A Preliminary Examination of the Effects of Context-Induced Felt Ethnicity on Advertising Effectiveness

David B. Wooten, Columbia University
Tiffany Galvin, Northwestern University
ABSTRACT - Previous examinations of advertising context effects have investigated the relationship between various context-induced emotions (e.g., sadness, happiness, involvement) and advertising performance. This research considers felt ethnicity as a context-induced feeling state which may also influence various measures of advertising effectiveness. A pilot study was conducted to investigate how the advertising context can influence one's level of ethnic awareness which, in turn, can affect the performance of the embedded advertisement.
[ to cite ]:
David B. Wooten and Tiffany Galvin (1993) ,"A Preliminary Examination of the Effects of Context-Induced Felt Ethnicity on Advertising Effectiveness", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 253-256.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 253-256

A PRELIMINARY EXAMINATION OF THE EFFECTS OF CONTEXT-INDUCED FELT ETHNICITY ON ADVERTISING EFFECTIVENESS

David B. Wooten, Columbia University

Tiffany Galvin, Northwestern University

ABSTRACT -

Previous examinations of advertising context effects have investigated the relationship between various context-induced emotions (e.g., sadness, happiness, involvement) and advertising performance. This research considers felt ethnicity as a context-induced feeling state which may also influence various measures of advertising effectiveness. A pilot study was conducted to investigate how the advertising context can influence one's level of ethnic awareness which, in turn, can affect the performance of the embedded advertisement.

INTRODUCTION

The selection of an appropriate context for advertisements is important because ad context may affect advertising effectiveness (e.g., Yi 1990). In fact, the relationship between ad context and ad effectiveness has been listed among the top research priorities of advertisers and ad agency executives (Schultz 1979).

Previous researchers have examined the effects of advertising context on attitude toward the ad (Krugman 1983; Mattes and Cantor 1982; Soldow and Principe 1981; Yi 1990) and ad recall (Goldberg and Gorn 1987; Horn and McEwen 1977; Lambert 1980; Murphy et al. 1979; Pavelchak et al. 1988; Srull 1983), two common measures of advertising effectiveness. Findings on the relationship between ad context and advertising effectiveness have been equivocal. For example, Soldow and Principe (1981) found that interesting programs reduced advertising effectiveness. Krugman (1983), on the other hand, found that ads embedded in interesting programs were more effective than ads embedded in less interesting programs. Similar mixed results have been found to the impact of advertising context on commercial recall. For example, Mattes and Cantor (1982) found no relationship between context-induced arousal and recall, while Goldberg and Gorn (1987) found recall to be enhanced when the ad is embedded in a "happy" program. These mixed results suggest the need for additional research to increase our understanding of the effects of advertising context on commercial performance.

Meanwhile, a separate stream of research has sought to examine the influence of ethnicity on consumer behavior (e.g., Hirschman 1981; Deshpande et al. 1986; Stayman and Deshpande 1989). These studies have concluded that one's intensity of ethnic affiliation may affect how an individual behaves as a consumer. The present study seeks to merge the two separate research streams by investigating the relationships among advertising context, intensity of ethnic identification, and responsiveness to advertising. Specifically, we examine how the ad context influences felt ethnicity which, in turn, affects the recall and liking of an ethnic advertisement (Figure 1).

HYPOTHESES

Felt Ethnicity

Early examinations of the impact of ethnicity on consumer behavior have largely been criticized for two reasons. First, the studies have been "post hoc in design and descriptive in nature" (Hirschman 1981). Apparently, little effort had been devoted to developing a priori hypotheses regarding intergroup differences.

A second criticism of previous approaches involves the measurement of ethnic group membership with a single indicator which often considers only the researcher's perceptions of one's ethnicity (Hirschman 1981). For example, country or origin, surname, and language spoken at home have all been used individually to classify Hispanics (Stayman and Deshpande 1989). An obvious limitation of this approach is that it is inappropriate for groups (e.g., African-Americans) which are indistinguishable from Anglos on these characteristics. This approach also ignores the individual's perceptions of his own ethnicity, which may be more closely related to how he behaves as a consumer. Finally, this approach treats ethnicity as a stable sociological trait of an individual rather than as a transitory psychological state that is, at least partly, situationally determined (Stayman and Deshpande 1989).

The latter criticism has been addressed by Stayman and Deshpande (1989) who studied the effects of felt ethnicity on consumer behavior. In their model of situational ethnicity and consumption, the authors examine external influences on an individual's level of ethnic awareness. They proposed that individuals may face certain situations which influence their level of ethnic awareness. Stayman and Deshpande found support for their hypothesis that felt ethnicity is influenced by self-designated ethnicity and an antecedent state. In their study, the antecedent state was manipulated by exposing Mexican-American or Asian-American students to information about hiring biases that may or may not be relevant to their particular ethnic group.

The present study extends the results of Stayman and Deshpande by using a similar manipulation but a different ethnic group. Specifically, situational ethnicity will be manipulated by exposing African-American students to a controversial race-related article. The article represents the context in which an advertisement will be embedded. Hence, the context in which the ad appears should affect the reader's level of felt ethnicity. Thus, we hypothesize the following relationship between advertising context and felt ethnicity:

H1: African-Americans who are exposed to a race-oriented article will report a higher level of felt ethnicity than will African-Americans who are exposed to an article that does not mention race.

Advertising Context and Ad Recall

Previous examinations of the relationship between advertising context and commercial performance have attempted to relate both intensity (Goldberg and Gorn 1987; Mattes and Cantor 1982; Pavelchak et al. 1988; Srull 1983) and valence (Goldberg and Gorn 1987; Pavelchak et al. 1988; Srull 1983) of context-induced arousal to ad recall. There appears to be evidence that the intensity of context-induced arousal has an effect on the recall of embedded ads. However, the conditions under which these effects are positive (e.g., Srull 1983) or negative (e.g., Pavelchak et al. 1988) remain unclear. Mixed results have also been found for the effects of valence of context-induced arousal on ad recall.

Other studies have attempted to relate recall performance to the similarity between the ad and its context (e.g., Lambert 1980; Murphy et al. 1979). Two conflicting results have emerged from these studies. Murphy et al. (1979) found support for the contrast principle as a way to increase attention to humorous ads. They suggest that humorous ads may be more effective when embedded in non-humorous program environments. This result is similar to the Von Restorff effect that has been demonstrated in free-recall experiments, where distinctive items are more easily recalled when they are embedded in an otherwise homogeneous list (Baddeley 1976).

FIGURE 1

PROPOSED MODEL OF FELT ETHNICITY AND ADVERTISING EFFECTIVENESS

Lambert (1980) reported the opposite, that congruity between the context and the message enhances recall of embedded ads. Theoretical support for this relationship is found in the organization theory of free recall (Lambert 1980). Congruent elements are more easily organized and stored as a single "chunk" in memory and are more easily retrieved as a unit. The accessibility of the ad message is enhanced by the greater number of retrieval cues associated with this chunk of information. Essentially, congruity between the ad message and its context should facilitate the organization of material in memory and improve the recall of that material (Isen 1984).

The contrast principle and the congruity principle offer conflicting predictions concerning the influence of the similarity between the ad context and the ad message on message recall. However, following the congruity principle, we expect recall of an ethnic ad to be enhanced when the ad is embedded in an article about ethnic issues. This improved recall performance should be due to the similarity between the context-induced mood and the mood induced by the ad. Therefore, we hypothesize the following relationship between advertising context and ad memorability:

H2: A race-oriented ad embedded in an article dealing with a race-related issue will be viewed as more memorable than the same ad embedded in a non-race-related article.

Advertising Context and Attitude Toward the Ad

Despite some mixed results (e.g., Bello et al. 1983; Srull 1983) there appears to be evidence of a positive effect of context-induced arousal on attitude toward the ad (Mattes and Cantor 1982), especially for positively valenced arousal (Srull 1983). These findings have been interpreted as support for the excitation transfer process which occurs when the residual arousal from a previously arousing event is misattributed to a subsequent stimulus (Cantor et al. 1974; Singh and Churchill 1987). Thus, excitation transfer intensifies the response to the latter stimulus (Mattes and Cantor 1982).

We expect to observe an excitation transfer when an ethnic ad is embedded in editorial material on a controversial ethnic issue. The article may arouse one's felt ethnicity, with any residual arousal being transferred to the ethnic ad. If the individual is favorably predisposed to the ad in question, then we may expect the excitation transfer process to lead to an increased liking of the ad. Therefore, we hypothesize the following relationship between advertising context and attitude toward the ad:

H3: A race-oriented ad embedded in a race-related article will be viewed more favorably than the same ad embedded in a non-race-ralated article (subject to a positive portrayal of the ethnic group member in the ad).

METHOD

Stimuli

The stimuli used in the study were mock newspapers consisting of a cover page, an article, and a full-page public-service ad featuring an African-American child actor. The cover page contained only the title of the newspaper and the headline of a cover story. The article began on the second page and continued on the fourth page, with the advertisement placed between the two pages of the article. There were two versions of the mock newspaper which differed only in the content of the article. The first version contained an article which expressed strong negative opinions about affirmative action programs and their direct beneficiaries. The second article discussed trends in television programming during the 1970's without discussing race or ethnicity.

Both articles and the ad were selected by three judges who assisted with the experiment. The articles were chosen to be roughly similar in terms of length, but substantially different in the amount of race-related content. The ad was selected because the judges agreed that it conveyed a positive message.

Experimental Design and Procedures

The study used a completely randomized design with two levels (ethnic and non-ethnic) or a single factor (ad context). The subjects were 34 African-American college students enrolled in the summer session at a large midwestern university. African-American students were chosen because of the accessibility of the students and the availability of an appropriate ad. Each subject was exposed to a mock newspaper and asked to examine its contents. A different stimulus was used to create each of the two factor levels. After examining the newspaper, each subject responded to a questionnaire which measured three dependent variables: felt ethnicity, ad memorability, and attitude toward the ad.

TABLE 1

ANOVA RESULTS

Three African-American undergraduate students were used as experimenters. The subjects and the experimenters were naive to the purpose of the study to minimize the possibility of demand artifacts.

Measures of Key Variables

Two measures were used for each dependent variable. The first measure of felt ethnicity required the subject to indicate (on a 7-point scale) the extent to which the article made one "think" about his own racial/ethnic identity. The second measure involved the extent of agreement with a statement that the article increased ones "awareness" of his racial/ethnic identity. The two measures were combined into an equally weighted scale (alpha = .870).

We examined ad memorability rather than ad recall since the ad was displayed so prominently that everyone recalled the ad. Ad memorability was measured by having subjects indicate how "memorable" the ad was and the extent to which they agreed that the ad was "not very easy to forget." These two measures were averaged to form an equally weighted scale (alpha = .837).

Finally, attitude toward the ad was assessed by having subjects respond to a question about the extent to which they "like" the ad. A second measure required subjects to indicate agreement with a statement that they "had very positive feelings" about the ad. These two measures were also averaged to form an equally weighted scale (alpha=.808).

RESULTS

Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to test the experimental hypotheses. The first hypothesis considers the relationship between advertising context and felt ethnicity. As expected, subjects in the "ethnic" condition reported a greater degree of felt ethnicity than did their counterparts in the "non-ethnic" condition (Table 1). The significant difference between groups (F(1,32) = 26.62; p < .0001) provides strong support for the hypothesis that advertising context and self-designated ethnicity combine to influence felt ethnicity.

The second hypothesis considers the relationship between context-induced felt ethnicity and the memorability of the ad. The difference in mean ad memorability ratings between the "ethnic" and the "non-ethnic" condition (5.38 vs. 4.71) was not statistically significant (F(1,32) = 2.53; p < .1219), but was in the anticipated direction. Therefore, the findings appear to favor the congruity principle over the contrast principle. However, the second hypothesis was not supported.

Finally, we examined the relationship between context-induced felt ethnicity and attitude toward an embedded ad. Attitude toward the ad differed significantly between the groups (F(1,32) = 14.61; p < .0006). African-Americans who were exposed to an African-American oriented ad embedded in a race-related article reported a significantly more favorable attitude toward the ad than did African-Americans who viewed the same ad, but in a non-race-related ad context. Therefore, our third hypothesis was supported.

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS

This study extends the work on situational ethnicity by considering the influence of ad context on felt ethnicity. More importantly, the study merges two separate research streams by relating advertising context-induced felt ethnicity to two common measures of advertising effectiveness. However, additional research is needed to examine this relationship when the ad appears in a less controversial context, since ethnic awareness may also be affected by exposure to favorable mentions of race or ethnicity. Future research should also attempt to extend these findings to other media and other ethnic groups.

The present study has a few limitations that should be discussed. First, the study used a small homogeneous sample and an artificial setting, both of which may limit the generalizability of the findings. However, the fact that statistical significance has been attained despite the small sample size is somewhat encouraging. Second, the study ignores any differences in the level of involvement associated with the two advertising contexts. Therefore, we have failed to eliminate involvement as an alternative explanation for the findings. However, despite the aforementioned limitations, this research contributes to our understanding of the relationship between ad context and advertising effectiveness by providing another instance where the advertising context enhances an individual's attitude toward the ad. Specifically, the study provides further support for the excitation transfer process by demonstrating that context-induced arousal may affect emotional responses to embedded ads. Additional research is needed to identify more contextual factors that affect advertising performance. Perhaps certain characteristics of the advertising context may enhance one measure of advertising effectiveness but inhibit another.

Finally, these findings are relevant to advertising practitioners for at least three reasons. First, this research suggests that advertisers should consider the interaction between ad content and ad context when testing advertising copy. Since the effects of ad messages vary across contexts, the context in which an ad is tested should resemble the actual ad environment (Yi 1990). Second, advertisers should be sensitive to advertising context effects especially during media scheduling. Congruity between the advertising content and the context in which the ad is embedded may enhance the memorability of the ad. Third, the present study suggests that the effectiveness of print advertisements targeting ethnic minorities may be aided by considering the interaction between the advertising message and the editorial environment. The ad message may elicit positive reactions among members of a particular ethnic group when the ad is viewed in isolation. However, attitudes toward the ad may be even more favorable when the advertisement is embedded in the appropriate ad context.

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