Extra Promotional Offerings and Consumer Attributions

Emmanuel J. ChTron, UniversitT du Quebec, Rimouski
Michel A. Zins, UniversitT Laval, Quebec
ABSTRACT - The effect of three situations related to the promotional practice of giving free extra offerings (spontaneous offering/not obtained but not asked for either /obtained upon request) on the attributions made by individuals was investigated. The experiment also controlled for the level of dollar value involved in the extra offerings. The study involved 137 students who were given scenarios and asked to interpret the meaning of the three different situations. Satisfaction and perceived respect for customers were also measured. The results indicated that internal attributions dominate in the "obtained upon request" situation and that level of dollar value involved did not significantly affect the pattern of attribution. When the offering was spontaneous, the degree of satisfaction was higher than when it was obtained upon request. Perceived respect towards customers was lower when the offering was obtained upon request. Degrees of satisfaction and respect were not significantly affected by the level of dollar value involved in the extra promotional offerings.
[ to cite ]:
Emmanuel J. ChTron and Michel A. Zins (1980) ,"Extra Promotional Offerings and Consumer Attributions", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 302-307.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 302-307

EXTRA PROMOTIONAL OFFERINGS AND CONSUMER ATTRIBUTIONS

Emmanuel J. ChTron, UniversitT du Quebec, Rimouski

Michel A. Zins, UniversitT Laval, Quebec

ABSTRACT -

The effect of three situations related to the promotional practice of giving free extra offerings (spontaneous offering/not obtained but not asked for either /obtained upon request) on the attributions made by individuals was investigated. The experiment also controlled for the level of dollar value involved in the extra offerings. The study involved 137 students who were given scenarios and asked to interpret the meaning of the three different situations. Satisfaction and perceived respect for customers were also measured. The results indicated that internal attributions dominate in the "obtained upon request" situation and that level of dollar value involved did not significantly affect the pattern of attribution. When the offering was spontaneous, the degree of satisfaction was higher than when it was obtained upon request. Perceived respect towards customers was lower when the offering was obtained upon request. Degrees of satisfaction and respect were not significantly affected by the level of dollar value involved in the extra promotional offerings.

INTRODUCTION

A recent series of articles (Settle and Golden 1974; Hansen and Scott 1976; Golden 1977; Smith and Hunt 1978) showed attribution theory's application to promotional situations. However these studies focused mainly on advertising as a promotional instrument. This article considers attribution processes in current business situations when a free spontaneous or non-spontaneous offer is added to the product/service offering.

ATTRIBUTION THEORY

Attribution theory deals essentially with the processes by which individuals perceive and explain causal relationships and give meaning to events in their environment. As noted by Kelley (1971) these processes assume "a need to have a veridical understanding of these relations (a reality orientation to the world) and a need to predict and apply them (a control orientation)''. These processes may occur under three modes: 1) the individual as an observer interpreting and explaining the behavior of others (perception of others) 2) the individual as an actor interpreting and explaining his own behavior (self perception) 3) the individual assigning characteristics to objects (object perception). The first and second mode have been studied in social psychology (Nisbett and Valins 1971, Jones and Nisbett 1971) while the third mode has found more applications in the area of product promotion and marketing.

When explaining their own behavior or that of others, individuals tend to interpret the situation in terms of intrinsic or extrinsic factors. This process has a direct effect on inferences made by the individual about behaviors. When a behavior is perceived as being caused mostly by external factors such as forced compliance there is less confidence in the attitude being congruent with the behavior. However if the behavior is perceived much more under the influence of internal factors under control of the actor or the observer, attitude appears more congruent with the behavior. Previous research by Settle (1973) has showed that some individuals tend to perceive events more under the influence of external causes while others tend to interpret what happens to them as due to internal causes, such as their own effort or capability. Although this latter research has shown significant differences between blacks and whites, no significant ones were found between sexes and between social classes.

Research by Mizerski (1974) and Smith and Hunt (1978) measured the extend to which individuals assigned characteristics to objects on an internal or external basis. Knowledge of the internal vs. external nature of attribution is connected with the principle of correspondence developed by Jones and Davis (1965). According to correspondence theory, individuals making inferences on an internal basis (i.e.: assigning behavior of others to factors under their control or making inferences about the characteristics of an object on an intrinsic basis) gain more information as to the real motivation of an actor or as to the characteristics of an object such as presented in advertising, than those individuals making inferences on an external basis. The underlying assumption of this principle is that predetermined behavior according to role expectation does not reveal much to the observer (Jones and Nisbett, 1971).

In addition to giving the individual a veridical view of his world, attribution processes can be seen as a means of maintaining control on one's environment. Hence such knowledge is sought by the individual in order to gain better management of the environment. This tendency for better control is connected with the internal aspect of attribution. Since internal inferences reveal more information on events, they therefore allow the individual to improve his control over the environment.

The objective of the present research was to test some hypotheses underlying the attribution theory in the field of marketing, particularly in the problem area connected with promotional strategies.

PROBLEMS

This study concerns the general business practice of giving free promotional objects or services in addition to the main product/service offering. This widespread practice can range from the offering of small items such as free key holders or ball point pens to free promotional accessories offered "standard" with big ticket items. With rising costs of promotion and increasing competition some businesses have adopted the policy of giving those free items or services only upon request rather than spontaneously. Some fast food restaurants for instance would give eating accessories and seasonings only upon request from the customer.

The purpose of the research was three fold:

1) First, assess whether spontaneous offering triggers more external inferences than non-spontaneous offering. Non-spontaneous offering meaning on the one hand that the free extra offer is not spontaneously given (without being asked for either), and on the other it is not offered but obtained as a result of asking for it.

2) Second, consider if the magnitude of the free offer in absolute dollar value influences the pattern of external vs. internal inferences in the spontaneous vs. non-spontaneous situations.

3) Third, in accordance with the motivation for control of the individual over his own environment explore the degree of satisfaction and respect towards customers as perceived by respondents across the spontaneous and non-spontaneous cases and across the magnitude of the free offer.

The managerial usefulness of this research lies in the answer to the following questions: How does the consumer interpret (to what does he attribute) the free offerings? How does he explain the fact that he did not get the offering? To what does he attribute obtaining the free "extra" by asking for it? How do these different practices (spontaneous offering vs. offering upon request) affect the satisfaction of the consumer and his perception of the company respect for their customers?

Finally are the consumer's reactions different depending on the dollar value of the offering?

A set of hypotheses were drawn from attribution theory, regarding this problem area. The objective of testing these hypotheses was to test some parts of the theory in another field not yet explored, but also to add to the managerial usefulness of the present theory.

HYPOTHESES

The attribution theory itself suggested a certain number of hypotheses about the attributions internal or external people might make in the various situations considered. The fact that individuals always seem to attribute the greatest part of their success to themselves led us to the following hypothesis:

H1  The frequency of internal attributions is higher when the offer is obtained upon request than when it is offered spontaneously. This first effect is probably accentuated when the dollar value of the offer increases, which suggests the second hypothesis:

H2  When the offer is obtained upon request, the frequency of internal attributions increases with the dollar value of the offer

Turning to the satisfaction of the consumer, it was hypothesized that:

H3  The degree of satisfaction is higher when the extra offer is spontaneous than when it is obtained upon request.

This is because the consumer does not feel the company tried to fool him and he did hot have to bother asking either. This satisfaction is amplified when the dollar value of the offering increases. The following hypothesis can thus be stated:

H4  When the offer is spontaneously offered, the degree of satisfaction increases with the dollar value of the offering.

As regards the respect the individual feels the company has for its customers, the next hypothesis can be proposed.

H5  Perceived respect towards customers is lower when the extra offer is obtained upon request than when it is spontaneous.

This perception is strengthened when the dollar value of the offering increases.

H6  When the offer is obtained upon request, perceived respect towards customers increases with the dollar value of the offering.

METHOD

Data for the research were collected from second and third year students enrolled in undergraduate business programs at two major universities.

The total data set represented 139 respondents, 137 of whom provided complete sets of responses.

The questionnaire consisted of a set of scenarios presenting situations of spontaneous and non-spontaneous offers of free promotional items. In order to build the scenarios three real cases of free promotional offers were selected: 1) a free gift wrapping 2) a special week-end rebate at a hotel/motel 3) a free engine warranty offered by a car dealer to the buyer (this warranty covers all car parts moving in oil if the customer makes regular oil changes with a given brand of motor oil. It can be bought separately for about $150). These cases were selected for their differential order of magnitude in absolute dollar value.

For each case respondents were urged to think of themselves in the following three different situations. The first situation was described as a spontaneous offer given that the respondent knows of the existence of the offer (this was included in the description). The second situation was describe as the non-spontaneous offer (the customer didn't get the offering and forgot to ask for it), and the third as the non-spontaneous offer, but obtained as a result of asking for it. For each situation respondents were asked which inferences came to their mind to explain the situation. Suggested multiple choice inferences were of the internal type (your appearance, your behavior) and external type (policy of the store/hotel/garage, forgetting of the clerk/receptionist /seller). Degrees of satisfaction and perceived respect towards customers were measured, on seven point scales ranging from "very low" to "very high", after each situation. The questionnaire was pre-tested in order to check for the realism of the situation described and the ease to handle the questions by the respondents.

RESULTS

Frequency data shown in table 1 indicate response variations for each of the three different situations. Horizontal examination of the results allows to observe changes in attributional inferences when the offer is obtained spontaneously vs not obtained or obtained upon request. The attributions made by the respondents in each situation were divided into two classes: internal attributions (appearance and behavior) and external attributions (forgetting by the clerk and policy of the company). Distinction between internal vs. external attribution is exposed with horizontal dotted lines in such a way that internal attribution frequencies appear above the lines. Marginal totals indicate internal or external attribution frequencies for each situation and for each type of offer. Visual examination of the data indicates that for each of the three situations, the ratio of internal to external attribution increases drastically when the offer is obtained upon request, this is also true when considering the three situations together [212/I90}.When the offer is not obtained, external attribution is prevalent and a substantial amount is attributed to forgetting. Comparing the three situations, keeping the importance of money amount involved in mind, the last column totals in table 1 indicate an increasing ratio of internal to external attribution. (95/309; 116/287; 120/284).

TABLE 1

ATTRIBUTIONAL INFERENCES RESULTING FROM THE DIFFERENT SITUATIONS

Since the data is nominal and there are three related samples (all respondents answered to all cases and situations) the non parametric Cochran Q test was chosen to test for overall differences of internal attribution across the "spontaneous", "not obtained" and "obtained upon request" cases. For each situation, gift wrapping, week-end special and motor oil warranty, the null hypothesis that the frequency of internal attribution is the same in each column except for chance differences, was tested. The Q Statistic is distributed approximately as a chi square with 3 - 1 = 2 degrees of freedom. Results and levels of significance shown in table 2 indicate overall statistical significance of internal attributions differences across the three cases.

TABLE 2

COCHRAN Q STATISTICAL TEST OF INTERNAL ATTRIBUTIONS ACROSS THE "SPONTANEOUS", "NOT OBTAINED" AND "OBTAINED UPON REQUEST" CASES

Hypothesis one proposed that frequency of internal attributions would be higher when the offer is obtained upon request than when it is obtained spontaneously. The McNemar test for the significance of changes was chosen because there were two related samples and nominal measurement. For those respondents who change their attributions we tested whether the changes from external to internal attributions were greater than changes from internal to external attributions, by more than chance occurrence. As can be seen in table 3, in each situation there was a significant tendency of respondents to make more internal attribution inferences when the extra offer was obtained upon request, thus confirming hypothesis one.

TABLE 3

MCNEMAR TEST OF CHANGE FROM EXTERNAL TO INTERNAL ATTRIBUTIONS WHEN THE EXTRA OFFER IS OBTAINED UPON REQUEST RATHER THAN OFFERED SPONTANEOUSLY

With respect to the dollar value of the extra offer as an intervening variable, we tested that for each case, "spontaneous", "not obtained" and "obtained upon request", the frequency of internal attribution would change across the varying money value involved in the three situations. The Cochran Q test for differences across the situations was computed. Q Statistics and level of significance for two degrees of freedom are shown in table 4.

TABLE 4

COCHRAN Q STATISTICAL TEST OF INTERNAL ATTRIBUTIONS ACROSS THREE DIFFERENT SITUATIONS (GIFT WRAPPING, WEEKEND SPECIAL, MOTOR OIL WARRANTY)

As can be seen, the money value of the extra offer does not significantly affect overall internal attributions in the case of "spontaneous offer" and the "offer obtained upon request". However for the "not obtained" case, internal inferences significantly differ across the three money value situations.

The second hypothesis suggested that when the offer is obtained upon request internal attributions would increase with the money value of the offer. For the same reasons as above, the McNemar test for significance of changes was computed. Results in table S indicate that when the offer is obtained upon request, no significant increases of internal attributions are observed for higher money values of the offer.

TABLE 5

MCNEMAR TEST OF CHANGES FROM EXTERNAL TO INTERNAL ATTRIBUTIONS WHEN THE OFFER IS "OBTAINED UPON REQUEST" FOR INCREASING LEVELS OF DOLLAR VALUE OF THE OFFER

An overall test of statistical differences was conducted to see whether degrees of satisfaction and perceived respect towards customers would differ across the "spontaneous", "not obtained" and "obtained upon request" cases. Since we had three related samples, the non-parametric Friedman two-way analysis of variance was chosen to test this hypothesis. For each situation, gift wrapping, week-end special and motor oil warranty, the Friedman test determines whether it is likely that the different columns of ranks came from the same population. The Xr2 statistic is distributed approximately as chi square with 3 - 1 = 2 degrees of freedom. Results and levels of significance in table 6 indicate overall statistical significance of differences in degrees of satisfaction and perceived respect towards customers across the three cases.

TABLE 6

FRIEDMAN TWO-WAY ANOVA OF DEGREES OF SATISFACTION AND PERCEIVED RESPECT TOWARDS CUSTOMERS ACROSS THE "SPONTANEOUS", "NOT OBTAINED" AND "OBTAINED UPON REQUEST" CASES

The Friedman test was also computed to see whether degrees of satisfaction and perceived respect towards customers varied across the different money values involved in the three situations. Results in table 7 indicate overall significant differences in degrees of satisfaction and perceived respect towards customers for two cases: "spontaneous offer" and "obtained upon request". However for the "not obtained" case, satisfaction and perceived respect towards customers did not differ across the three situations.

TABLE 7

FRIEDMAN TWO-WAY ANOVA OF DEGREES OF SATISFACTION AND PERCEIVED RESPECT TOWARDS CUSTOMERS ACROSS THE THREE DIFFERENT SITUATIONS (GIFT WRAPPING, WEEK-END SPECIAL, MOTOR OIL WARRANTY)

More specifically hypothesis three proposed that the degree of satisfaction is higher when the extra offer is spontaneous than when it is obtained upon request. Since we had matched samples, T-test pairs were computed and the results presented in table 8 statistically confirm hypothesis three.

TABLE 8

T-TEST OF MATCHED SAMPLES FOR DIFFERENCES OF SATISFACTION WHEN THE EXTRA OFFER IS SPONTANEOUS VS. WHEN IT IS OBTAINED UPON REQUEST.

Hypothesis four specified that the degree of satisfaction would increase with the dollar value of the offering when the offer is spontaneously given. T-test pairs in table 9 indicate that hypothesis four is partly confirmed. Significance of the differences appear to decrease as money value of the offer increases.

TABLE 9

T-TEST PAIRS FOR DIFFERENCE OF SATISFACTION FOR DIFFERENT LEVELS OF MONEY VALUE OF THE OFFER WHEN IT IS GIVEN SPONTANEOUSLY

Hypothesis five suggested that respect towards customers would be lower when the extra promotional offer is obtained upon request than when it is spontaneous. T-tests in table 10 confirm hypothesis five.

TABLE 10

T-TEST FOR DIFFERENCES OF PERCEIVED RESPECT TOWARDS CUSTOMERS WHEN THE EXTRA OFFER IS OBTAINED UPON REQUEST VS. SPONTANEOUSLY

Hypothesis six formulated that perceived respect toward customers would increase with the dollar value of the offering when obtained upon request. Results in table 11 indicate that respect does not increase with dollar value of the offering as hypothesized. Since the variation is not in the proposed direction, hypothesis six is rejected.

TABLE 11

MEAN DEGREES OF SATISFACTION AND PERCEIVED RESPECT TOWARDS CUSTOMERS RESULTING FROM THE DIFFERENT SITUATIONS

DISCUSSION

The literature on attribution theory as a framework to explain customer inferences in promotional situations is very scanty. Nevertheless this research is an effort to assess how the theory applies to different cases of free extra promotional offerings.

Placed in proper perspective, the contribution of the present research must be viewed as exploratory. Overall findings confirmed the predictions of the theory with respect to internal attributions made by customers when placed in situations of control over the environment (obtained upon request). However specific types of internal vs. external inferences need further investigation. Differences between passive (appearance) and active types (behavior) of internal attributions may provide further insight into the processes at work in situations of promotional offerings. When the promotional offerings is not obtained as a result of not asking for it, external attributions are dominant and can be further studied as to their nature. For instance, the more customers attribute this situation (not obtained) to forgetting by the clerk, the less it is detrimental to the image and reputation of the business. This is observed in the "not obtained" case. However it is suspected that respondents had difficulties in giving their reaction in the latter case, since a time lag may have been needed to develop attributions when not obtaining a free promotional offer, but without asking for it either. In the two other cases: "Spontaneous offer" and "obtained upon request", attributions can be formed almost instantaneously, as the result is less ambiguous. Another limitation lies in the repeated measures design, the resulting test effect might have been reduced by rotating scenarios across respondents.

With respect to the money value of the offer as an intervening variable, results were not conclusive as internal attributions did not constantly strengthen with increasing money value of the offer. This could be due to different perceptions by respondents of the importance of the free offering in each situation. A gift wrapping may be perceived as very important to a male customer who wants to avoid the bother of preparing his own gift. The free offer may also have been perceived relatively to the total money outlay involved in each situation. In this case, perception of the offer as a percentage of the expense could have been perceived at about the same relative money value importance.

Concerning the degrees of satisfaction and perceived respect for customers, findings indicate that the spontaneous offer commands higher level of both. This result should be of interest to businesses considering to restrict their spontaneous giving of free extra promotional offers, to make a saving. Such a decision should be balanced with the possible loss of satisfaction and goodwill when customers aware of an available free promotional offer have to ask for obtaining the extra. However the findings should be placed in proper perspective, and environment variables such as competition and average industry level of promotional free offerings should be considered.

The money value of the offer did not have any effect on degrees of satisfaction and respect towards customers either. The same reasons as above could explain this result.

As usual, some limits to the research such as the nature of respondents and their perception of the experimental situations, preclude too strong generalizations of the results.

In summary the findings shed some light on how customers react to different situations of free promotional offerings and give some insight to businesses with respect to policies concerning extra offerings to their customers. Although these results are not considered complete, they represent an attempt to apply attribution theory to the field of promotion.

REFERENCES

Golden, Linda L. (1977), "Attribution Theory Implications for Advertisement Claim Credibility", Journal of Marketing Research, 14, 115-118.

Hansen, Robert A. and Carol A. Scott (1976), "Comments on "Attribution Theory and Advertiser Credibility", Journal of Marketing Research, 13, 193-197.

Jones, E. E. & K. Davis (1965), "From Acts to Dispositions'', Advances in Experimental Psychology, ed. Leonard Berkowitz, N.Y.: Academic Press, 219-266.

Jones, Edward E. and Richard E. Nisbett (1971), "The Actor and the Observer: Divergent Perceptions of the Causes of Behavior" in Edward E. Jones et al., eds., Attribution: Perceiving the Causes of Behavior, General Learning Press, pp. 79-94.

Kelley, Harold H. (1971), "Attribution in Social Interaction" in Edward E. Jones et al., eds., "Attribution: Perceiving the Causes of Behavior, General Learning Press, 1-26.

Mizerski, Richard (1974), Attribution Theory and Consumer Processing of Unfavorable Informations about Products, Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Florida.

Nisbett, Richard E. and Stuart Valius (1971), "Perceiving the Causes of One's Own Behavior" in Edward E. Jones et al, eds., Attribution: Perceiving the Causes of Behavior, General Learning Press, 1971, pp. 63-78.

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Settle, Robert B. and Linda L. Golden (may 1974), "Attribution Theory and Advertiser Credibility", Journal of Marketing Research, 11, 181-185.

Smith, Robert E. and Shelby Hunt (December 1978), "Attributional Processes and Effects in Promotional Situations'', Journal of Consumer Research, 5, 149-158.

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