The Effect of Interpersonal Communication Style on Miscomprehension and Persuasion of Print Advertisements

Eugene S. Kim, University of Hawaii, Manoa
Kawpong Polyorat, University of Hawaii, Manoa
Dana L. Alden, University of Hawaii, Manoa
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - A high-context interpersonal communication style is characterized by the use of indirectness in conversation, while a low-context interpersonal communication style relies predominantly on directness (Hall 1976). Previous studies have suggested that cultural variables such as individualism versus collectivism and high-versus low-context culture may affect the individual tendency to express meanings directly or indirectly in conversation and the tendency to look for indirectness in others’ comments (Singelis and Brown 1995). Mismatches on conversational indirectness are known to be associated with greater interpersonal miscommunication. Related to this is the finding that advertising content from different cultures often varies in terms of indirectness. For example, advertisements constructed in high-context countries such as Japan may not be understood easily and/or evaluated favorably in low-context countries such as the U.S. In addition to the obvious reasons for this phenomenon (e.g., different languages, customs, and usage of cultural symbols), a consumer’s preferred communication style may also play a role.
[ to cite ]:
Eugene S. Kim, Kawpong Polyorat, and Dana L. Alden (2002) ,"The Effect of Interpersonal Communication Style on Miscomprehension and Persuasion of Print Advertisements", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 234.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Page 234

THE EFFECT OF INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION STYLE ON MISCOMPREHENSION AND PERSUASION OF PRINT ADVERTISEMENTS

Eugene S. Kim, University of Hawaii, Manoa

Kawpong Polyorat, University of Hawaii, Manoa

Dana L. Alden, University of Hawaii, Manoa

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

A high-context interpersonal communication style is characterized by the use of indirectness in conversation, while a low-context interpersonal communication style relies predominantly on directness (Hall 1976). Previous studies have suggested that cultural variables such as individualism versus collectivism and high-versus low-context culture may affect the individual tendency to express meanings directly or indirectly in conversation and the tendency to look for indirectness in others’ comments (Singelis and Brown 1995). Mismatches on conversational indirectness are known to be associated with greater interpersonal miscommunication. Related to this is the finding that advertising content from different cultures often varies in terms of indirectness. For example, advertisements constructed in high-context countries such as Japan may not be understood easily and/or evaluated favorably in low-context countries such as the U.S. In addition to the obvious reasons for this phenomenon (e.g., different languages, customs, and usage of cultural symbols), a consumer’s preferred communication style may also play a role.

Building on this literature, the present study investigates the relationship between interpersonal communication style and miscomprehension of print advertisements. Research indicates that regardless of media type, consumers miscomprehend approximately one-third of all mass media messages (Jacoby and Hoyer 1989). Investigated extensively in the U.S in the early 1980s, consumer miscomprehension of advertising has been relatively neglected in an international setting. Seeking to bridge this gap, this study represents the first of several that will investigate cultural antecedents and moderators of advertising miscomprehension.

The resource-matching hypothesis (Anand and Sternhal 1989) suggests that when a consumer processes an advertising message, a match between resources demanded and allocated will result in relatively more persuasion, while a mismatch will result in a lower degree of persuasion. One way to manipulate the level of resources demanded is by using different ad execution style: narrative versus factual ad copy (Peracchio and Meyers-Levy 1997). Herein this hypothesis is extended to the cognitive leel of miscomprehension and a similar result is expected. When consumers with high-context interpersonal communication styles process high-context print ads (operationalized as narrative ad copy), miscomprehension will be lower than when they process low-context print ads (operationalized as factual ad copy). On the other hand, when consumers with low-context interpersonal communication styles process factual ad copy, there will be less miscomprehension than when they process narrative ad copy. In addition, this matching effect of a consumer’s preferred interpersonal communication style and ad execution style is expected to affect persuasiveness. Last, comprehension is hypothesized to mediate the interaction effect of ad execution style and interpersonal communication style on and persuasion.

Originally proposed as a cultural construct, differences in interpersonal communication styles are not necessarily limited to the aggregate national cultural level. In this study, high-versus low-context interpersonal communication style is measured at an individual level. As such, it is operationalized as the tendency to prefer conversational indirectness or directness, by using a 19-item scale conversational indirectness scale (CIS) (Holtgraves 1997). Two print ad executions are employed to operationalize high-versus low-context advertising content. Narrative ad copy uses indirect and subtle ways to present the brand product in a storytelling style that embeds product attributes in a highly contextual setting. Factual ad copy, on the other hand, present brand features and benefits in a direct, clear and straightforward way.

A pretest with 35 college students from an urban college located in western U.S. was performed to test the robustness of the main study manipulations. Subjects viewed a print ad for a fictional juice drink with either factual or narrative styles ad copy and answered a series of questions on the computer. The results indicated that the factual ad copy was considered more straightforward than the narrative ad copy. This pretest also suggested that potential confounds were effectively controlled. Subjects’ attitude toward ad, attitude toward brand, purchase intention, ad credibility, basic level of comprehension, recall, and involvement did not vary significantly following exposure to either factual or narrative ad copy.

For the main study, a 2x2 between subject factorial design (high-versus low- context consumers and narrative versus factual ad copy) is proposed. One hundred and twenty college students from the same college will be recruited. To achieve a high level of task involvement, subjects will be informed that they have been selected for a market study of a possible new fruit juice and that their opinions are very important for the makers of the new product. After viewing the print ad, they will respond to a series of scales, including: (1) two miscomprehension scales, (2) ad persuasiveness scales, and (3) the CIS. Based on a median split of their CIS, subjects will be categorized as high-context communicator or low-context communicator. Finally the interaction effect of high- versus low-context interpersonal communication style and high-versus low-context ad copy on miscomprehension and persuasion will be analyzed along with the potential role of comprehension as a mediator between the interaction effect and persuasion.

REFERENCES

Anand, Punam and Brian Sternhal (1989), "Strategies for Designing Persuasive Messages: Deductions from the Resource Matching Hypothesis," in Cognitive and Affective Responses to Advertising, ed. Ptricia Cafferata and Alice M. Tybout, Lexington, MA: Lexington, 135-159.

Hall, Edward T. (1976), Beyond Culture. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday.

Holtgraves, Thomas (1997), "Styles of Language Use: Individual and Cultural Variability in Conversational Indirectness," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73 (3), 624-637.

Jacoby, Jacob and Wayne D. Hoyer (1989), "The Comprehension/Miscomprehension of Print Communication: Selected Findings," Journal of Consumer Research, 15. 434-443.

Peracchio, Laura and Joan Meyers-Levy (1997), "Evaluating Persuasion-Enhancing Techniques from a Resource-Matching Perspective," Journal of Consumer Research, 24(September), 178-191.

Singelis, Theodore M. and William J. Brown (1995), "Culture, Self, and Collectivist Communication: Linking Culture to Individual Behavior," Human Communication Research, 21(3), (March), 354-389.

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