Special Session Summary Influencing Categorization and Category Boundaries: the Role of Marketing Variables

S. Ratneshwar, University of Connecticut
[ to cite ]:
S. Ratneshwar (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Influencing Categorization and Category Boundaries: the Role of Marketing Variables", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 133.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Page 133



S. Ratneshwar, University of Connecticut

Research on categorization has emerged as an important topic in recent years. Stimulated by basic theoretical work in cognitive psychology, consumer researchers have investigated a variety of issues in product categorization. This session examined the impact of important marketing variables (e.g., advertising, packaging, brand familiarity, and shelf display) on how consumers categorize and think about products. The papers focused on issues such as: How malleable are categorization processes and outcomes? In terms of consumers’ mental representations, to what extent are category boundaries fuzzy, and when might the boundaries be more sharp or more tight? What are the consequences for "downstream" phenomena such as consideration sets, attitudes, purchase intentions, and the nature of competition in the marketplace?

Han, MacInnis, and Park presented a paper titled "Influencing Categorization and Consideration Sets Through Advertising." Their research investigated three different advertising factors that may affect categorization of the advertised brand and thus the likelihood of its consideration. First, they examined the role of affect induced by the ad. Second, in the context of a comparative ad, they manipulated whether the ad compares the advertised brand to a specific competing brand (or referent; e.g., Captain Crunch cereal)) or the product class as a whole. Finally, they investigated the effects of within- (e.g., cereal) versus across-category (e.g., popcorn) comparisons in the ad. Dependent measures included assessment of the composition of consideration sets, similarity judgments, brand attitudes, brand competitiveness (within- and across-category), and purchase intentions.

Goodstein and Campbell presented a paper titled "Are Categories Stable? The Effects of Packaging and Social Risk on Product Categorization and Evaluations." They proposed that risk may affect the width of category boundaries for differentiating incoming stimuli as being more or less congruent with the consumer’s schema. That is, under high (versus low) risk, the boundaries for defining something as moderately incongruent may be tighter such that the same stimulus product seems more incongruent. Thus, their theory suggests that an objectively moderately-incongruent product (as identified in a test that is free of risk) would be viewed as even more incongruent under high risk and would therefore be evaluated negatively versus a congruent alternative. They examined this proposition in the context of an experiment where they manipulated (1) perceived social risk, and (2) schema incongruity in product packaging.

Desai and Ratneshwar presented a paper titled "Categorization of Brand Variants: The Interactive Effects of Shelf Display Contex, Brand Familiarity, and Goal Orientation." They presented an experiment wherein they inquired into the how and why of categorization of brand variants. Specifically, they investigated attitudes, buying intentions, and taste and fat perceptions of low-fat versions of popular snack foods. First, they investigated the influence of shelf display context, i.e., might categorization and buying intention be influenced by display of the product next to regular snack foods versus display in the health-food section? Second, they examined the role of brand familiarity. Should manufacturers use their well-established brand names on the variants? Or would they be better off using unknown brand names for avoiding the "baggage" of prior brand associations? Third, they also considered a segmentation variable: Will consumer response to the other two variables depend upon the health orientation of the individual consumer?

Wes Hutchinson acted as the discussion leader. Many of the session participants and members of the audience participated in a discussion that covered a wide range of theoretical and methodological issues. Hutchinson noted that all the studies reported in the session utilized between-subjects designs and discussed whether the use of such designs might obscure differences among subject segments that might be revealed with the use of within-subject designs.