Visual/Verbal Processing Issues in Advertising Research: Some New Topics and Perspectives

Siva K. Balasubramanian, Southern Illinois University
Susan Heckler, University of Arizona
[ to cite ]:
Siva K. Balasubramanian and Susan Heckler (1993) ,"Visual/Verbal Processing Issues in Advertising Research: Some New Topics and Perspectives", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 272.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Page 272


Siva K. Balasubramanian, Southern Illinois University

Susan Heckler, University of Arizona



he influence of visual/verbal elements in advertising information processing has evolved into a major research theme in recent years. Much of this research has examined how information presented in either or both of these formats is remembered, or how such information influences the evaluation of ads or advertised products. In contrast, the common theme of papers presented in this special session was to address unexplored, and interesting research issues in visual/verbal processing. Notwithstanding the tight focus on the visual/verbal domain, the session provided variety by covering a wide range of germane topics, and by representing several methods e.g., literature reviews, experiments, and content analyses.


Balasubramanian discussed why the individual's ability to process visual/verbal information qualifies as an important variable in advertising research. His research examined inter-relationships between five ability measures of visual/verbal processing. The pattern of low correlations among these measures highlighted the need to carefully match the domain tapped by a particular ability measure with the domain most relevant to the research purpose. He then discussed ways to overcome any potentially adverse impact from visual/verbal ability factors through motivational factors; for example, will degraded visual stimuli cause individuals with low visual processing ability to pay more attention to a visually dominated message? Preliminary results supporting this hypothesis were presented.

The next paper by Thorson & Hitchon examined cross-cultural differences in the emphasis on visual/verbal channels in ads. Based upon a content analysis of a sample of British and U.S. television ads, these researchers found that (a) U.S. ads are characterized by a greater reliance on words (verbal text), (b) the visual content of American ads feature or demonstrate the brand more often than in British ads, and (c) the British visuals are more connotative and less denotative. These findings were placed in the context of (a) greater cynicism of British audiences toward the media, and (b) relatively greater use of drama (as opposed to lecture) execution style in U.K.

Edell and Keller investigated another new issue in visual/verbal processing - the coordination of advertising campaigns across media. Specifically, they examined whether exposure to a message in one medium (e.g., TV) affects visual/verbal processing of a similar message in another medium (e.g., Print). A central hypothesis of this study was that print reinforcement (seeing the TV ad first, followed by exposure to the print ad version) results in greater processing of the verbal information in the print ad than a single or repeated exposure to the print ad. Further, this greater degree of verbal information processing should result in better recall of the brand and the claims presented in the ad. Interestingly, the authors did not find support for their hypotheses. Continuing research efforts are in progress to investigate the processes underlying these unexpected findings.

Finally, Heckler and Peracchio presented a study which integrated two recent conceptual additions to the body of visual processing research: (a) the role of aesthetic ad elements (such as camera angle, close-up versus distant perspective etc.), and (b) the role of incongruency in elaborative processing. The researchers delineated ways in which aesthetic ad elements and incongruency affect the processing and evaluation of advertising information. A study was conducted which showed that when pictorial information was expected, subjects utilized a heuristic based upon camera angle to form product evaluations. Alternatively, unexpected pictorial information created more elaborative processing of the ad, and the camera angle had no effect.