Is More Exposure Always Better? Effects of Incidental Exposure to a Brand Name on Subsequent Processing of Advertising

John W. Pracejus, University of Florida
ABSTRACT - This paper examines how repeated incidental exposures to an unfamiliar brand name interact with subsequent processing of an ad for the same brand. The two factors manipulated were the level of incidental preexposure and the argument strength of the ads. It was expected that preexposure would have a positive effect on brand evaluation. Preexposure was also expected to inflate the effect of the argument strength manipulation. Unexpectedly, preexposure was found to reduce the effect of argument strength upon brand evaluation. This unexpected finding may have implications for the role of product placement in an integrated marketing communications campaign.
[ to cite ]:
John W. Pracejus (1995) ,"Is More Exposure Always Better? Effects of Incidental Exposure to a Brand Name on Subsequent Processing of Advertising", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 319-322.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 319-322

IS MORE EXPOSURE ALWAYS BETTER? EFFECTS OF INCIDENTAL EXPOSURE TO A BRAND NAME ON SUBSEQUENT PROCESSING OF ADVERTISING

John W. Pracejus, University of Florida

[Completion of this research was facilitated by Leo Burnett USA, and the James Webb Young Fund. The author wishes to thank Tom O'Guinn, Sharon Shavitt, Bob Wyer, Al Muniz, Carl Kriegsman, The University of Illinios Social Cognition Group, Rich Lutz, John Lynhc, Joel Cohen, Luk Warlop, Michel Pham and the three ACR reviewers for their helpful comments and encouragement.]

ABSTRACT -

This paper examines how repeated incidental exposures to an unfamiliar brand name interact with subsequent processing of an ad for the same brand. The two factors manipulated were the level of incidental preexposure and the argument strength of the ads. It was expected that preexposure would have a positive effect on brand evaluation. Preexposure was also expected to inflate the effect of the argument strength manipulation. Unexpectedly, preexposure was found to reduce the effect of argument strength upon brand evaluation. This unexpected finding may have implications for the role of product placement in an integrated marketing communications campaign.

INTRODUCTION

While a large part of the promotional budget for most brands is spent on traditional persuasion, an increasing amount of money is spent each year on simply exposing the consumer to the brand name. An increasing number of companies (e.g. Coca-Cola) are paying motion picture and television producers in exchange for simply placing their product in a movie or television show (Fahey and Lafayette, 1991). Advertisers also make substantial expenditures placing their brand names on posters in sports arenas (Welling 1986).

Nebenzahl and Hornik (1985) found that recall for brand names placed in sports arenas is limited. Pham (1992) examined some of the potential moderators (e.g. arousal) of the effectiveness of this type of brand exposure. There seems to be, however, no empirical evidence as to how other elements of the marketing mix (e.g. ads) might moderate the effects of these exposures. Given the current level of interest in integrated marketing communications, it seems that the interaction between simple brand exposures (e.g logo only billboards at televised sporting events) and subsequent ads for those brands should be examined.

BACKGROUND LITERATURE

The theory of mere exposure (Zajonc, 1968) suggests that increasing exposure to a stimulus generally increases preference for that stimulus. Mere exposure effects have been found for a variety of stimuli, including Chinese ideographs (Saegert and Jellison, 1970), nonsense words (Berryman, 1984) and line drawings of various complexity, (Stang and O'Connell 1974). Translated into a marketing context, these findings suggest that a brand manager should try to obtain as many exposures to the brand name as possible.

This strategy, however, assumes that brand names, as stimuli, do induce the mere exposure effect. It is important, therefore, to determine the properties of stimuli which lead to strong mere exposure effects. Several characteristics of logo-only billboards placed in televised sporting events need to be examined.

Known brand names are "meaningful words", which Bornstein (1989) found to be the stimulus category associated with the largest mere exposure effect. It should be noted that some brand names are better at conveying meaning than others. Robertson (1989) reviews brand name characteristics which are considered desirable.

Logos are often visually simple, as opposed to complex. Simple visual stimuli have been shown to lead to stronger mere exposure effects than complex stimuli (Zajonc, 1972). During a televised game, exposure to billboards is frequent, often with durations of one to six seconds. Higher frequencies have been shown to increase the mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1974) and one to six seconds has been shown to be a good exposure duration for the effect (Bornstein, 1989). The findings of these studies lead to the following hypothesis:

H1: Repeated incidental exposures to an unfamiliar, relatively simple, brand name in a naturalistic setting, with exposure durations of one to six seconds have a positive effect on subject's subsequent ratings of attitude toward the brand and reported purchase intention.

In addition to the mere exposure effect, exposures to brand names could increase the likelihood of elaboration upon arguments made in subsequent advertisements, brochures or sales presentations for the product. If previous exposure increases subsequent elaboration upon the message argument, it's ultimate impact on persuasion will be moderated by the objective strength of these arguments (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986).

Petty and Cacioppo (1979) also find that arguments with high personal relevancy elicit greater argument scrutiny than do less personally relevant issues. A 2(message relevancy) by 2(argument strength) experiment found that the high involvement, high familiarity, groups showed a greater difference between strong and weak arguments, than did those in the low involvement, low familiarity groups.

Assuming that familiarity gained through mere exposure interacts in a manner similar to the familiarity/issue involvement construct proposed in the above studies leads to the following hypotheses:

H2: Subjects who have been repeatedly preexposed to a brand name are more affected by argument strength than are subjects who have not been preexposed.

METHOD

Overview

Subjects were either preexposed or not preexposed to an unfamiliar brand name. They were then allowed to view either a strong or weak argument for the brand. After incidental exposure to a brand name, and the opportunity to view an argument for this brand, the subjects were asked to evaluate the brand along several dimensions by filling out a questionnaire.

Subjects

Eighty-seven undergraduates at the University of Illinois participated in the study for course credit in Com 101, an introduction to mass communication. This course did not deal directly with advertising issues prior to the experiment.

Design

Subjects were randomly assigned to a 2(preexposure, no preexposure to the brand name) by 2(strong subsequent argument vs. weak subsequent argument for the brand) between subjects design.

Stimulus Material

The brand chosen was AGFA Film, a large seller in Europe, relatively unknown in the United States. The "film" product category was chosen because it is familiar to college students, and because it is a relatively inexpensive product which is unlikely to elicit extended information search. The brand AGFA is commonly seen on logo-only billboards appearing in the background of televised British soccer matches.

Preexposure manipulation

The first independent variable, preexposure to the brand name, was manipulated by selecting a portion of a soccer game in which the AGFA logo appeared frequently. Subjects in the preexposure group saw a portion of a soccer game where the AGFA logo was on the screen for a total of 39 seconds during 15 minutes of play. Each exposure duration was between one and ten seconds (mean duration=3.9 seconds; SD=2.77 seconds). The no preexposure group saw a 15 minute portion of a soccer game in which the stadium contained no advertising for AGFA. Both tapes were free from traditional television commercials.

Argument strength manipulation

Argument strength was manipulated by providing subjects with one of two ads for AGFA after viewing the soccer game. In one condition, the ad contained a strong and logical argument for the brand, in the other, the ad contained a weak and specious argument. The target ads (for AGFA) were embedded among 14 filler ads for actual goods and services typically purchased by students (e.g. jeans, exercise equipment). The fifteenth ad was the target (AGFA). Two versions of the target ad were produced. In the strong argument condition, the ad was constructed to make a good, logical argument (outstanding color reproduction, big seller worldwide, competitively priced). In the weak argument condition, the ad was constructed to make a poor, specious argument, expected to elicit counterarguing if closely examined ("It's a roll of fun", "when you see AGFA on the scene...things are about to get exciting").

Both of the ads were exactly the same size. They both used the same visual icon, a roll of film, which was placed in the lower right hand corner of each ad. Other visual elements such as font, and layout were identical in both ads.

Manipulation check

Twenty-six students from the same subject pool were presented with one of the two ads for AGFA, embedded in a group of filler ads. They were asked to rate the argument quality of the AGFA ad they saw (how "convincing" it was). Those who rated the weak ad gave it a mean rating of 2.8, while those who rated the strong argument ad gave it a mean rating of 4.8, both on a nine point scale. This difference is significant, (F=5.58, p<.05, w2=.15) and in the predicted direction.

Cover Story

All subjects were told that they were participating in a study, conducted by the department of Kinesiology, on their perceptions of soccer. Before viewing the soccer tape, subjects were asked to fill out a four page questionnaire on their perceptions of soccer and other sports (e.g. rugby, Australian rules football). After watching the match, subjects were asked to fill out a questionnaire which asked some new questions about the game as well as repeating some of the perception questions from the initial questionnaire. Subjects were then told that a researcher from another department would be in shortly to administer an unrelated pilot study. A different researcher then entered and asked the subjects to view the packet of ads and then fill out the questionnaire which asked the brand perception and purchase intention questions about AGFA.

Dependent Variables

After looking through the packet of ads given to them by the second researcher, subjects filled out a questionnaire. This questionnaire asked for their evaluation of several of the advertised brands. The first brand to be evaluated was AGFA. Brand evaluation was measured through three, nine point semantic differential scales anchored by: good-bad, favorable-unfavorable, and desirable-undesirable (a=.935). Subjects then reported probability of purchase, also on a nine point scale. Finally, subjects evaluated the ad for AGFA on three semantic differential scales anchored by: good-bad, favorable-unfavorable, and desirable-undesirable (a=.886).

Check for Confounds and Bias

In order to insure that all subjects were starting from the same base of knowledge about the brand, subjects reported their prior familiarity with the brand AGFA. Six subjects reported some familiarity with AGFA. Their data were dropped from further analysis. Involvement with the product class was also measured by asking subjects how much photographic equipment they owned. Subjects who reported owning more than $500 worth of photographic equipment were to be eliminated as well. Subjects who fell into this category, however, had all previously been removed for being familiar with AGFA.

Overall, most subjects owned cameras (86.5%). To test whether the amount of camera equipment owned varied between cells, an analysis of variance was performed. This analysis revealed no difference between exposure groups (F<1), between argument manipulation groups (F=1.32, p>.25), or among the cells made up by their interaction (F<1).

RESULTS

The means for the three dependent measures are reported in table 1. Argument strength only had a significant main effect upon attitude toward the brand. (F=10.77, p<.01, w2=.10) . Contrary to H1, no significant main effects of preexposure were found. The interaction between preexposure and argument strength was significant for attitude toward the brand, (F=5.13, p<.05, w2=.05) and for attitude toward the ad (F=8.91, p<.01, w2=.09). The interaction effect upon purchase intention did not meet the traditional significance criteria of p<.05, but it was close. (F=3.89, p<.052, w2=.03)

The interaction effects upon all of the dependent measures are in the direction opposite to what had been predicted by H2. Subjects in the preexposed groups were less influenced by argument strength (strong vs. weak) than were subjects who were not preexposed.

Simple effects follow-up tests revealed that in the not preexposed groups, argument quality significantly affected attitude toward the brand (F=16.24, p<.01, w2=.37) attitude toward the ad (F=8.69, p<.01, w2=.56) and purchase intention (F=7.46, p<.05, w2=.19). Among the preexposed groups, however, argument strength did not significantly affect any of the dependent measures, even against a liberal p<.15 criterion.

DISCUSSION

It appears that rather than increasing scrutiny of the arguments, mere exposure to the brand name has, instead, decreased it. While these results do not match the predictions made previously, they do seem to indicate that prior, incidental exposures to a brand name can affect the processing of an ad for the brand. There are several possible explanations for these results.

TABLE 1

MEAN ATTITUDES AND PURCHASE INTENTIONS AS A FUNCTION OF ARGUMENT STRENGTH AND PREEXPOSURE TO THE BRAND NAME

Preexposure may be limiting the impact of argument strength upon brand evaluation through a process of curiosity reduction. Curiosity reduction could be the result of pairing of the brand name with the category (film) during preexposure. Curiosity reduction could also be the result of a feeling of familiarity.

Since the exposure stimulus in this study consisted of billboards which read "AGFA FILM", curiosity could have been satisfied by simply knowing that AGFA is a brand of film. This knowledge could have reduced curiosity among preexposed subjects enough to reduce argument scrutiny as well.

Another possibility is that preexposure caused some sort of feeling of familiarity (see Jacoby, 1989). Preexposed subjects might have felt that they knew about the brand without any cognitive basis for this feeling. This feeling of familiarity could have directly reduced curiosity about the brand and, therefore, reduced argument scrutiny.

FUTURE RESEARCH

Several issues need to be addressed in further research into the area of the current study. They include an examination of the mechanisms leading to the apparent reduction in argument scrutiny; looking at what the impact of incidental preexposure would be on subjects who were not shown a subsequent argument for the brand; the effect of different brand name characteristics upon the observed effect; and the impact of a longer span of time between preexposure and argument presentation.

The examination of the mechanisms leading to the apparent reduction in argument scrutiny could focus upon determining the impact of the pairing of the brand name with the product category during preexposure (in the current study the exposure stimuli read "AGFA Film", not just "AGFA"). This could easily be accomplished by manipulating whether or not the brand name was associated with its product category in the exposure stimuli (i.e AGFA with film). Finding no difference between groups exposed to the two types of preexposure stimuli (category associated or not) would argue against the "information about category leads to curiosity reduction" explanation for the findings of the current study.

It would also be interesting to look at the impact of preexposure on subjects who were not shown a subsequent argument for the brand. Finding evidence of different overall brand evaluation between preexposed groups and non preexposed groups, in the absence of subsequent persuasion, would be helpful for understanding the phenomenon.

Robertson (1989) suggests several characteristics of brand names which should effect encoding and retrieval. One characteristic is whether the word is a "real" word (eg. Budget rental car), a "morpheme combination" (eg. Lexus), or a completely meaningless word (eg. Delco batteries). In the present study, the brand AGFA was probably in the third category. Perhaps argument strength and preexposure may impact differently upon brand names in the first two groups. An inclusion of brands from these first two categories would certainly be necessary in order to fully understand the observed phenomenon.

Examining the effect of more time between preexposure and argument presentation would help to determine whether the observed outcome of the current study increased, decreased, or completely changed over time. Whether the observed effect was extremely fleeting, or relatively long lasting would also have a significant effect upon its impact and application.

CONCLUSION

If the results of this study are reliable and replicable, they may point to a phenomenon with significant implications for people who buy and sell product placements. While the current study focuses only on an unfamiliar brand, there is no reason to rule out the possibility of similar findings for familiar brands as well. If the results of this study are found to be reliable across situations, they could have considerable impact on the way in which product placement and sports sponsorship are conducted.

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