Special Session Summary Marketing Tactics, Search, and Choice

David L. Mothersbaugh, University of Alabama
Timothy B. Heath, University of Pittsburgh
Lawrence F. Feick, University of Pittsburgh
[ to cite ]:
David L. Mothersbaugh, Timothy B. Heath, and Lawrence F. Feick (1996) ,"Special Session Summary Marketing Tactics, Search, and Choice", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 269-270.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Pages 269-270



David L. Mothersbaugh, University of Alabama

Timothy B. Heath, University of Pittsburgh

Lawrence F. Feick, University of Pittsburgh

[The authors gratefully acknowledge the insightful comments provided by our discussant, Frank Kardes.]


Marketers utilize a variety of tactics designed to persuade consumers to choose one brand over another (e.g., advertising, point-of-purchase displays, etc.). However, little experimental research has examined the effects of such tactics on search and choice (exceptions include Heath, McCarthy, and Mothersbaugh 1994; Miniard, Sirdeshmukh, and Innis 1992; Mitra and Lynch 1995; Simonson, Nowlis, and Lemon 1993; Wright and Rip 1980). For example, advertising research and search and decision process research evidence little overlap. Research on advertising effects generally focuses on brand attitudes but not search and choice outcomes. Research on search and decision processes generally focuses on factors such as choice-set composition rather than on marketer-controlled factors such as advertising. This session attempted to bridge these separate research streams by presenting three empirical studies testing the effects of various marketing tactics on search and choice.

The papers in the session examined a diverse set of marketing variables (e.g., advertising frames, celebrity endorsers, retail displays) in various decision contexts (e.g., high involvement versus low involvement, in-store shopping versus on-line shopping) using divergent methodological approaches (e.g., lab experiments versus field experiments). Three themes emerged from this session. First was the ability of marketing tactics to affect brand choice by altering consumers' decision processes. Mothersbaugh, Heath, and Feick found that advertising features such as celebrity endorsers affected brand choice by influencing which brands consumers searched. Duhan, Areni, and Kiecker found that retail display formats affected brand choice by influencing which attributes consumers used to screen brands early in the decision process. A second theme was the differential processes mediating attitude and choice that can moderate the effects of marketing tactics. Shiv, Edell, and Payne tested the effects of positive and negative advertising frames on attitudes and choice under low involvement. The authors found that negative frames damaged ad and brand attitudes while simultaneously bolstering choice probabilities because the negative ad evaluations accessed during attitude formation were not accessed during choice. A third theme was the potential for non-product-related tactics to have dramatic effects on search and choice. Shiv, Edell, and Payne found that advertising frames can affect choice in low-involvement markets. Mothersbaugh, Heath, and Feick found that positive but vacuous advertising features (i.e., pictures and endorsers) can affect search and choice in high-involvement markets. Duhan, Areni, and Kiecker found that the way in which information is organized in retail displays can affect brand sales.

Detailed abstracts of the individual papers follow.




Baba Shiv, Julie A. Edell, and John W. Payne, Duke University

Studies that have examined the effects of framing on persuasion suggest that negative framing is less effective than positive framing under conditions of low elaboration. These findings are consistent with the ELM model according to which peripheral cues such as the valence of ad messages are likely to affect ad and brand evaluations, and hence purchase intentions under conditions of low elaboration. The results from three experiments suggest that the effects of these peripheral cues (valence of ad messages) on brand choice is contingent on the nature of the intervening processing. In Experiment 1 where ad exposure was followed immediately by brand choice, different patterns of results were obtained with conventional ad and brand evaluation measures and with the choice measure - while results on ad and brand evaluations suggested that negative framing was less effective than positive framing (consistent with the ELM model predictions), results on choice suggest the contrary. A 2 x 2 design was used in Experiment 2 with framing as one of the factors and the nature of the intervening processing as the second factor (cognitive responses intervening between ad exposure and brand choice or not). When brand choice was not preceded by cognitive responses, the results in Experiment 1 were replicated. Only when cognitive responses intervened between ad exposure and brand choice were the pattern of results on ad and brand evaluations and those on choice consistent with one another. Experiment 3 used a different product category and the findings were consistent with those obtained in Experiment 2. Investigation of the reasons for these findings suggests that subjects' prior evaluations toward negative ads were not accessed and hence not used in choice when ad exposure was followed immediately by brand choice. Only when respondents thought about their reactions to the ad did these negative evaluations get accessed and in turn used in choice. Whether or not respondents reported their cognitive responses prior to their brand and ad evaluations did not affect these evaluations, suggesting that the measures, by themselves, made prior evaluations toward negative ads accessible.




David L. Mothersbaugh, University of Alabama

Timothy B. Heath and Lawrence F. Feick,

University of Pittsburgh

Research shows that people often use heuristics to simplify decisions (e.g., Payne, Bettman, and Johnson 1988). Little research, however, has examined consumers' use of advertising as a heuristic in the search process. Our study examines the effects of nonsubstantive advertising features (e.g., attractive pictures) on search and choice in competitive markets with search costs. Prevailing theory suggests that nonsubstantive features have little effect on attitudes when consumers engage in issue-relevant thinking (e.g., Petty and Cacioppo 1986). We propose and demonstrate that despite issue-relevant thinking, nonsubstantive ad features are critical determinants of choice through their influence on search, especially when search costs are high.

Hypotheses were tested using search and choice measures derived from a computer-based marketplace called CompuSearch. The experimental market consisted of nine fictitious brands. Subjects (N=252) first viewed positive but vacuous ads for the brands and then searched for attribute information from CompuSearch. Ad features were manipulated on one brand's ads (the target brand) in a 2 (no picture, attractive picture) X 2 (no endorser, famous endorser) between-subjects design. Advertising for the other brands was held constant across conditions. Search costs were manipulated by charging for information (5 vs. 50 cents per brand) and by delaying information access (1 vs. 60 second delay).

Despite issue-relevant thinking, adding nonsubstantive features to a brand's ads increased the likelihood of that brand being (1) searched, (2) searched earlier in the process, and (3) chosen. In addition, adding a credible celebrity to a brand's ads reduced search of other brands, whereas adding an attractive picture did not. These effects tended to be more pronounced when search costs were higher than when search costs were lower.

This study is relevant to both theory and practice. It shows that despite issue-relevant thinking, relatively trivial advertising features have dramatic and varied effects in the marketplace (e.g., moving brands into consumer consideration sets). Such findings suggest that seemingly trivial advertising features can be critical tactical tools in high involvement markets. They also suggest the need to extend prevailing persuasion theory (e.g., the Elaboration Likelihood Model) to competitive markets involving search costs.



Dale F. Duhan and Charles S. Areni, Texas Tech University

Pamela L. Kiecker, Virginia Commonwealth University

Research has shown that in order to reduce the amount of in-store information that is considered prior to purchase, consumers eliminate many brands from consideration early in the decision process using simple screening criteria (e.g., "I don't like vanilla," or "private label brands aren't very good"). The manner in which products are organized on store shelves or in special displays is one of many factors that influences the screening criteria used by consumers. Specifically, displaying products according to levels of a specific attribute increases the extent to which the featured attribute is the basis for screening alternatives. This magnifies differences in choice likelihood between alternatives having favorable and unfavorable values on that attribute, but only when that attribute is otherwise not salient. Further, the impact on choice should be most pronounced for brands having strong competitive positions, because some of these brands are eliminated early in the decision on the basis of the display attribute. Thus, strong brands that are eliminated suffer substantial sales declines, and strong brands that survive experience increases in sales.

The general hypothesis described above was tested by combining the results of a mail survey with those of a field experiment. Nine hundred and twenty-eight wine consumers provided information regarding attributes used to compare and select wines via a mail survey. The questionnaire contained items concerning: 1) the importance weights assigned to various wine attributes, 2) whether selection criteria associated with each attribute were stored in memory versus constructed while shopping, and 3) the importance of each attribute in determining "strong" versus "weak" alternatives. The results of the survey were used to construct alternative formats for displaying wines in several stores in a major southeastern, U.S. market. Specifically, the retail displays organized products according to either region of origin, a low salience attribute, or wine variety, an attribute high in salience.

The results of the experiment revealed that display format had a significant impact on sales levels by region of origin. Sales of products from unfavorably evaluated regions were lower when products were organized by region rather than by variety. However, the corresponding sales increase for products from favorably evaluated regions did not occur. This may, in part, be due to the ratio of products from favorably and unfavorably evaluated regions in each store. As expected, the sales decline was more pronounced for wines having high versus low awareness scores and high versus low brand attitude ratings. By contrast, display format had little or no effect on sales by wine variety. These results suggest that the organization of products in special retail displays alters the criteria used for screening alternatives early in the process by increasing the salience of certain attributes. Although this explanation is consistent with the results of the field experiment, more research is needed to confirm the processes described and to rule out rival hypotheses.


Heath, Timothy B., Michael S. McCarthy, and David L. Mothersbaugh (1994), "Spokesperson Fame and Vividness Effects in the Context of Issue-relevant Thinking: The Moderating Role of Competitive Setting," Journal of Consumer Research, 20 (March), 520-534.

Miniard, Paul W., Deepak Sirdeshmukh, and Daniel E. Innis (1992), "Peripheral Persuasion and Brand Choice," Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (September), 226-239.

Mitra, Anusree and John G. Lynch, Jr. (1995), "Toward a Reconciliation of Market Power and Information Theories of Advertising Effects on Price Elasticity," Journal of Consumer Research, 21 (March), 644-659.

Payne, John W., James R. Bettman, and Eric J. Johnson (1988), "Adaptive Strategy Selection in Decision Making," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 14 (3), 534-552.

Petty, Richard E. and John T. Cacioppo (1986), Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes to Attitude Change, New York: Springer-Verlag.

Simonson, Itamar, Stephen Nowlis, and Katherine Lemon (1993), "The Effect of Local Consideration Sets on Global Choice Between Lower Price and Higher Quality," Marketing Science, 12 (Fall), 357-377.

Wright, Peter and Peter D. Rip (1980), "Product Class Advertising Effects on First-Time Buyers' Strategies," Journal of Consumer Research, 7 (September), 176-188.