Theatrical Analogy Between Television Ads and Programs: the Effect of Dramatic Similarities on Consumer Reaction to Advertising

ABSTRACT - Theatrical analogy is the degree of dramatic similarities and differences between a television ad and the program in which it is imbedded. Television ads often take the form of abbreviated dramatic presentations that are set in the context of a television program, a less abbreviated dramatic presentation. The dramatic forms of an ad and a program may be similar or different; this degree of theatrical analogy may affect the reaction of the viewer towards the ad and towards the advertised brand. This paper defines theatrical analogy and provides the theoretical rationale for its proposed effect of strengthening the consumer's reaction to the ad and the product. Propositions are developed for studying the effect of theatrical analogy on the consumer. An outline of the future research on this construct is also presented.



Citation:

Gary D. Schwebach (1994) ,"Theatrical Analogy Between Television Ads and Programs: the Effect of Dramatic Similarities on Consumer Reaction to Advertising", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. Joseph A. Cote and Siew Meng Leong, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 251-256.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1994      Pages 251-256

THEATRICAL ANALOGY BETWEEN TELEVISION ADS AND PROGRAMS: THE EFFECT OF DRAMATIC SIMILARITIES ON CONSUMER REACTION TO ADVERTISING

Gary D. Schwebach, Indiana University

ABSTRACT -

Theatrical analogy is the degree of dramatic similarities and differences between a television ad and the program in which it is imbedded. Television ads often take the form of abbreviated dramatic presentations that are set in the context of a television program, a less abbreviated dramatic presentation. The dramatic forms of an ad and a program may be similar or different; this degree of theatrical analogy may affect the reaction of the viewer towards the ad and towards the advertised brand. This paper defines theatrical analogy and provides the theoretical rationale for its proposed effect of strengthening the consumer's reaction to the ad and the product. Propositions are developed for studying the effect of theatrical analogy on the consumer. An outline of the future research on this construct is also presented.

INTRODUCTION

Significant sums of money are spent to reach consumers of goods and services through television advertising. These amounts will increase as the number of different television channels grow and the means of viewer access changes in the near future (Jackson, 1993; Kupfer, 1993). Consumer behavior researchers have spent considerable effort in analyzing the impact of television advertising on the attitudes and beliefs of the consumer with the intent of understanding and predicting the purchase of advertised products. The characteristics of advertising have been studied to determine which aspects have the greatest effect (see Brown and Stayman 1992 for a review and meta-analysis). Contextual factors are especially important in television advertising because the consumer views advertising within a number of contextual settings. Previous research has addressed several aspects of contextual factors : 1) the type of show (see e.g., Goldberg and Gorn 1987; Murry, Lastovicka and Singh 1992); 2) the location and circumstances of the viewing (see, e.g., Morley 1986); 3) the moods and emotions generated by the ads themselves and the medium in which they are imbedded (see, e.g., Olney, Holbrook and Batra 1991); 4) the physical characteristics of the ad presentation (Brown and Rothschild 1993; Singh and Cole 1993), and 5) the executional aspects of television ads (Stewart and Koslow 1989; Stewart and Furse 1986). However, one important dimension of the television ad context has not been studied. This dimension is the theatrical analogy between an ad and a program, defined as the similarity in dramatic form between a television ad and the program in which it is imbedded. Dramatic form, or genre, has been studied in the fields of literature (Fowler 1982) and telecommunications (Feuer 1992). An investigation of theatrical analogy in the context of television advertising is important because consumers may process ad information in different ways depending on the dramatic context. Very little research has been done in this area.

This research seeks to explain how theatrical analogy affects a consumer's attention, attitude toward the ad and the brand, and recall of the brand by proposing a model for the effects of theatrical analogy. First, a discussion of the literature concerning the role of dramatic form and context will be presented. Previous research into context effects for television advertising will then be reviewed. Finally, this previous research will be linked together into a model of theatrical analogy and propositions will be developed to study the effect of differences in dramatic forms between an ad and the program in which it is imbedded on the reaction of the viewer to the ads.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DRAMATIC FORM

Dramatic form or genre refers to the elements of the program or the ad used to convey the message. The term dramatic form is used to distinguish between the specific application addressed by this research and the much larger field of genre analysis. Dramatic form includes such things as the plot, the setting, the characters, etc. Theatrical analogy is defined as the degree of similarity in dramatic form between the television program and the ad. The higher the theatrical analogy, the higher the commonality in dramatic characteristics between a television program and an ad. A discussion of dramatic form is necessary before theatrical analogy can be analyzed.

Genre, the parent of dramatic form as used here, has received considerable research attention in the field of literature and telecommunications. Fowler (1982) analyzed genres and the use that the readers make of genre. Genres serve to facilitate communication by providing redundancy of meaning through a shared context with which a reader is familiar (Fowler 1982, p. 21). Genre-linked features provide both information and instructions for using that information, thus making communication possible with fewer distractions (Fowler 1982, p. 36). This theory of dramatic form extends into the television environment (Feuer 1992). A number of distinct television genres have been identified such, as the soap opera, the action adventure drama, the situation comedy, etc. These television genres convey certain messages to the viewers that are a function of their respective dramatic form. In most cases, television ads appear within these programs. Dramatic similarities and differences often exist between the program and the ads that appear within a program. These similarities and differences are at the heart of theatrical analogy.

Ads are categorized into informational and emotional ads based on how the brand information is presented (Laskey, Day and Crask 1989). Informational ads present the information directly while emotional ads use affective characteristics to present peripheral information about the brand. Television ads within the emotional category take the form of abbreviated entertainment programs with individual dramatic forms (Deighton, Romer and McQueen 1990). These ads are set within the context of less abbreviated television programs that have their own dramatic form. The extent to which the dramatic form of the ad matches the dramatic form of the surrounding program may have an effect on the viewer's reaction to the ad. Since dramatic forms serve to facilitate communication, an ad of a certain dramatic form set within a program of the same dramatic form will also facilitate communication in a like manner. This is the effect of theatrical analogy.

This communication effect also depends on the context of the viewing situation. The next step in developing theatrical analogy is a discussion of the role of context in television viewing.

CONTEXT IN TELEVISION VIEWING

Context is a key term in this research and, for this research, is defined as the environment in which a television ad is viewed and processed by the consumer. There are two dimensions to context. The first is the viewing context, the why, when, where and with whom of the viewing situation. The second is the media context, a term that is defined as the programming characteristics in which the ad is embedded. The "why" of the viewing context is a key element in the use of television and bears directly on the communication effect of dramatic forms. The media context deals with the dramatic form of the program and the ad. Both will be discussed in detail. The other elements of the viewing context will not be discussed in this research.

The Importance of the "Why" Context

The viewing of television is a purposeful act and thus can not be divorced from the motivations behind the viewing. There has been considerable research conducted concerning why consumers watch television (See O'Guinn and Faber 1991 for a review). The uses and gratification paradigm directly addresses the use of television by consumers. It posits that social and psychological needs generate expectations of television that result in differential patterns of television viewing for the purpose of gratifying those needs but that some unintended consequences occur as a result (Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch 1974). This paradigm has been criticized for several reasons, e.g., the assumption of an active audience, little explanation of how the components fit together and a lack of conceptual clarity, but more recent research has addressed these problems and modified the paradigm to ameliorate these criticisms (O'Guinn and Faber 1991). This paradigm is similar to a number of models of consumer behavior that propose a need driven process for the formation of attitudes towards products (MacInnis and Jaworski 1989), selection of brands (Gutman 1982; Olshavsky 1985; Park and Smith 1989) and the search for information about goods and services (Olshavsky 1993). Consequently, the uses and gratification paradigm provides a useful framework for the analysis of the "why" of television viewing.

Consumers view television to attempt to satisfy a perceived short-term or long-term need, such as additional information, escape from personal or social difficulties, or relief from boredom. A consumer initially will turn to television programs that are perceived to meet that need. A consumer will be attracted to certain dramatic forms that are perceived to meet her needs. As the program is viewed and the consumer finds that the need is being satisfied, the consumer becomes more involved in the program. Involvement has been studied in the context of advertising and has been found to affect the consumer's reaction to what is being viewed (Anderson 1989; Celsi and Olsen 1988). As involvement increases, consumers attend to the program at a higher level and process the information from the program to a higher degree. The process described above is consistent with the facilitating of communication by dramatic forms.

The uses and gratification paradigm speaks of unintended results accruing from television viewing. On such unintended result may be the exposure to television advertising. Although some consumers may seek to watch ads, the consumer has no control over when the ads are broadcast, although ads can be taped for later viewing. Previous research has indicated that ads may distract the viewer from the program and disrupt the attention to the program (See, e.g., Schumann and Thorson 1990). Kamins, Marks and Skinner (1991) found that similarities between a program and an ad appear to lessen this disruption and encourage the consumer to attend to the ad. They labelled this phenomena the consistency effect. This consistency effect is compatible with Fowler's (1982) explanation of dramatic forms as a means of facilitating communication and may occur because both the ad and the program are communicating the same message. Other consumer behavior research has also identified effects that arise from similarities between television ads and the underlying program.

The Media Context and the Effects of Similarities and Differences Between Television Programs and Ads

Although no studies have addressed similarities and differences in dramatic form, prior research has been conducted to determine the effect of similarities and differences between television programs and advertisements on a number of affective dimensions. This media context research has been conducted by observing dichotomous relationships between certain dramatic dimensions of the program and the ad. Goldberg and Gorn (1987) looked at ads within the context of happy or sad programs. They found that commercials viewed in happy programs resulted in more affectively positive cognitive responses toward the ad and a greater perception of ad effectiveness. They also observed that this effect was stronger for dramatic ads than for informational ads. Kamins, Marks and Skinner (1991) replicated the happy/sad study but varied the type of ad by matching happy ads to happy programs and sad ads to sad programs as well as using incongruent ad/program combinations. They found the strongest effects were obtained for happy ads in happy programs and sad ads in sad programs. The consistency between the ads and the program appeared to drive the effect of the ad on the consumer. Murry, Lastovicka and Singh (1992) further studied the effect of feeling states, e.g., happy or sad, the affective reaction toward the ad, i.e. the liking of the ad, and the ad position within the ad pod on the viewers' attitude toward the ad and the brand. They found that program-elicited feelings did not have a significant effect on the ad or brand attitude but that the liking of the program did have a significant impact. Position within the ad pod appeared to moderate ad and brand attitude for less liked programs. These three studies demonstrate that the consumers' attitudes towards the ads and the brands are affected by liking for the program and by similarities between the ad and the program. Although no study has linked dramatic similarities between the ad and the program to liking of the ad, these results are consonant with the theatrical analogy explanation if one accepts that consumers choose to view dramatic forms that they like.

Another area that has received a great deal of attention is the use of humor in ads (Sternthal and Craig 1973; see Weinberger and Gulas 1992 for a review). The research in this area has generally found that humor is most effective in ads when the humor is appropriate within the context of the program. Humorous ads shown during a news program dealing with non-humorous subject matter had less effect on attitudes than the same ad shown during a humorous program (Weinberger and Gulas 1992). This is further evidence of the importance of dramatic similarity between the program and the ad.

This review of literature concerning similarities and differences between ads and the programs in which they are embedded indicates that a number of dimensions affect a consumer's response to the ad. These associations between the ad and the program have been individually approached but have not been joined in any systematic framework. Theatrical analogy is the systematic framework proposed by this research to connect these associations into a single model.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE THEATRICAL ANALOGY CONSTRUCT

Theatrical analogy is defined as the similarity in dramatic form between a television program and an ad viewed within that program. The identification of standard dramatic forms or genres in television would assist in the development of the theatrical analogy construct. The field of western literature can provide useful insights into this endeavor as the study of genres has been conducted since the European Renaissance (Fowler 1982). Genres in literature have been found to be amorphous, with indistinct and shifting boundaries and few necessary elements (Fowler 1982, p. 39). The result has been a Wittgensteinian theory of genres that uses the notion of family resemblance, where members of the same genre are not identical but are related to each other (Fowler 1982, p. 41). Fowler identifies a number of possible features on which this family relationship can be built: method of representation (e.g., narrative or dramatic), external structure, metric structure, size, scale, subject, values, mood, occasion, character, style and reader's task (Fowler 1982, pp. 61-74). This large set of features illustrates the difficulty in constructing a set of common features to define a dramatic form.

Similarly, the potential number of common dramatic characteristics of an ad and a program is large, making a complete match impractical. Therefore, operationalization of the theatrical analogy construct requires identifying a sufficient number of dramatic characteristics common to the program and the ad to permit objective comparison. Several studies have looked at the physical characteristics of the ad and provide clues about which of these are important. Stewart and Kozlow (1989), in a replication of research conducted by Stewart and Furse (1986), systematically analyzed twenty nine executional factors of ads to determine their effect on recall, comprehension and persuasion. Of these, three were relevant to dramatic form: the principal character playing the role of an ordinary person, setting, and the background cast. The principal character playing the role of an ordinary person was positively associated with persuasion, a setting consistent with the use of the advertised product was positively associated with recall and persuasion, and the number of on-screen characters was negatively associated with comprehension and persuasion (Stewart and Kozlow 1989). The ads used in this study were not viewed within the context of a program and thus do not provide direct evidence for the effect of theatrical analogy. However, these studies suggest that elements of dramatic form affect consumer response to ads. These suggestions provide a starting place for selecting dramatic characteristics to make up the dimensions of theatrical analogy.

Based on previous research, five dimensions of theatrical analogy have been selected on which to compare the program to an ad; the setting, the characters, the tone of the ad, the plot of the ad and the congruence of the product to the program. The setting is the first point of comparison between the ad and the program that has been supported by prior research (See Stewart and Kozlow 1989). The setting includes the physical location as well as temporal circumstances (date, time, etc.) Stewart and Kozlow also support the second dimension, the characters in the ad and the program (1989). The characters should be compared to each other on demographic factors, demeanor and socio-economic appearance. Third, the research on liking and on humor supports the use of tone or mood to compare the ad to the program (See Murray, Lastovicka and Singh 1992; Weinberger and Gulas 1992 ). Ads and programs with similar tones or moods, such as happiness, humor or romance, would be theatrically analogous on this dimension. A fourth dimension supported by the liking and humor research is the plot or the story line of ad and the program. Similarities between the program and the ad have been supported, although the plot itself has not been examined (See Murray, Lastovicka and Singh 1992; Weinberger and Gulas 1992). This effect should carry over to the plot. The plot of the ad may not capture the program's entire plot but the ad plot can be examined to determine the degree to which it parallels that of the program. The fifth dimension supported by the research is the product itself. Stewart and Kozlow found support for the positive effect of a setting consistent with the use of a product (1989). This effect should extend to the program as well, such that ads that feature products which are consistent with the program will have higher theatrical analogy on this dimension. Although these five dimensions are not exhaustive, they capture sufficient similarities between a program and an ad to permit development of research propositions.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF RESEARCH PROPOSITIONS

Theatrical analogy is a programming variable that will have an effect only if the consumers react to the similarities in dramatic form. Prior research has analyzed the effect of cognitive processing strategies on the viewers' reaction to television programming (Goldberg and Gorn 1987). This research has generally found a relationship between attitudes towards programming and the cognitive processes used by the consumers in observing the programming. This relationship is generally positive when the consumers possess prior knowledge of the subject matter contained in the programming. Theatrical analogy provides a means of tapping this prior knowledge.

Research in contextual psychology has investigated the acquisition, assimilation and storage of information in memory. This research has found evidence for the existence of generic knowledge structures (GKSs.) "GKSs are organized sets of beliefs about the social environment that summarize, in a general and functional way, previous direct and vicarious experience with stimuli encountered in this environment" (Bodenhausen 1992). GKSs are long-term structures that are organized according to activating stimuli, such as dramatic form. These structures provide assistance in organizing new stimuli and providing clues as to the significance of new information. A person has certain expectancies when encountering any given situation. The GKSs establish these expectancies and direct a person's attention to a subset of the available stimuli that corresponds to the person's expectancies for the given situation and permit the more efficient processing of that information into the person's knowledge structure (Bodenhausen 1992). Dramatic form may serve to activate expectancies for television viewing. Theatrical analogy would then permit the more efficient processing of that ad information.

Generic knowledge structures also provide a framework by which new information can be interpreted. Research on priming indicates that the activation of a certain frame of reference before receiving new information has a powerful effect on the interpretation of that information (Higgins, Rholes and Jones 1977; Wyer and Srull 1989). The selection and viewing of a certain television program serves to activate a frame of reference related to that show and thus affects the interpretation of any commercial seen during that show. Since dramatic form serves to facilitate communication (Fowler 1982), dramatic form may serve as the foundation or organizing principle behind television GKSs. Theatrical analogy between a program and an ad may thus cause the ad to be interpreted in the same manner as the program. Since consumers routinely watch programs that meet some need, the ad and the product may be interpreted to meet that same need.

Generic knowledge structures also provide an efficient means for retrieving information. Information that is more easily stored is also more easily recalled because the person has a ready mechanism for retrieval. The GKS provides a framework that can be more efficiently searched due to the schematically consistent organization of the contained knowledge (Bodenhausen 1992). Theatrical analogy would appear to improve the ability to recall ad information from the dramatic from GKSs. Finally, GKSs provide a tool for going beyond the information provided by a stimulus to infer information about the stimulus that seems reasonable, based on past experience contained in the GKS (Bodenhausen 1992). This function does not appear to require prior activation but can occur at any time after the stimulus has been processed. For instance, if a stimulus is associated with a GKS that the individual perceives as "good," the individual is more likely to perceive the stimulus as "good" (Bodenhausen 1992). Theatrical analogy may serve as a stimulus that associates an ad with the dramatic form GKS of a program and thus ascribes the ad with the same status as that program.

The structure of the stored program knowledge and how this structure affects use of the information is only the first step. The next step is to determine how the information is processed. Several theories exist to explain the mechanism by which consumers process new information. The assimilation theory (Sherif and Hovland 1961) suggests that consumers assimilate information that occurs within a certain range of the frame used by the consumer in the viewing situation. The dramatic form of the television program could form the viewing frame. Consumers would assimilate perceptions of the ad that were similar to the program and contrast perceptions of the ad that were dissimilar. This would lead consumers to acquire and interpret the ad perceptions into the existing program GKS, a process that is desirable under the cognitive miser theory of human cognitive behavior (Taylor 1981). The elaboration likelihood model (Petty and Cacioppo 1986) provides an alternative explanation for the process. It suggests that in situations where the motivation and ability to scrutinize issue-relevant information is low, consumers will rely on peripheral information to process the information. This further suggests that an ad that is similar to a program will be perceived in the same light, with the same affective valence and cognitive value. Theatrical analogy will thus activate the processing route that reaches the dramatic form GKS of the program being viewed and result in similar evaluations of the ad.

This research can be used to construct the processing pattern for theatrical analogy. A consumer will select and continue viewing a program to meet certain needs (O'Guinn and Faber 1992). The selection and viewing of a television program serves to activate the GKS associated with both that need and the program. A viewer who then sees an ad that "fits" within that pre-activated GKS will process the information from the ad in a manner similar to the information from the program (Bodenhausen 1992). Consumers have been shown to process information and make choices about products based on their perceived need for that product. (Costley and Brucks 1992; Gutman 1982; Park and Smith 1989). New information can cause consumers to re-evaluate and change their perceived need for a product (Olshavsky 1993). Consumers who view certain programs to fulfill a need are more open to information that addresses that need. Theatrical analogy between the program that addresses a need and the ad may lead the consumer to conclude that the ad also addresses the need. This similarity will also cue the viewer to continue using the extant GKS and will bring about a stronger effect for the ad (See, e.g. Kamins, Marks and Skinner 1991). The consumer's needs and the associated GKS activated by the program will act as a frame for viewing the ad; similarities will lead to the assimilation of the ad information as pertinent to meeting the need for which the program was viewed (Sherif and Hovland 1961). Theatrical analogy can also operate as a peripheral cue and processing route that permits the consumer to incorporate the ad information as a basis for identifying a solution to the need (Petty and Cacioppo 1986). In contrast, a non-theatrically analogous ad may catch the consumer's attention but will also require the consumer to activate a more appropriate GKS with which to process the information (See Bodenhausen 1992). This may lead to the disassociation of the ad with the need that brought the consumer to that program. Compared to the theatrically analogous ad, the second ad will not be processed as a potential solution to the underlying need.

Consumers are more attentive to products and sources of information that either define or meet their needs (Costley and Brooks 1992; Olshavsky 1993). This increased attention leads the consumer to exert more effort in processing the information. The increased effort is more efficient when it is conducted within a previously activated knowledge structure (Bodenhausen 1992). If the information addresses a need of the consumer, the information will be more strongly received and, upon retrieval, more strongly held (Alba, Hutchinson and Lynch 1991; Lynch and Srull 1982). The viewer selects a program to meet certain needs and uses a GKS to process information from that program. The theatrically analogous ad benefits from that processing mode as described above. A non-theatrically analogous ad does not benefit from a pre-selected GKS. Instead, the viewer must select a new processing GKS and bring that structure into play. This results in information from the non-analogous ad being either lost or more inefficiently processed. The ability to retrieve the information has been associated with attitudes towards the ad and towards the brand (MacKenzie and Lutz 1989). This leads to the first proposition:

P1:An ad that is theatrically analogous to the television program in which it is imbedded will be have stronger effects for attention, attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the brand and recall of the brand than a non-theatrically analogous ad imbedded in the same program.

An ad viewed in isolation also does not benefit from a pre-selected GKS. Again, the viewer must select a new processing GKS and bring that structure into play before the end of the ad. Information from the isolated commercial will either be lost or less efficiently processed. This leads to the second proposition:

P2:An ad that is theatrically analogous to the television program in which it is imbedded will have a stronger effect on attention, attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the brand and recall of the brand than the same ad shown in isolation.

These propositions will frame the initial testing of the theatrical analogy construct.

FUTURE DIRECTIONS

The purpose of this research is to develop a model to explain how theatrical analogy affects a consumer's processing of ads. The model developed above provides a framework for explaining the connection between the previous research on the effects of the similarities between television ads and programs. This model is in its infancy and must be subjected to testing in order to determine its efficacy.

The first step is to isolate a sufficient number of program and ad combinations that match on the five dimensions of theatrical analogy. Several possibilities exist. Programs could be selected from among network romantic drama programming and then compared to theatrically analogous ads, such as the Taster's Choice romance series or the AT&T family problems series. Another possibility could be a program selected from network situation comedy programming, such as the Cheers program, and compared to a theatrically analogous ad, such as Miller's beer ad set in a bar. Once selected, these ads would be tested to determine if only one dimension, such as characters or setting, accounts for the similarity or whether the judgment of similarity is based more on dramatic form. The relative weight of each dimension will also assessed and additional dimensions of theatrical analogy, if any, will be identified. This stage will be the first opportunity to determine if theatrical analogy operates as hypothesized.

The next step will be to test the effect of theatrical analogy. A series of ads will be professionally produced with the same fictitious product to be theatrically analogous to different dramatic forms. The effects of theatrical analogy will then be tested across three of the dramatic forms identified in U.S. television, the romantic drama, the action adventure drama and the situation comedy (Feuer 1992). Once the effect is shown to exist, further work is contemplated to define the boundaries and the conditions under which theatrical analogy operates as hypothesized. This research is in its initial stages and will be adjusted at each stage according to the obtained results.

CONCLUSION

This study has proposed the theatrical analogy model as a framework for linking previous research on the effects of similarity between television programs and their imbedded ads. This model is based on the role of dramatic form or genre in the communication of information. It provides an explanation of how consumers process the information obtained from theatrically analogous ads. It concludes with two research propositions and the future directions this research should undertake. This is not an endpoint but is the beginning of a journey to more fully understand the effects of dramatic similarity between television programs and the imbedded ads on consumer reactions to those ads.

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Authors

Gary D. Schwebach, Indiana University



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1994



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Cohesion or Coercion? Why Coordinated Behavior Backfires in Marketing Contexts

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