Attitude Functions in Advertising Effectiveness: the Interactive Role of Product Type and Personality Type

Sharon Shavitt, University of Illinois
Tina M. Lowrey, University of Illinois
ABSTRACT - Several studies have shown that high self-monitors tend to prefer ads that focus on social identity concerns, whereas low self-monitors tend to prefer utilitarian appeals. Other studies have shown that products themselves differ in the extent to which they are associated with utilitarian versus social identity functions. Based on these findings, it was hypothesized that differences between high and low self-monitors in their ad preferences would be manifested most strongly for products that can be thought of in terms of both utilitarian and social identity goals. In two studies, high and low self-monitors were asked to create their own advertisements for various products. When advertising multiple function products, high self-monitors preferred to use social identity arguments, whereas low self-monitors preferred to use utilitarian arguments. However, both high and low self-monitors preferred to use utilitarian arguments for advertising utilitarian products, and social identity arguments for social identity products. This pattern became stronger when subjects were explicitly instructed to write ads that they themselves would find persuasive (rather than ads designed to appeal to a general audience). Overall, these results suggest that self-monitoring affects the way in which people perceive certain products, rather than the absolute importance or salience of utilitarian versus social identity features across products.
[ to cite ]:
Sharon Shavitt and Tina M. Lowrey (1992) ,"Attitude Functions in Advertising Effectiveness: the Interactive Role of Product Type and Personality Type", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 323-328.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 323-328

ATTITUDE FUNCTIONS IN ADVERTISING EFFECTIVENESS: THE INTERACTIVE ROLE OF PRODUCT TYPE AND PERSONALITY TYPE

Sharon Shavitt, University of Illinois

Tina M. Lowrey, University of Illinois

[The authors would like to thank Becky Blaker, Sang-pil Han, and Michelle Zasi for their assistance in data collection and coding. We are also grateful to the University of Illinois Social Cognition Group for insightful comments and suggestions regarding this research.]

ABSTRACT -

Several studies have shown that high self-monitors tend to prefer ads that focus on social identity concerns, whereas low self-monitors tend to prefer utilitarian appeals. Other studies have shown that products themselves differ in the extent to which they are associated with utilitarian versus social identity functions. Based on these findings, it was hypothesized that differences between high and low self-monitors in their ad preferences would be manifested most strongly for products that can be thought of in terms of both utilitarian and social identity goals. In two studies, high and low self-monitors were asked to create their own advertisements for various products. When advertising multiple function products, high self-monitors preferred to use social identity arguments, whereas low self-monitors preferred to use utilitarian arguments. However, both high and low self-monitors preferred to use utilitarian arguments for advertising utilitarian products, and social identity arguments for social identity products. This pattern became stronger when subjects were explicitly instructed to write ads that they themselves would find persuasive (rather than ads designed to appeal to a general audience). Overall, these results suggest that self-monitoring affects the way in which people perceive certain products, rather than the absolute importance or salience of utilitarian versus social identity features across products.

Several recent studies have shown that individuals who are high versus low in self-monitoring (Snyder, 1974) differ in the types of messages that they find persuasive (DeBono, 1987; DeBono & Harnish, 1988; DeBono & Packer, 1991; Snyder & DeBono, 1985, 1987). In the product domain, low self-monitors tend to be concerned with dimensions related to product quality, such as the taste of a brand of whiskey or the cleaning performance of a shampoo. Thus, advertisements that focus on the inherent qualities and benefits of the product appear to be particularly effective for low self-monitors. High self-monitors, in contrast, tend to be concerned with the self-presentational significance of products, such as the popular or successful image associated with using a certain brand of whiskey, shampoo, etc. Thus, ads that focus on the impressions created by using the product tend to be especially effective for high self-monitors (DeBono & Packer, 1991; Snyder & DeBono, 1985).

These differences between high and low self-monitors have been obtained repeatedly across a number of products and advertisements (DeBono & Packer, 1991; Snyder & DeBono, 1985, 1987). The impressive consistency in these results suggests that self-monitoring is tapping a fundamental difference in the motives that individuals associate with products. That is, high and low self-monitors may differ in the psychological functions that their product attitudes tend to serve (Snyder & DeBono, 1987, 1989).

Functional theories proposed that attitudes serve important psychological functions for individuals, and that attitudes could be classified according to the functions they met (Smith, Bruner, & White, 1956; Katz, 1960; Kelman, 1958, 1961). Various functions have been proposed, but two functional categories in particular seem relevant to the motives that distinguish low versus high self-monitors' product attitudes: utilitarian and social identity functions. Utilitarian attitudes function to summarize one's positive and negative experiences with objects and to guide behaviors that maximize rewards. Low self-monitors, who tend to be concerned with the qualities and benefits associated with products, seem likely to have product attitudes that serve a utilitarian function. Attitudes can also function to express one's identity and obtain social approval (incorporating the social-adjustment and value-expressive functions that others have proposed). High self-monitors, who tend to be concerned with their public image and social appropriateness, seem likely to have attitudes that serve this social identity function.

In the present studies, we investigated the conditions under which individual differences in self-monitoring would be associated with the sharpest differences in attitude functions. Previous research, involving a number of products and judgment tasks, has consistently demonstrated that high and low self-monitors differ in their focus on utilitarian versus social identity considerations when making their judgments (DeBono & Packer, 1991; Snyder & DeBono, 1985, 1987). One might expect the magnitude of these differences to vary depending on whether a situation or product afforded high and low self-monitors the opportunity to focus on different functional goals. When only one goal is salient (e.g., a utilitarian goal of finding an effective headache remedy), systematic differences between high and low self-monitors should not be expected. Both high and low self-monitors would likely focus on the same product dimensions. However, when opportunities to pursue both utilitarian and social identity goals are present, high and low self-monitors should differ in their focus on image versus quality dimensions. In short, we expected the magnitude of the differences as a function of self-monitoring to be sensitive to factors that activate the different goals of the high and low self-monitor.

One factor that may determine, or limit, one's opportunities to pursue different goals is the product itself. Products differ in the extent to which they engage particular attitude functions (Shavitt, 1989, 1990). Some products seem to serve primarily a single type of goal. For example, an air conditioner serves primarily utilitarian goals of obtaining comfort and relief from heat. Thus, attitudes toward an air conditioner are most likely to serve a utilitarian function, guiding the purchase and use of the product so as to maximize its rewards. In contrast, attitudes toward university banners or decals are most likely to serve primarily a social identity function because they are highly expressive of one's identity and can be used to obtain social acceptance. Although there are certainly exceptions and limitations to the links between products and attitude functions (see Shavitt, 1990), it is possible to identify products that are primarily associated with a single attitude function in most contexts.

Importantly, these distinctions between products have implications for the persuasiveness of advertising appeals. For utilitarian products, quality-based appeals tend to be more effective than image-based appeals, whereas the reverse is true for social identity products (Shavitt, 1990).

Of course, many products serve multiple purposes. For example, sunglasses serve both the utilitarian purpose of providing protection from the sun as well as the social identity purpose of self-expression. Thus, sunglasses may elicit attitudes that serve either a utilitarian or a social identity function or both, and effective ads for such products could involve a variety of arguments, including utilitarian and social identity appeals.

The present studies investigate how such product characteristics interact with individual differences in self-monitoring to influence the persuasiveness of image-based versus quality-based ads. We predicted that self-monitoring effects would be manifested more strongly for some product categories than for others. Specifically, to the extent that a product could be thought of in terms of both utilitarian and social identity goals (i.e., a multiple function product), high self-monitors should prefer image appeals, whereas low self-monitors should prefer quality appeals. However, when judging the persuasiveness of appeals for products that primarily engage a single function, both high and low self-monitors might prefer appeals that focus on how well the product fulfills that function.

This hypothesis was tested in two separate studies using a unique methodology. Past research in this area has measured individuals' attitudinal reactions to completed messages created by the investigators. In the present experiments, subjects were asked to create their own advertisements. We then coded the functional content of these ads. In this manner, subjects were not restricted to considering any particular set of claims. They could present in their own words whatever arguments they felt would be most persuasive.

STUDY ONE

In the first study, 67 introductory advertising students were asked to write advertisements for three products: The utilitarian product was an air conditioner, the multiple function product was a watch, and the social identity product was a university class ring. Selection of these products was based on previous research, which had established the attitude functions typically associated with these products by our subjects (Shavitt, Han, Kim & Tillman, 1988). Products were presented in counterbalanced order. Subjects were first asked to write a headline and then to write the copy for a fictitious brand of each product.

Instructions emphasized that subjects should not be concerned with the writing style of the ad. Rather, we wanted to know what approach they considered to be the most persuasive. After finishing the first ad, subjects repeated the same procedure for each of the other two products. Subjects found this to be a fairly easy task, taking less than five minutes to write each ad.

Next, for each product, subjects received a printed list of eight product claims from which they were asked to select the three they felt would be the most convincing to include in an ad for the product. Each list contained four utilitarian and four social identity claims, as determined by pre-tests. Importantly, each claim was presented in the list for two of the three products. For example, "highest quality workmanship," a utilitarian claim, appeared in the list for both air conditioners and class rings. "Instantly recognizable and always impressive," a social identity claim, appeared in the list for both watches and class rings. Thus, the inherent quality or persuasiveness of the claims was held constant across products.

After selecting the product claims and rating their overall attitudes and degree of interest in each product, subjects filled out the 25-item Self-Monitoring Scale (Snyder, 1974).

Results

Both the headlines and the copy subjects wrote were coded independently by two trained judges into a number of categories, the primary ones being utilitarian and social identity. Utilitarian statements included claims about the product's quality, features, and rewards. Social identity arguments included claims about the product's image, what it symbolizes or communicates to others, and how others feel about the product. In addition, there was a category for headlines or copy that appealed to multiple functions. See Shavitt (1990) for a complete description of the coding categories. Inter-judge agreement was reasonably high (73% agreement on headline classifications and 80% agreement on copy classifications), and disagreements were coded independently by a third judge. The copy was also coded along a 7-point scale indicating the degree to which it focused on utilitarian versus social benefits (1=completely social, 7=completely utilitarian). The average inter-judge correlation for this coding was .70.

TABLE 1

STUDY 1: MEANS FOR CODING OF COPY ON FUNCTION SCALE

In order to be able to detect sensitively the relation between self-monitoring and appeal choice, we chose to do analyses that contrasted the highest and lowest thirds of the self-monitoring distribution. Forty-six subjects were included in these analyses. (Results based on a median-split were similar to comparisons of the more extreme groups, but the significance levels of the self-monitoring effects were typically weaker.)

Many of the headlines could not be confidently coded into any function category because they consisted only of a catchy phrase (e.g., "Time Flies With Avanti") or the brand name (this was true for 67% of high self-monitors' watch headlines). Coding of the copy was more straightforward. Mean copy coding scores along the 7-point function scale are shown in Table 1. (Coding the copy into discrete function categories yielded similar results.) As expected, copy content differed as a function of the product being advertised (F(2, 70)=52.86; p<.0001), with air conditioner eliciting the most utilitarian copy. Moreover, both high and low self-monitors wrote utilitarian copy for advertising the air conditioner. In contrast, for watch and class ring, the degree of focus on utilitarian features appeared to differ for high versus low self-monitors. However, the self-monitoring X product interaction was not significant (F(2, 70)=.89; n.s.).

For each product, subjects had been asked to select 3 out of a list of 8 product claims (4 utilitarian and 4 social identity) that they would wish to use in their ad (see Table 2). As expected, the types of claims chosen differed as a function of the product being advertised (F(2, 80)=96.88; p<.0001). Both high and low self-monitors chose primarily utilitarian claims for advertising the air conditioner and social identity claims for advertising the class ring. More social identity than utilitarian claims were also chosen for advertising the watch (the multiple function product), but self-monitoring appeared to moderate the extent to which this occurred. The self-monitoring X product interaction was not significant (F(2, 80)=.61; n.s.), but planned comparisons showed that high self-monitors selected significantly more social identity than utilitarian claims for watches, whereas low self-monitors chose both types of claims equally often.

Additional analyses revealed that high and low self-monitors did not differ in their attitudes or degree of interest in these products.

Discussion

Consistent with previous research (Shavitt, 1990), product type strongly influenced the functional content of subjects' ads. Subjects used mostly quality-based arguments when advertising the utilitarian product, and mostly image-based arguments when advertising the social identity product.

We had also predicted that differences between high and low self-monitors' ads would emerge primarily when advertising a multiple function product (a watch). Indeed, when selecting product claims for use in advertising the watch, high and low self-monitors differed in their focus on quality versus image arguments. High self-monitors preferred image arguments, whereas low self-monitors did not show a clear preference. High and low self-monitors were not found to differ in their liking of these products or in their degree of interest in them. Thus, any differences in the ad arguments that high and low self-monitors selected apparently were not due to differences in their product attitudes.

However, differences as a function of self-monitoring did not emerge reliably for the copy that subjects wrote themselves. Possibly subjects believed they were expected to write ads that would be persuasive for the general population, rather than for themselves personally. In response, they may have written ads that were prototypic of those they had previously seen for these products. If that were the case, one would not necessarily expect differences in self-monitoring to translate into differences in the ads that subjects wrote. In the next study, the instructions were modified to emphasize that subjects should write ads that they themselves would find persuasive. Also, new measures were added to assist in coding the functional meaning of subjects' headlines.

STUDY TWO

A replication was conducted with 62 students from the same advertising class. In order to assess the generalizability of the Study 1 findings, a different set of products was used: The utilitarian product was aspirin, the multiple function product was sunglasses, and the social identity product was a university flag (these are popular items that students attach to their car or dormitory windows). Selection of these products was based on previous research (Shavitt, et al., 1988; Shavitt, 1990).

TABLE 2

STUDY 1: MEAN NUMBER OF UTILITARIAN AND SOCIAL IDENTITY PRODUCT CLAIMS CHOSEN BY SUBJECTS

TABLE 3

STUDY 2: PERCENTAGE OF HEADLINES IN EACH FUNCTION CATEGORY

The procedure was very similar to that of Study 1, with a few exceptions. Instructions emphasized that subjects should write ads designed to appeal to themselves personally, not to other consumers. After writing all three ads, subjects were asked to write a brief explanation of each headline. This was included to assist in coding the headlines. Subjects in this study were not asked to select product claims to use in ads (as in Study 1). The products in this study differed from each other too greatly to allow us to generate valid claims that could be shared between products.

Results

Ads were coded in the same manner as in Study 1. When coding the headlines, judges were free to consult subjects' explanations to help interpret them. As a result, the functional meaning of most headlines could readily be coded. (It should be noted that subjects' codings of their headlines yielded a pattern consistent with the judges' coding.) Judges agreed on 79% of their headline classifications and 77% of their copy classifications. On the 7-point functional scale, the average inter-judge correlation was .63.

TABLE 4

STUDY 2: MEANS FOR CODING OF COPY ON FUNCTION SCALE

As in Study 1, analyses were conducted contrasting the lowest and highest thirds of the self-monitoring distribution (N=40 subjects). (Results based on a median-split were very similar.)

As predicted, the functional content of headlines differed strongly for different products (see Table 3). Virtually all of the headlines written by both high and low self-monitors focused on utilitarian features for aspirin and on social identity for the university flag. For the sunglasses (multiple function product), as expected, there was a mixture of headline types, with low self-monitors writing more utilitarian headlines and fewer social identity headlines than high self-monitors. This 2 X 2 pattern, however, was not statistically significant (chi-square=.34, n.s.).

Mean copy coding scores along the 7-point function scale are shown in Table 4. (Coding the copy into discrete functional categories yielded similar results.) As with the headlines, copy content differed as a function of the product being advertised (F(2, 58)=102.43; p<.0001).

Both high and low self-monitors wrote utilitarian copy for advertising the aspirin and social identity copy for advertising the university flag. In contrast, for the sunglasses, the type of copy written by high versus low self-monitors differed, with high self-monitors writing more social identity copy and low self-monitors writing more utilitarian copy. Although the self-monitoring X product interaction was not significant (F(2, 58)=1.52; n.s.), planned comparisons indicated that high and low self-monitors differed significantly in the copy they wrote for sunglasses, but not for the other products (see Table 4).

Additional analyses revealed that high self-monitors rated their attitudes and degree of interest in the products higher than low self-monitors did. This was true for each of the three products.

Discussion

As in Study 1, product type strongly influenced the types of ads that subjects judged to be persuasive. For both headlines and copy, subjects used primarily quality-based arguments when advertising the utilitarian product, and primarily image-based arguments when advertising the social identity product. Also as predicted, differences between high and low self-monitors' ads emerged most strongly when advertising a multiple function product (sunglasses). For sunglasses, which could be viewed in terms of both utilitarian and social identity goals, high self-monitors tended to write image-based ads, whereas low self-monitors tended to write quality-based ads.

The fact that subjects were explicitly instructed to write ads designed to appeal to themselves increases confidence in our interpretation of these results in terms of the persuasiveness of appeals. That is, subjects' ads apparently reflected differences in what they personally would find to be persuasive arguments for purchasing a given product, rather than differences in what they felt would convince others or differences in the ads they had previously seen for the products. Furthermore, our interpretation of subjects' headlines was guided by subjects' own explanations of the functional meaning of what they had written.

In this study, high self-monitors gave more favorable attitude and interest ratings to all of the products. Although it is not clear why high self-monitors would express more favorable views toward aspirin, sunglasses, and university flags than would low self-monitors, it is difficult to see how this could account for the pattern we observed in the types of ads they wrote. Whereas high and low self-monitors' attitude ratings differed for aspirin and university flags, the predominant functional content of high and low self-monitors' ads did not. That is, attitudinal differences did not correspond with functional differences in the persuasiveness of appeals.

GENERAL DISCUSSION

Overall, the present studies suggest that product characteristics interact with individual differences in self-monitoring to influence the persuasiveness of quality-based versus image-based appeals. Across two studies, when designing advertisements for multiple function products, high self-monitors chose to use social identity arguments to a greater extent and utilitarian arguments to a lesser extent than did low self-monitors. However, high and low self-monitors did not differ in their choice of arguments for advertising other products: Both high and low self-monitors chose to use mostly utilitarian arguments for advertising utilitarian products, and mostly social identity arguments for advertising social identity products.

Our findings are consistent with several previous studies that have shown that high and low self-monitors differ in their focus on utilitarian versus social identity considerations when making product judgments (DeBono & Packer, 1991; Snyder & DeBono, 1985, 1987). However, the results provide some clarification of the role of self-monitoring in the functions served by attitudes toward products. Our findings suggest that high and low self-monitors differ in the way they perceive certain products, rather than in the absolute importance or salience of utilitarian versus social identity features across products. That is, self-monitoring seems to come into play primarily when a product could be thought of in terms of more than one feature or goal, leading people to focus selectively on one type of feature versus another.

Thus, when a product offers opportunities to pursue both utilitarian and social identity goals, high self-monitors tend to evaluate the product in image-based terms and low self-monitors tend to evaluate the product in quality-based terms. However, when one function or goal is predominantly salient with respect to a product, high and low self-monitors appear to evaluate the product in similar terms, and judge similar types of arguments to be persuasive for selling the product.

The present findings also provide support for the validity of the product category distinctions we have proposed. Consistent with previous research on the functions that tend to be associated with particular products (Shavitt, 1990), product type strongly influenced the functional content of the ads that subjects wrote. Importantly, we were able to predict a priori whether a product would be promoted predominantly based on its value for achieving utilitarian goals, social identity goals, or both. Subjects' responses validated these predictions in most cases. Thus, it appears possible to identify a priori those products for which high and low self-monitors' responses should differ the most.

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