Comments on &Quot;Advertising Issues&Quot;

Surendra N. Singh, University of Kansas
[ to cite ]:
Surendra N. Singh (1993) ,"Comments on &Quot;Advertising Issues&Quot;", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 170-171.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 170-171


Surendra N. Singh, University of Kansas

The three papers presented in this session address three different issues, and yet there is a common theme running through the papers C all three papers, in one way or another, relate to the advertising appeals.

Smith's paper compares the humorous and non-humorous advertising appeals; Brumbraugh looks at the effect of physical attractiveness of the models depicted in advertisements; and Wright and Lutz paper deals with the framing issues in advertising. My specific comments on each paper are given below.

The first paper C "Does Humor in Advertising Enhance Systematic Processing?" explores the thesis that humor in advertising will distract readers from paying attention to the ad copy by focusing attention on the humor instead. This idea has been present in the literature for several years but apparently it has never been tested directly. The old adage about "figure and ground" effect reflects this idea:

"Keep the main points of the message in the foreground, do not let the background overshadow your main message".

Smith hypothesized that in non-humorous ads, claim strength would exert a greater influence on the dependent variables such as the attitude towards the ad, the attitude towards the brand, the brand related elaborations and the perception of claim strength. In contrast, in humorous ads, the claim strength would have less influence on these dependent measures. It was also predicted that humorous ads will lead to a more favorable response on various dependent variables.

These predictions are very interesting, however, the study designed to test these predictions has several methods limitations as pointed out by the author.

Since humorousness manipulation failed, a median split on the subjects' self-reported ratings of the humorousness was used to segregate the subjects into two groups: those who perceived the ad as humorous vs. those who did not.

The results obtained were mix C some effects were significant at conventional a = .05, whereas several others were only marginally significant. Overall though, results do seem to offer tentative support for the proposed notion that subjects who perceived the ad as more humorous were less sensitive to the strength of the ad claims.

It would have been better, if we were given some additional information to interpret the results though. For instance, it would be very informative to know the effect of product relevance on the perception of humorousness? Is it possible that subjects who paid attention to the claims were those who considered purchasing life insurance very relevant and thus concentrated on the claims, compared to the subjects who had no-interest in buying insurance and thus who focused on the humor part of advertising - ignoring the claims?

The information on product relevance was collected in the study. Even though the scale used was a single item scale which asked subjects if they were interested in purchasing life insurance - and it is hard to infer the reliability of this scale - nonetheless, it would have been more informative to see the relationship between product relevance and message perception.

The thesis that humor distracts attention from ad claims seems plausible and despite methods problems, the results are encouraging and perhaps the study should be replicated to reach a more definite conclusion. Any replication effort should use ads for the product categories that are relevant to the subjects and product involvement should be measured explicitly and reliably. Also, if mood is used as an explanatory variable (as has been done in the present study which hypothesizes a direct effect of mood on Aad, Ab, etc. as well as an indirect effect via disrupting brand relevant elaborations), then strong message manipulations should be used such that the messages differ significantly not only on the humorousness dimension but also in their capacity to induce moods.

Moreover, while disruptive influence of mood is being offered as an explanation of humor's effect on ad and brand responses, there may be alternative explanations that can explain why audiences may ignore decision relevant brand information when such information is presented in emotional messages C be they humorous, romantic, or some other kind. Verbal learning literature, for example, suggests an alternative possibility.

Memory of verbal material depends on the schema chosen to govern the comprehension process and on the nature of the text. Kintsch and Young (1984, p. 112) note that:

"Some types of texts are conventionally organized in such a way that the macrostructures i.e., (the overall interpretation of a text) that readers form are highly predictable and serve as efficient retrieval cues for the texts. This is the case with simple narratives, for which every reader brings to bear more or less the same schema, with predictable and rather satisfactory results. Other types of texts provide less efficient cues to their proper organization, and thus different readers choose somewhat different interpretations of the text. Frequently, none of these fits the text perfectly, and therefore the resulting macrostructures are not well constrained by the text. As a consequence, overall recall is low for such texts. Essays and descriptive texts are often of this type".

Whereas, in general, recall of narratives is much better than for the expository material, when a narrative contains decision relevant information, such information is recalled less well when it is presented in an expository text. This is because, when reading a narrative, people form macrostructures (the overall interpretations of the text) that contain text elements that are essential for understanding the plot, but the incidental-decision relevant information is not usually part of that macrostructure. In contrast, with the expository text, at least some people will regard the decision relevant portion of the material as macro relevant and use them to form the macrostructure leading to higher recall of decision relevant information in a descriptive text.

Perhaps something similar is happening with the emotional vs. non-emotional commercials that makes audiences pay less attention to the factual claims when such claims are presented in an emotional message format.

However, if an individual perceives the decision to be highly relevant, the schema chosen to govern the comprehension process might focus on the decision relevant information regardless of the type of message appeal. Future research should be able to verify whether this alternative explanation is valid.

The second paper C"Physical Attractiveness and Personality in Advertising: More Than Just a Pretty Face" proposes that the effects of having physically attractive models in advertising is mediated by the personality inferences which people draw spontaneously at zero acquaintances. She explains the mixed results of several past studies using this theory and the paper makes a valuable contribution in this regard.

The empirical testing part of the paper did raise some curiosities though. For example, what was the rationale for limiting the timing of the exposure and why the first two exposures were approximately 20 seconds each whereas the third exposure was 30 seconds?

Also, the dependent measure used in the study, the attitude towards the model's clothing, raises an interesting issue. The attractiveness of the model (which is an independent variable) may have been influenced by the model's clothing. Thus, the attitude towards the model's clothing is both a dependent variable, and at the same time, it is confounded with the independent variable also.

Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that the models' attractiveness should influence the attitude towards the ad directly which could in turn influence the attitude towards the brand. In the present study though, the stimuli were unframed pictures of the models only. Therefore, I suspect that it was not possible to gather information on attitude towards the ad because it was not an ad in the conventional sense to begin with.

Other than these minor points, I think it is a very nice piece of exploratory work. Some issues for future research that come to mind are:

(a) What will happen to the personality judgments inferred from the pictures with repeated exposures to the ad? Will they diminish or be enhanced or stay the same? In other words, does a model portrayed in an ad and perceived as sociable at the first exposure be perceived in the same way at later exposures?

(b) Would the verbal information provided in an ad moderate the personality inferences about an attractive model shown in the ad? How would this moderation effect vary by product class, subject involvement, message appeal type and so forth.

(c) As is pointed out in the paper, in many ads, attractive models are used simply to get attention. How could the attention value of an attractive model depicted in the ad be separately accounted for from the personality inferences?

The third paper, C "Effect of Advertising and Experience on Brand Judgments: A Rose by Any Other Frame ...." does a very good job of identifying various types of framing effects. It provides a nice post-hoc analysis of various studies and elaborates on different types of framing. The most important contribution of the paper is identifying a new form of framing C the effect of prior brand experience on the reactions to subsequent brand advertising.

Experience plus ad framing is opposite of transformational advertising which is described as the most important form of framing because it not only draws attention to the relevant attributes but also enhances the usage experience.

Wright and Lutz also identify a number of moderating variables affecting framing. These include, ambiguity of consumption experience, whether the consumer is a novice or an expert, and is the brand a novel brand or an existing one. The authors also propose how they intend to investigate this phenomenon in the future.

In addition to the moderator variables identified in the paper, there could be many other factors that may affect "experience plus ad framing". It would be interesting to identify these variables and develop predictions about how they could influence ad framing.

Some potential moderator variables are:

1. The type of the consumer.

Is the target consumer a loyal user of some other brand or is (s)he likely to switch brands? Perhaps the consumer who is loyal to a brand would be less susceptible to the framing influences.

2. The Nature of the Initial Consumption Experience.

Was the initial consumption experience positive or negative? If it was a satisfying experience, perhaps subsequent advertising can still have some framing effect for the later purchases C i.e., it might help reinforce the usage experience. If the initial reaction was negative, then the subsequent advertising will have much less framing power.

3. Framing due to other variables.

There is bound to be some framing due to the prior experience with the other brands, the competitors' advertising in the product class, and in some product classes, there could be some framing based on the image of the retail establishment where the product was purchased from. Buying a shirt from K-mart leads to a different set of expectations than buying a shirt from the Parisians.

Finally, in real world settings, certain amount of framing for a novel brand may occur even when the subject does not see any advertising for it and her first brand experience is through sampling. These days, usually, a mail sample is preceded by a card or flyer announcing the arrival of the sample. When sample arrives, it often has an accompanying flyer and a set of coupons that too have advertising value. And then there is the packaging C all these can frame the product experience. Issues such as these need to be investigated to fully realize the potential of experience plus ad framing concept.


Kintsch, Walter and Sheryl Young (1984), "Selective Recall of Decision-Relevant Information from Texts", Memory and Cognition, 12 (2), 112-17.