Attitude Toward a Comparative Advertisement: the Role of an Endorser

Sekar Raju, Ohio State University
Priyali Rajagopal, Ohio State University
H. Rao Unnava, Ohio State University
[ to cite ]:
Sekar Raju, Priyali Rajagopal, and H. Rao Unnava (2002) ,"Attitude Toward a Comparative Advertisement: the Role of an Endorser", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 480-481.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 480-481


Sekar Raju, Ohio State University

Priyali Rajagopal, Ohio State University

H. Rao Unnava, Ohio State University

Research has shown that comparative advertisements generate less favorable attitudes to the advertisement (Aad) than non-comparative advertisements (Belch 1981; Gorn and Weinberg 1984; Grewal et al. 1997), but attitude to the advertised brand is more favorable with comparative advertisements than with non-comparative advertisements.

In this study, we focus on this inconsistency between Aad and attitude toward the brand. We identify the factors that lead to less favorable evaluation of a comparative advertisement. We then report the results of an experiment that examined the effect of a positively rated endorser in mitigating the negative evaluation of a comparative advertisement.

Past research has identified that comparative ads are more offensive, impersonal, less friendly, less pleasant, more aggressive, and more intense (see Droge 1989) suggesting that negative feelings drive people’s unfavorable attitude toward a comparative advertisement.

Other findings indicate that comparative ads were less believable, appear to evoke lower source believability (Swinyard 1981), and generate more source derogations than noncomparative advertisement, suggesting that the unfavorable Aad may be driven by cognitions. Thus, the literature on comparative advertising suggests that both affective and cognitive processes drive Aad.

To reduce the negative affective and cognitive responses of a consumer to a comparative advertisement, we propose using an endorser (person) as the source of the information in the advertisement. The endorser’s credibility is expected to compensate for the lack of believability and reduce source derogations, while likability is expected to reduce the occurrence of negative feelings about the comparative advertisement. Overall, a positively rated source is expected to eliminate the inconsistency often found with comparative advertisements (source effect).

Further, if the change in Aad is mainly because of the changes in the affective dimension of Aad, then the use of a liked and credible endorser is expected to reduce the perceived level of aggression, etc., of comparative advertisements. If the change in Aad is mainly due to changes in the cognitive dimension, then source derogation should reduce, believability of the advertisement and positive advertisement related thoughts should increase. Thus, by studying these changes we should be able to identify the cause for the change in Aad.

An experiment was conducted to test the hypotheses. Athletic shoes was chosen as the target product category with a fictitious brand, Racer, as our target brand and a very well known brand, Adidas, as the comparison brand. Three different versions of a fictitious comparative advertisement were prepared (No Endorser; Strong Endorser; Weak Endorser). For the Strong Endorser we used a positively rated university basketball coach, while for the Weak Endorser we used a relatively unknown high school basketball coach. The Weak Endorser condition is included in our design to rule out the alternative explanation that the effects noticed are due to the mere presence of the endorser rather than due to a liked and credible endorser.

Eighty-nine students participated in the study. The study examined the differences between the three levels of the endorser (No Endorser, Weak Endorser, and Strong Endorser) in a comparative ad setting. Subjects read the target ad placed in between four filler ads and then answered a questionnaire. The dependent measures were Aad, affective reactions to the ad, cognitive reactions to the ad, attitude to the brand, cognitive responses, and credibility of the message arguments.

Manipulation checks showed that the Strong Endorser was indeed rated significantly more attractive and credible than the Weak Endorser (p<0.001). Further, analysis showed that there were no significant differences between the No Endorser and the Weak Endorser conditions on any of the dependent measures, thereby ruling out the alternate explanation for our results. For all subsequent analyses, the Weak and No Endorser conditions (NE) were combined and contrasted with the Strong Endorser (SE) condition.

A test of the primary hypothesis that a liked and credible endorser will mitigate the negative Aad was supported. Results indicate that subjects in the SE condition had a significantly greater Aad (5.34) than subjects in the NE condition (4.13; t(86)=3.23; p<0.01).

To understand the underlying process, we analyzed the affective and cognitive dimension data. Planned contrasts on the affective dimension scale showed no significant differences between SE and NE conditions (p>0.45), suggesting that the change in Aad was not accompanied by changes in the affective response.

Planned contrasts on the cognitive components showed a significant difference in the mean number of positive ad related thoughts (2.03; 1.08; p<0.01) and directionally correct but non significant difference in the mean number of negative thoughts (2.27; 2.6; p>0.25), thereby supporting the argument that the source derogations were mitigated. Further, subjects in the SE condition, rated the ad (4.92) marginally higher on believability than subjects in the NE condition (4.19; p<0.1). These two findings support the argument that the change in Aad is a result of the change in the cognitive dimension.

The above analysis indicates that the introduction of an endorser in a comparative ad changes Aad to become more favorable. The results also suggest that the cognitive components of Aad change, but not the affective components. To understand the underlying process by which the endorser affects the cognitive components resulting in an increase in the Aad, a mediation analysis was conducted. Since source derogation decreased, we expect the message arguments to be more credible and we tested if argument credibility was mediating endorser effects on Aad.

The results of the mediation analysis indicate that argument credibility completely mediates the effects of the endorser on Aad. The introduction of an endorser affects argument credibility, which in turn affects Aad. This finding lends greater support to our findings that the endorser affects Aad through changes in the cognitive dimension.

The primary objective of this study was to gain a better understanding of the antecedents of Aad and to identify a method to mitigate the negative effects of a comparative ad on Aad. In addition, we also set out to study the mechanism by which the change in Aad is effected.

The results from this study indicate that a liked and credible endorser does make Aad more favorable compared to the no endorser condition. Analyses also showed that just any endorser does not help, the endorser needs to be credible and liked.

Results on the process by which the Aad changes clearly indicate that changes in the affective component do not account for the change in Aad. The results suggest that the changes to the cognitive components drive Aad. Further, the results of the mediation analysis show that changes in Aad is mediated by the argument credibility. Argument credibility is a cognitive dimension and adds further support to the finding that the change in Aad is mainly due to changes in the cognitive dimension of Aad.


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