Reducing Competitive Ad Interference By Varying Advertising Context: a Test of Network Models of Memory

H. Rao Unnava, The Ohio State University
Priyali Rajagopal, The Ohio State University
Sekar Raju, The State University of New York at Buffalo
ABSTRACT - Past research in marketing has demonstrated negative effects of competitive advertising on brand name recall, brand attribute recall and brand attitude (e.g. Burke and Srull 1988, Keller 1991). Such effects have been explained using competitive interference and the theory of spreading activation as theoretical grounds. However, the processes underlying these theoretical explanations have not as yet been subject to empirical testing. The present research aims at providing insight into the process of competitive interference by examining the facilitating effects of varying advertising contexts on brand name recall.
[ to cite ]:
H. Rao Unnava, Priyali Rajagopal, and Sekar Raju (2003) ,"Reducing Competitive Ad Interference By Varying Advertising Context: a Test of Network Models of Memory", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 45-46.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 45-46

REDUCING COMPETITIVE AD INTERFERENCE BY VARYING ADVERTISING CONTEXT: A TEST OF NETWORK MODELS OF MEMORY

H. Rao Unnava, The Ohio State University

Priyali Rajagopal, The Ohio State University

Sekar Raju, The State University of New York at Buffalo

ABSTRACT -

Past research in marketing has demonstrated negative effects of competitive advertising on brand name recall, brand attribute recall and brand attitude (e.g. Burke and Srull 1988, Keller 1991). Such effects have been explained using competitive interference and the theory of spreading activation as theoretical grounds. However, the processes underlying these theoretical explanations have not as yet been subject to empirical testing. The present research aims at providing insight into the process of competitive interference by examining the facilitating effects of varying advertising contexts on brand name recall.

According to the associative network model of memory, concepts in memory are represented as nodes with the relations between concepts as pathways linking the nodes. When a person is exposed to information about a brand in an experimental context, we assume that a node is set up that marks the experimental episode and that all information obtained in the experiment is connected to this node. The experiment node is connected to the brand name node through the product class and advertising context nodes. The attribute information of a brand in turn is uniquely connected to the brand name node.

An uncued brand name recall task may be viewed as activating the experimental node since the task requires the retrieval of all brand names that are connected to the experimental context. The activation that flows outward from the experimental node will be distributed across the pathways that are connected to it. Therefore, the more the number of pathways that emanate from a node, the smaller will be the amount of activation in each path. If no competing brands are present, then the product class cue and the advertising context cue together identify each brand uniquely and assist in its retrieval by diverting activation towards it. If interfering brands are present, the product class cue is not unique to any one brand name. Therefore the activation from the product class cue is divided between all the brand names connected to it. This causes a reduction in the amount of activation reaching each brand, and if the total activation is less than the threshold level, results in retrieval failure. This suggests that the greater the number of brands encountered, the lower will be the level of activation that reaches each individual brand.

Further the level of activation of a brand name is proportional to the number of pathways converging on it. The probability of retrieving a brand name is directly proportional to the amount of activation that converges on it; however, a minimum level of threshold activation is required for retrieval to take place. This suggests that brand name retrieval will be enhanced when multiple paths are laid in memory, which lead to the brand name. Varying the advertising context of the brand will result in greater activation flowing to that brand since more than one advertising context node will be activated for that brand as compared to competing brands. This leads us to suggest that varying the advertising context will result in an increase in the probability of brand name retrieval since the activation from these multiple nodes will converge on the brand name. In addition to the retrieval advantage, multiple contextual cues should also help in making the encoded information more resistant to competitive interference. This is because the presence of more than one contextual path will make the brand name more distinctive and therefore less susceptible to competitive interference.

We employed a 3 (one exposure vs. two same exposures vs. two varying exposures) X 2 (competitive interference present vs. absent) factorial design to test our hypotheses using one hundred and fifty undergraduate students as respondents. Our results partially replicate past research on the effects of varied context. We find that repetition enhances brand name recall in the absence of competitive advertising; however, when competitive advertising was present, repetition resulted in no more recall than a single exposure to the ad. The use of varying ad executions was found to result in greater recall than using a single exposure, but resulted in no greater recall compared to the same exposure repetition condition, when competitive advertising was absent. However, in the presence of competitive advertising, varying executions resulted in greater recall than both one exposure and repeated same exposures.

We were also able to provide further insights into the role of contextual cues as predicted by the spreading activation mode. First, we found that when subjects recalled the ad context, their brand name recall was significantly higher than when they did not recall the ad context. We also find that the likelihood of brand name recall given recall of the ad context is significantly higher in the varied context condition than in the same execution condition, which supports the prediction that the greater the number of contextual paths that lead to the brand name, the higher the probability of brand name recall. Finally, we find that the facilitating effect of product class cue on brand name recall is greater in the absence of competitive interference, which provides further evidence in support of the spreading activation model.

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