATIONS

Marketers are faced with developing advertising strategies and campaigns targeted to consumers with varying profiles. The results from our research emphasize the need to distinguish between enduring and task involvement when making marketing and advertising decisions. Individuals with high enduring involvement are a critical target audience for many companies (Bloch 1986). These individuals are likely to be opinion leaders. As such, they communicate product information to others, and can be instrumental in generating product adoption (Richins and Bloch 1986). Advertisers take care in selecting appropriate product-related media vehicles to reach these audiences. For example, Bose and Coustic brands of stereo equipment are advertised in Stereo Review and Salomon brand ski equipment and Obermeyer brand skiwear are advertised in Ski. Our research indicates that consumers with high enduring involvement attend to both brand attribute information and the peripheral cue of spokesperson expertise. Moreover, the results indicate the importance of a credible spokesperson. These findings provide insights about ad copy. In particular, when targeting high enduring involvement consumers, it appears necessary to not only provide information about product attributes and quality, but also attend to characteristics of the spokesperson. Moreover, given high enduring involved consumers' attention to all facets of the ad, ad managers also may need to be-attentive to executional cues and commercial production.

Our study also provides insights regarding consumers with low involvement. Consider the case when the company's target market is identified as having low enduring and low task involvement. -These consumers tend to minimize expenditure of cognitive resources in processing and may use spokesperson expertise as a cue about the advertised brand's quality and attributes. Thus, for consumers with low enduring and low task involvement, spokesperson effects may be the result of cognitive economizing (Kahle and Homer 1985). As such, it is important that advertisers communicate the spokesperson's qualifications immediately in an advertisement, thereby increasing brand awareness and recall among consumers with low involvement.

Finally, our results support past research that suggests that consumers with high task involvement focus more on brand attribute information than on peripheral cues in an advertisement. These findings suggest that marketers who are designing ads for consumers intent on buying a particular product, i.e., consumers who have high task involvement, provide comprehensible brand attribute information. For these consumers, the advocation of the brand by a knowledgeable spokesperson will serve only to complement the brand attribute information in creating positive attitudes and impressions about the brand.

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A complete list of the references for this paper is available from the first author at 368 Fairfield Road, U41-M Department of Marketing, Storrs, CT 10626-2041.

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