Re-Examining and Extending (In)Congruency Research in Consumer Behavior


Nader Tavassoli (1995) ,"Re-Examining and Extending (In)Congruency Research in Consumer Behavior", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Flemming Hansen, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 89.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1995      Page 89


Nader Tavassoli, University of Minnesota

Successful advertisements arouse interest, or grab attention; motivate non-superficial processing, or hold attention; and enable effective processing of the information, or effectively use attention. The session's three presentations focus on how attention is grabbed, held or used when consumers encounter (in)congruencies C (in)consistent or (un)expected information C in advertisements for which pictures play a central role. To prelude, there is some debate regarding the effectiveness of (in)congruencies, for example, whether congruent or incongruent information is better remembered by consumers.

On the one hand, research has demonstrated that positively related (congruent) information increases the integration of information in memory C ad elements become retrieval cues for each other. For example, if information is congruent or expected it may be learned more easily or integrated with existing knowledge (for a review, see Alba and Hasher, 1983). Moreover, items of congruent information can enhance each other's meaning interactively and result in a more concrete memory representation (Schmitt, Tavassoli and Millard, 1993). In this respect, the ad copy "exotic women wear ZOTIKA" is processed interactively with the picture of an exotic-looking model and increases memory for the picture, copy and brand name.

On the other hand, incongruent or unexpected information can lead to better memory precisely because it is not easily learned. For example, an unexpected elephant in an airplane seat can attract attention to the copy of an ad. Consumers may attempt to relate an incongruent piece of information to other information in the ad in order to make sense of it, and thereby increase the depth of processing or the use of attention (e.g., Heckler & Childers, 1992). This deeper processing should increase memory for the incongruent information and the information used to resolve the incongruency.

Nader Tavassoli (M.I.T.) and Bernd Schmitt (Columbia University) provided an overview of the literature on (in)congruent information from the person-perception literature and highlighted important differences inherent in the realm of advertising. In particular, research findings from social psychology may not be readily applicable because (1) people traits are more ambiguous and flexible than product traits, (2) forming a general impression of a person can be very different than evaluating a product, and (3) learning behaviors sequentially as in the person-perception literature may apply to radio and television but not print ads, for which it has been typically tested. The results of an experiment that manipulated several of these factors were discussed.

Terry Childers (University of Minnesota), Nader Tavassoli and Jeff Jass (University of Minnesota) focused on attention-grabbing properties of pictures based on visual incongruencies. Their work introduces and validates a taxonomy (Biederman, 1981) which has particular relevance to consumer behavior because of the wide application of the pictorial-violations technique in advertising. The presentation offered processing data from two experiments based on a novel technique that mimics eye-tracking or the focus of attention, and the length of attention, as well as reaction-time data. A third experiment extended both Biederman's taxonomy and a study by Heckler and Childers (1992) on probability violations.

Marc Vanhuele (Groupe HEC) and Michel Pham (Columbia University) discuss the processing of incongruent information C whose mnemonic advantage is hypothesized to rely on elaborate processes (see above) C under conditions of very low audience involvement. Their research includes the coordination of "advertising fragments" (e.g., stadium billboards; Pham 1992) with full length advertisements. An experiment demonstrated that even brief incidental exposures to advertisement fragments carrying only brand names (e.g., "Marlboro") increase the accessibility of core brand associations (e.g., masculinity). On the dependent variable side, measures more sensitive to subtle communication effects were used, that is, implicit (perceptual and semantic priming) versus explicit memory tests (e.g., recall).

Kent Grayson (London Business School), the discussant, framed the research stream in terms of advertising practice and provided a "real-world" vocabulary for (in)congruency effects.


Alba, J. W., and L. Hasher (1983), "Is memory schematic?" Psychological Bulletin, 93, 203-231.

Biederman, I. (1981), "On the Semantics of a Glance at a Scene," in Perceptual Organization, M. Kubovy and J. R. Pomerantz, eds., Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 213-55.

Childers, T. L., and M. J. Houston (1984), "Conditions for a Picture Superiority Effect on Consumer Memory," Journal of Consumer Research, 11, 643-54

Heckler, S. E., and T. L. Childers (1992), "The Role of Expectancy and Relevancy in Memory for Verbal and Visual Information: What Is Incongruency?" Journal of Consumer Research, 18, 475-492.

Pham, Michel Tuan (1992), "Effects of Involvement, Arousal, and Pleasure on the Recognition of Sponsorship Stimuli," in Advances in Consumer Research, vol.19, J.F. Sherry and B. Sternthal, eds., Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 85-93.

Schmitt, B. H., N. T. Tavassoli and R. T. Millard (1993), "Memory for Print Ads: Understanding Relations among Brand Name, Copy and Picture," Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2, 55-81.



Nader Tavassoli, University of Minnesota


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1995

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