&Quot;An Advertising Potpourri&Quot;: Some Comments and a Unifying Theme

David W. Stewart, University of Southern California
ABSTRACT - This paper offers a discussion of three papers that deal with the affects of advertising content. The discussion briefly reviews the contribution of each paper and the issues for future research raised by each paper. It concludes with a call for more attention to the characteristics and content of the stimuli to which consumers are exposed and to which they respond.
[ to cite ]:
David W. Stewart (1994) ,"&Quot;An Advertising Potpourri&Quot;: Some Comments and a Unifying Theme", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 310-311.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Pages 310-311


David W. Stewart, University of Southern California


This paper offers a discussion of three papers that deal with the affects of advertising content. The discussion briefly reviews the contribution of each paper and the issues for future research raised by each paper. It concludes with a call for more attention to the characteristics and content of the stimuli to which consumers are exposed and to which they respond.


The collection of three papers in this session certainly deserves the title, "potpourri". It is a challenge to identify a unifying theme in such diverse papers. Nevertheless, there is a common theme that is shared by these papers. Before turning to this theme, if is useful to consider each paper. I will consider each paper in alphabetical order, then turn to some unifying themes.


An "African American Vernacular English in Advertising: A Sociolinguistic Study" by Jennifer Escalas offers the compelling argument that how something is said is as important as what is said. There is no doubt that specific vernacular or dialects are underrepresented in advertising relative to their frequency of use in the general population. It also almost certainly the case that offering information in a vernacular or dialect that is similar to that used by the message recipient increases the effectiveness of the communication, at least with respect to some measures. It is less clear just which measures of effectiveness may be influenced by the use of familiar vernacular. An interesting set of empirical questions revolve around how the use of familiar vernacular affects such varied measures as attention, recall, memory, likeability, believability, attitude, intention, and actual choice of a product. It may be that vernacular influences some of these measures more than others. It may also be the case that familiar vernacular indirectly affects some measures of advertising effectiveness through direct effects on other measures. For example, likeability for an ad that uses familiar vernacular may in turn influence attitude toward the product, which in turn may influence purchase intention or choice.

A second set of questions that surrounds the use of vernacular or dialect focuses on the effects of such usage on consumers who are do not use the vernacular. Various vernaculars and dialects are often associated with stereotypes which may not be positive. On the other hand, it is useful to recognize that vernacular and dialect play a powerful role in literature, cinema, and theater. Vernacular has been used as a defining characteristic of personalities by such writers as Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams. There may well be circumstances when the use of vernacular or dialect can help define the identity of a product or service among individuals regardless of whether they use the vernacular. This is a relatively unexplored domain, but one might speculate that vernacular is a potentially important component of advertising that uses a dramatic approach (Wells 1989).


The content of advertising is also the focus of the paper entitled "An Expose on Green Television Ads" by Iyer, Banerjee and Gulas. This paper is an interesting effort to examine the rise of "green" marketing as represented in advertising. The authors offer a useful coding system for the content of green advertisements. The coding system captures the structure, strategy, tactics, and issues that compose green advertising. Although the content coding system is offered as an approach for examining the content of green ads, much of it could be readily applied to advertising in general. Indeed, an examination of advertising for green products might well be expanded by considering how advertising for such products differs from advertising in general.

The general conclusion of the authors, that advertising for green products tends to be shallow, associated with domestic consumable products, uses women as spokespersons, and employs testimonials might well describe most television advertising. Stewart and Furse (1986) and Stewart and Koslow (1989) report data on advertising that demonstrates that women are the most frequent and most effective spokespersons in advertising for consumer package goods. Thirty-second, or 15-second commercials almost by definition must be rather superficial. What is surprising about the findings reported by Iyer, Banerjee, and Gulas is that green ads appear to be as superficial as other ads. Perhaps this reflects the nature of the medium; there is only so much depth of information that fits in a 30 or 15 second commercial. Such superficiality may also reflect the conclusion by advertisers that "green" is just one more decision making heuristic that happens to appeal to a particular segment of the market. Yet another explanation for the apparent superficiality of green ads is the desire by advertisers to avoid the appearance of radicalism while still appealing to green sensitivities.

It may be that television, in its present form as an advertising medium, is a superficial medium. The authors suggest that television is more amenable to deeper portrayals than print. This is almost certainly true, but the capability of a medium is different from the realization of that capability. The potential of television as medium for communication, particularly advertising messages remains largely untapped for all products and services.


"A Re-examination of the Relative Persuasiveness of Comparative and Noncomparative Advertising" by Miniard, Barone, Rose, and Manning is also focused on the content of advertising, but in a more narrow sense that the other two papers. Miniard, Barone, Rose and Manning are specifically concerned with contrasting the relative effectiveness of advertising that contains comparative claims with advertising that does not contain such claims. These authors are to be commended for using products that are representative of those used by their sample of respondents and for using ads that are relatively representative of real ads for products that actually exist. This adds a dimension of generalizability to their findings that is not always present in advertising research.

The authors report that the relative effectiveness of comparative versus noncomparative claims appears to be a function, at least in part, of whether the measure of effectiveness employed uses a relative scale or an absolute scale. They suggest that a relative scale is a better measure of advertising effectiveness for comparative claims, while absolute measures are better for noncomparative advertising messages. They argue that this difference in the efficacy of measures is a function of the compatibility of measures with differences in the encoding of advertising messages that follows receipt of comparative claims versus noncomparative claims. This is an intuitively appealing proposition but it raises questions about how advertising executions might be compared. If different measures produce differ results based on the nature of the communication, comparisons become an attempt to compare apples and oranges. It is unclear how an execution should be evaluated and selected in such cases.

Miniard, Barone, Rose, and Manning contrast their results with those obtained by Pechmann and Stewart (1990) in an earlier study of comparative advertising. It is not at all clear that such a comparison of the two studies is appropriate. In contrast to the Miniard, Barone, Rose and Manning (MBRM) study, the Pechmann and Stewart (1990) paper focused on the role of attention on advertising response. Thus, unlike MBRM they did not use a forced exposure technique. Indeed, Pechmann and Stewart (1990) report that only 35% of their respondents actually read the ads and their respondents were more likely to read ads that mentioned products they already used. Pechmann and Stewart (1990) measured purchase intention twenty-four hours after advertising exposure rather than immediately following (as MBRM did), they examined comparative advertising for high, low and moderate share brands (MBRM appear to have examined comparative advertising for only a high share brand), and they used rather different measures from those employed by MBRM.

Given the considerable differences in procedures, measures, and foci of the two papers it is not surprising that differences exist in the findings of the two studies. The results offered by MBRM are interesting in their own right, but contrasting the results with a very different study does not appear to be very useful and may obscure some important reasons for the differences that are present.

One other finding of MBRM is intriguing. Their results would appear to suggest that when product attributes are correlated, consumers make inferences from an explicit claim about one of these attributes to the associated but unmentioned attribute. While this finding is intuitive it raises some interesting issues about the ability of advertising to deceive when attributes that are perceived to be correlated by consumers are not actually associated in the context of a given product. This is an issue that deserves further attention from researchers.


Taken together the three papers suggest that researchers might well give more attention to the content of advertising to which consumers respond. There is a tendency in much advertising research to hold most of the content of advertising stimuli constant in order to achieve sufficient control to examine specific cognitive processes used by consumers. This is a perfectly appropriate approach when the objective of research is the examination of cognitive processes, but it has the disadvantage of obscuring the variety of advertising stimuli to which consumers are exposed. Greater attention to advertising content as it appears in a more natural environment may well expand both the range of stimuli about which information is available and the types of processes that are discovered to be at work in response to advertising. Unfortunately, only one of the studies, MBRM, examines the relationship of content differences and measures of advertising effectiveness. More attention to advertising content as it relates to advertising's impact on measures of advertising performance would be a welcome contribution to research in the future.


Escalas, Jennifer (1994), "African American Vernacular English in Advertising: A Sociolinguistic Study," in Chris Allen and Debra Roedder John (Eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 20 (Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research).

Iyer, Easwar, Bobby Banerjee, and Charles Gulas (1994), "An Expose on Green Television Ads," in Chris Allen and Debra Roedder John (Eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 20 (Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research).

Miniard, Paul W., Michael J. Barone, Randall L. Rose, and Kenneth C. Manning (1994), "A Re-Examination of Comparative and Noncomparative Advertising," in Chris Allen and Debra Roedder John (Eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 20 (Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research).

Pechmann, Cornelia and David W. Stewart (1990), "The Effects of Comparative Advertising on Attention, Memory, and Purchase Intention," Journal of Consumer Research, 30 (September), 180-191.

Stewart, David W. and David H. Furse (1986), Effective Television Advertising: A Study of 1000 Commercials, (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books).

Stewart, David W. and Scott Koslow (1989), Executional Factors and Advertising Effectiveness: A Replication, Journal of Advertising, 1989, 18 (3), 21-32.

Wells, William D. (1989), "Lectures and Drama," in Patricia Cafferata and Alice Tybout (Eds.), Cognitive and Affective Responses to Advertising, (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books).