Between Imagination and Reality: a Study on the Comparative Effectiveness of Advertising and Product Trial

ABSTRACT - This study argues that the comparative effectiveness of product trial and advertising should be assessed based on the type of product dimension communicated. Hedonic and utilitarian dimensions are introduced as a better alternative to evaluate the comparative effectiveness of product trial and advertising. The study examines the mutual-exclusiveness between Ahedonic information processing@ and Autilitarian information processing@ arising from brain resource allocation. It is proposed that advertising can more effectively communicate the hedonic dimension, while product trial can more effectively communicate the utilitarian dimension. Furthe, type of motivation and type of product are argued to play moderating roles in amplifying/attenuating the evaluation on the hedonic and utilitarian dimensions.



Citation:

Ike Janita Dewi and Swee Hoon Ang (2001) ,"Between Imagination and Reality: a Study on the Comparative Effectiveness of Advertising and Product Trial", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Paula M. Tidwell and Thomas E. Muller, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 74-80.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 2001      Pages 74-80

BETWEEN IMAGINATION AND REALITY: A STUDY ON THE COMPARATIVE EFFECTIVENESS OF ADVERTISING AND PRODUCT TRIAL

Ike Janita Dewi, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Swee Hoon Ang, National University of Singapore, Singapore

ABSTRACT -

This study argues that the comparative effectiveness of product trial and advertising should be assessed based on the type of product dimension communicated. Hedonic and utilitarian dimensions are introduced as a better alternative to evaluate the comparative effectiveness of product trial and advertising. The study examines the mutual-exclusiveness between "hedonic information processing" and "utilitarian information processing" arising from brain resource allocation. It is proposed that advertising can more effectively communicate the hedonic dimension, while product trial can more effectively communicate the utilitarian dimension. Furthe, type of motivation and type of product are argued to play moderating roles in amplifying/attenuating the evaluation on the hedonic and utilitarian dimensions.

INTRODUCTION

Advertising and product trial are often used by marketers to communicate information about a product. Advertising has the advantage of mass communication but does not offer direct product experience, while product trialBconsumer’s first usage experience with a product (Kempf and Smith, 1998)Bprovides direct product experience but is limited in reach. Therefore, there is a trade-off in the advantages and disadvantages between advertising and product trial, demanding for research to examine the relative superiority of one communication medium over the other.

Previous research on advertising-trial assumes that consumers are evaluative decision makers where cognition is the primary determinant of attitude. As evaluative decision makers, the credibility of information source is always considered. Based on this assumption, research on advertising-trial effectiveness have argued in favor of product trial because of the credibility and non-partisan nature that direct product experience provides. Further, product trial is considered a superior medium because it elicits stronger cognitive responses of belief strength, belief confidence, product curiosity, and attitude-behavior consistency (Deighton, 1984; Hoch and Ha, 1986; Kempf and Smith, 1998; Marks and Kamins, 1988; Smith, 1993; Smith and Swinyard, 1988; Smith and Swinyard, 1982). For instance, the Integrated Information Response Model (Smith and Swinyard, 1982) proposed that consumers accept information conveyed by product trial better than that by advertising because they place importance on the credibility of the information source. As a more credible source, product trial is considered to be more effective than advertising in communicating product attributes.

However, two issues have been raised regarding the relative superiority of product trial. First, that product trial is superior because of its credibility implies that consumers are always engaged in "deep" cognitive processing. It also implies that consumers are involved in elaborate decision making. However, Zajonc (1980) argues that consumers may form attitudes without recognition of the product, and may even form a favorable attitude towards a product with minimum cognitive efforts (Edwards and Hippel, 1995; Zajonc, 1980). Such evidence suggests that consumers often do not assess the credibility of information sources when developing attitudes towards a product. It also implies that although advertising is a partisan information source, it can be as effective as product trial in communicating product attributes when such evaluation involves different processing such as through the subconscious, daydreams, and inner desires or when little cognitive processing occurs. ["Little cognitive processing" does not deny that affective information processing may involve or be mediated by mental process. Zajonc=s proposition of the primacy of affect (1980) acknowledges that affective reactions to stimuli must involve a form of recognition, however primitive or minimal. The elicitation of affective responses is also possibly underlied by a mechanism in which subjects compare the minimum stimuli with representations of internalized past experience, although such representation may be unconscious (Bornstein, Leone, and Galley, 1987).] Second, Wright and Lynch (1995) argued that advertising more effectively communicates search attributes, whereas trial is superior in communicating experience attributes. Their findings suggest that the comparative effectiveness of advertising and trial should be assessed depending on the type of attributes communicated to consumers.

In this study, another attribute distinctionBhedonic and utilitarianBis proposed for more insights into the superiority of trial over advertising. The search-experience duality can be argued that by definition, product trial does not provide diagnostic evidence regarding non-experience attributes (Kempf and Smith, 1998). For instance, although perfume is a high experience product, trial by giving away scented cards does not effectively communicate the fantasy and imagination attributes associated with a perfume. Instead, the dimensions of hedonism and utilitarianism offer an alternative means to distinguish the effectiveness of advertising versus trial in conveying product attributes. Further, the hedonic dimension is proposed as "an enlarged view of affect" to better study the experiential consumption (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982).

The hedonic dimension pertains to fantasies, imagination, and emotions (Babin, Darden, and Griffin, 1994; Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982; Lel Bel and Dube, 1998; Spagenberg, Voss, and Crowley, 1997). The utilitarian dimension, in contrast, concerns the functional performance of a product. For instance, information on a liquid soap can pertain to one’s fantasy of becoming a beautiful, sexy movie star, on the one hand, or communicate its functional benefits of cleansing skin and killing germs on the other.

The objective of this study is to examine the superiority of advertising versus trial in communicating the hedonic and utilitarian dimensions of a product. The proposed framework is based on preconscious/subconscious information processing (Dixon, 1984; Zajonc, 1980), and imagination (Murray, 1987; Sartre, 1940/1972). Preconscious/subconscious [There has been different definitions of "unconscious" has received different definitions. In this paper, the conscious is conceptualized as the mind processes operate outside the realm of awareness or is out of focal awareness, which later influence conscious process (Freudian unconscious, cited in Izard, 1977).] information processing refers to the processing of stimuli perceived without awareness which may have significant effects on subsequent cognition, affect and behavior. As product trial offers product direct experience while advertising provides only "quasi-observation," the type of information processing that will dominate will influence relative superiority. The literature on imagination is useful as hedonic information processing involves imagination during product evaluation. Stemming from studies on daydreaming and imagination, it is predicted that during product trial, consumers will engage more in utilitarian information processing, while ad exposure results in hedonic information processing (Singer, 1975).

Secondarily, this paper seeks to examine the moderating role of motivation and product category in amplifying/attenuating the hedonic/utilitarian responses elicited by consumers after advertising/trial exposure. Motivation, as a filter to select salient information (Aaker and Maheswaran, 1997) and a conscious effort to extract the subconscious (Kuhl, 1986), will interact with the communication media in evaluating hedonic/utilitarian dimensions. Similarly, hedonic/utilitarian products can amplify/attenuate the hedonic/utilitarian responses.

This study has implications on the existing advertising-trial model, i.e. the Integrated Information Response (IIR) Model, which has overlooked the role of such hedonic information processing in product evaluation. In so doing, it suggests how IIR Model is biased towards the utilitarian information processing. Further, by examining motivation and product types, this study suggests that the effectiveness of advertising and product trial varies by the type of motivation and product category promoted by the communication media. Managerially, this study will provide valuable insights for marketers in communication media selection.

The remainder of the paper will be organized as follows: First, the literature on the comparative effectiveness of advertising and trial is reviewed. Second, the hedonic and utilitarian dimensions are introduced followed by the literature on information processing of those dimensions. Last, the moderating roles of motivation and product category are discussed.

COMPARATIVE EFFECT OF ADVERTISING AND PRODUCT TRIAL

The Integrated Information Response Model (Smith and Swinyard, 1982) provides an insightful framework in understanding the processing of information conveyed by advertising and direct experience. The IIR Model conceptually evaluates the comparative effectiveness of ad-trial based on the ability of each communication to generate (high or low) information acceptance resulting in (high or low) belief and affect. The model assumes that cognition is the primary component of attitude where belief strength plays a functional role in determining affective development.

The IIR model argues tht advertising generates low message acceptance since "information is delivered by an external source with an obvious vested interest" (Smith and Swinyard, 1982, p.83). Such knowledge bias stems from the recipient’s beliefs that the communicator will not convey accurate information. The lack of credibility in ad claim therefore produces less favorable attitude. Hence, a consumer will instead look for more credible information before committing to a purchase. Product trial is one such credible source, resulting in greater message acceptance, more favorable beliefs, and affect. The model implies therefore that product trial is superior vis-a-vis advertising in terms of cognitive responses and attitude.

Using the IIR Model as the theoretical foundation, Smith and Swinyard (1983) argued that trial will result in greater attitude-behavior consistency since direct experience generates more favorable attitude which leads to committed purchases. Advertising, in contrast, has been found to dilute message acceptance (Smith and Swinyard, 1988). Therefore, compared to product trial, advertising generates lower order beliefs and less confidently held attitudes.

The above research pertained to separate examination of the effects of advertising and product trial. Other research (Deighton, 1984; Hoch and Ha, 1986; Kempf and Smith, 1998; Marks and Kamins, 1988; Smith, 1993) studied the interaction effects of both information sources. In general, these findings consistently found that trial generates greater belief confidence, attitude confidence (Marks and Kamins, 1988; Smith, 1993), brand thoughts, and trial thoughts (Hoch and Ha, 1986; Kempf and Smith, 1998) because of the objective physical evidence brought about by the direct experience. Based on the above discussion, product trial compared to advertising is superior in generating stronger belief strength and greater belief confidence. Second, product trial is regarded as always and uniformly superior vis-a-vis advertising.

However, it is conceivable that even though advertising is less effective in terms of generating stronger belief strength and belief confidence, it may elicit another kind of response which plays a significant role in product evaluation. In his two-stage model of advertising effect, Deighton (1984) argued that advertising arouses an expectation or hypothesis; whereas product trial, as a more objective source of information, serves as a confirming experience. This tentative hypothesis persists and influences product evaluation (Smith, 1993) and purchase intention (Marks and Kamins, 1988). Prior advertising exposure also lessens negative effects of subsequent unfavorable or ambiguous trial (Hoch and Ha, 1986; expectation (Smith, 1993). Implied from these findings is that even though consumers may indicate that they do not believe in the ad claims, they however store the message and (subconsciously) form a tentative hypothesis regarding the product. Such tentative hypothesis is then confirmed during product trial. Further, Wright and Lynch (1995), in their media congruence hypothesis, demonstrated that product trial better communicates experience attributes, whereas advertising more effectively communicates search attributes. Search attributes are those where attribute information can be gained from second-hand experience (e.g., color, number of calories, ingredients, and price) and experience attributes are those that can be assessed only after using the product (e.g., crispiness of potato chips or user-friendliness of a computer)

However, such search versus experience attribute distinction is not insightful because it can be argued that by definition, product trial does not provide diagnostic evidence regarding non-experience attributes (Kempf and Smith, 1998). More importantly, this duality is not appropriate in some circumstances. For instance, in certain high-experience products such as perfumes, consumers are unlikely buy a perfume before s/he scents the fragrance. However, product trial, by way of giving away scented cards, is doubtful to be effective. Perfumes do not just sell the fragrance. More than fragrance, they sell beauty, image, dreams, and fantasy. A product trial alone ma not effectively communicate such attributes. Instead, another attribute distinctionBhedonic and utilitarianBis identified.

Hedonic and Utilitarian Dimensions

The hedonic dimension pertains to the "experiential" view of consumption enlarging the concept of affective component of only a valenced feeling state of like or dislike of a product (Babin, Darden and Griffin, 1994; Batra and Ahtola, 1990; Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982). Hedonic information processing involves absorbing the experience manifested in fantasy and imagination. Fantasy and imagination deal with the construction of symbolic meaning and facilitate imaginative construction of reality. In relation to the elicitation of imagination and fantasy, the hedonic dimension captures "inner desires." This aspect is well documented in the context of shopping experience. Consumers are involved in hedonic shopping when they described themselves as "a kid in a candy store" during their Christmas shopping, loving to shop for toys because of "the little kid in me," or experiencing shopping as an adventure (Babin, Darden and Griffin, 1994).

Hedonic information processing corresponds to primary process thinking (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982). Therefore, pleasure, fun, amusement, and enjoyment (Orbach, 1995) become the criteria in product evaluation. Hedonic information processing requires the chronic hedonic energy dealing with sensation, fantasy, imagination, emotional arousal, pleasure, and symbolic meanings (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982). These are likely to be found in the intrinsic values or intangible attributes of a product.

The hedonic perspective is contrasted from the utilitarian dimension. The utilitarian dimension is evaluated based on rational consideration. It pertains to the functional or instrumental benefit of the product (Babin, Darden and Griffin, 1994; Batra and Ahtola, 1990; Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982). It is processed corresponding to the secondary process thinking which reflects the way mental processes function as a result of taking into account the "consequences of action" (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982). In shopping behavior, for instance, the utilitarian shopping experience is illustrated as task-related and rational. Product is purchased in a deliberate and efficient manner (Babin, Darden and Griffin, 1994), and valued for its utility-maximizing function. Product evaluation is based on tangible benefits and objective features such as calories (in food), fluoride (in toothpaste), and miles per gallon (in gas; Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982). The utilitarian dimension also views products as objective entities. It is inferred therefore that the utilitarian information processing involves the cognitive apparatus of memory and its related phenomena (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982). Although there may be an involvement of affect, it is of a lesser magnitude.

This categorization of product attributes into hedonic and utilitarian is insightful as they capture the cognitive-affective, thinking-feeling, and right-left brain hemispheres of information processing. However, it is important to note that the hedonic-utilitarian distinction differs from that of experience-search attributes. Experience attributes can involve the cognitive and affective elements of a product, whereas hedonic attributes are dominantly affective in nature (Mano and Oliver, 1993). Utilitarian attributes are different from search attributes in that the utilitarian attributes of a product are cognitively evaluated (Batra and Ahtola, 1990; Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982), while search attributes can involve both utilitarian and hedonic information processing

To illustrate, the fragrance of a perfume is an experience attribute. However, the fragrance can be evaluated in terms of its utilitarian and hedonic attributes. The utilitarian attribute is the functional benefit of the fragrance, such as concealing body odor; while the hedonic dimension is the image built by using it, such as feeling exy or beautiful. Similarly, search attributes can communicate a product’s utilitarian and hedonic dimensions. For example, the number of calories presented on the product label can be regarded as objective information communicating how much energy a product produces from its consumption. But, information on calories can also be processed as how the product is fattening and affects one’s beauty. These will then be the hedonic attributes.

COMMUNICATING HEDONIC AND UTILITARIAN DIMENSIONS

Information Processing of Hedonic Dimensions

The hedonic dimension comprises three properties of imagination, fantasies [The term "fantasy" has somewhat negative connotation. In differentiating and contrasting the concept of fantasy with that of imagination, Lynch (1974) states that fantasy is a failure of imagination. Freud (1907, cited in Singer, 1975) states that "happy people do not make fantasies, only unsatisfied do." However, frequently, the term fantasy is used interchangeably with imagination referring to several definitions, for example, of something not present although it exists somewhere else (Sartre, 1940/1972).] and emotional arousal. These dimensions manifest in the perception of a product as a symbolic representation of one’s inner desires (Orbach, 1995). Such dimensions are derived from the subconscious memories which contain fantasy life and key symbolic meaning (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982). These lie below the threshold of consciousness and are private in nature.

Hedonic information processing can be viewed as imagination involved in the processing. As shown in Figure 1, advertising provides only "quasi-observation" which depicts the product or product information, but offers no direct exposure. Such condition stimulates imagination as suggested by Jager (1989). He contends that some "distance" with the object or less than absolute access stimulates imagination. Further, such quasi-observation becomes a characteristic of imagination itself. Direct experience with the product can inhibit imagination activities since a consumer cannot perceive an object and imagine it at the same time (Casey, 1976). As stated by Wittgenstein (cited in Warnock, 1976, p. 183-195), "while I am looking at an object I cannot imagine it." Thus, it is inferred that the absence of the object gives room for imagination.

The other supporting argument stems from studies on daydreaming (Singer, 1975) which suggests that only when one’s environment offers limited stimuli, can attention shift to inner stimulation. It is further argued that with limited movements, people tend to be more engaged in imagination. Therefore, it is implied that reducing external stimuli will facilitate people to deal with images and fantasies. Excessive external stimuli will be distracting and thus inhibit an individual from engaging in inner activities. Further, it is likely that if crowded external stimuli are offered, responses to such stimuli will take priority over inner activities (Singer, 1975).

Additionally, the evaluation on hedonic dimension involves emotion. If advertising generates stimuli that retrieve preconscious and subconscious long-term memory, such memory retrieval is closely related with emotional arousal. That emotion is experienced during advertising exposure has been widely studied. Such research suggests that ads can elicit emotional responses such as anger, fear, and warmth (Burke and Edell, 1989; Janiszewski, 1990). Also, Dixon (1984) proposed that emotional arousal is one of the signals for the occurrence of subconscious activities.

The claim that advertising is superior in the imaginative construction of reality is supported by evidence regarding the ad’s ability in delivering product image (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982; Vakratsas and Ambler, 1999). For instance, cigarette ads hardly depict the cigarettes but present the image of the product (e.g., Marlboro man to engage consumers with imagination of the macho image in consuming Marlboro). Also, advertising has been reported to be more effective in communicating credence attributes (i.e., attributes that cannot be evaluated even after consuming products such as antiques; Kempf and Smith, 1998). This refers to advertising’s ability to create responses beyond experience attributes and deal with symbolic meanings of the products.

Moreover, the kin of stimuli which stimulates imagination and deals with subconscious memory is likely to be elicited by advertising. Advertising is considered as a more effective means to trigger consumers in retrieving his/her long-term subconscious memory. Evidence of this is implicitly offered by Deighton’s study (1984). He argued that advertising shapes the evaluation of product trial and biases the outcome in favor of confirmation. Frequently, consumers do not acknowledge that they have formed evaluative hypothesis based on such slight grounds (Hoch and Ha, 1986). However, although the effect cannot be identified immediately after advertising exposure, the effect is revealed only in the subsequent interpretation of evidence. Such empirical evidence refers to the subconscious effect elicited from the ads which shapes perception even without (conscious) awareness.

FIGURE 1

SUMMARY OF ARGUMENTS

Information Processing of Utilitarian Dimension

Product trial offers direct product experience. Consumers receive stimuli in various modalities of vision, smell, touch, taste or hearing. The stimuli offered include the functional benefits of the product (or its utilitarian dimension) as well as its hedonic dimension. The concern therefore lies on the dominant information processing occurring in response to such crowded stimuli. Utilitarian information processing dominantly occurs when the functional benefits of a product capture more or dominate brain activities, compared to the product’s hedonic dimension (Singer, 1975). The nature of trial itself also determines the dominance of hedonic or utilitarian information processing as the information medium can stimulate or facilitate certain type of information processing.

In a crowded environment, not all stimuli will be attended. The models of attention [There are several models of attention proposed in the area of cognitive psychology, including the Early-Selection Filter Models and the Late-Selection Filter Models. However, further elaboration on such models is beyond our scope of discussion. For further discussion, please refer to, for example, Ellis and Hunt (1993).] state that being exposed to various stimuli, consumers cannot attend all information (Ellis and Hunt, 1993, p. 49-70). As summarized in Figure 1, the evaluation on the functional benefits and the retrieval of inner desires are difficult to occur simultaneously because brain resources are finite. Therefore, these activities compete for brain resources (Allen, 1983; Singer, 1975). In such competition, it is argued that the more vivid (that is the utilitarian dimension) will override the less vivid. The utilitarian dimension is more insistent and vivid compared to those involving inner activities. It is more easily associated with the tangible attributes of the product (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982). It is also more accessible if the product is physically available such as that in a product trial. For instance, the durability of shoes can be evaluated from the sole thickness or the cavity protection can be evaluated from the fluoride contained in toothpaste.

Supporting argument stems from the study of daydreaming which argues that the competition for brain resources follows "the rule of priority" in which more vivid stimuli can override subtler inner activities (Singer, 1975). If utilitarian information processing is more overwhelming, then hedonic information processing will be inhibited.

Utilitarian information processing is also dominated by instrumental or functional performance of the product. Such processing views consumers as rational decision makers, engaged in goal-directed activities of searching for information, retrieving memory cues, weighting evidence, and arriving at carefully considered judgmental situation (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982). Therefore, the utilitarian dimension involves rational consumers evaluating the functional performance of the product. Such information processing involves deeper cognitive processes (Mano and Oliver, 1993). The cognitive encoding also involves discrimination of a variety of content, identification of features, and examination of values (Zajonc, 1980). Consequently, the validity and credibility of the information source are demanded.

Product trial offers the most objective evidence as it comes from one’s own senses (Smith and Swinyard, 1983). The "unique" stimuli offered by product trial nduce cognitive processing. During such trial, consumers tend to be in an evaluative mind-set (Kempf and Smith, 1998) and are stimulated to make conscious efforts when assessing a product.

Since product trial offers vivid stimuli and facilitates cognitive processing, consumers will tend to focus on a product’s tangible benefits. Inner activities dealing with fantasy and imagination are overridden. For instance, Nike advertisements encourage consumers to fantasize of becoming a Michael Jordan. However, when a pair of Nike sneakers is bought, consumers tend to evaluate the utilitarian dimension of thickness of the sole and its comfort.

Based on the above discussion, it is proposed that trial is superior to advertising in eliciting cognitive responses such as belief strength and belief confidence (Deighton, 1984; Hoch and Ha, 1986; Kempf and Smith, 1998; Marks and Kamins, 1988; Smith, 1993; Smith and Swinyard, 1988; Smith and Swinyard, 1982) when evaluating the utilitarian dimensions of a product. However, advertising will be superior to trial when evaluating the hedonic dimension of a product. Hypothesis 1 formally states:

Hypothesis 1: Compared to advertising, product trial will generate:

(a) Higher score of belief strength of the utilitarian dimension of a product.

(b) Lower score of belief strength of the hedonic dimension of a product

(c) Less imagination

(d) Less emotional arousal

THE MODERATING ROLES OF MOTIVATION TYPE AND PRODUCT TYPE

The Moderating Role of Motivation Type

The preceding discussion argued that advertising is superior in communicating the hedonic dimension, while product trial is more effective in communicating the utilitarian dimension of a product. However, the difference in effectiveness of advertising and product trial in communicating the hedonic and utilitarian dimensions of a product may vary depending on consumer motivation.

Hirschman and Holbrook (1982) proposed that the variables moderating the effects of advertising and product trial can be classified as consumer input and environmental input. Consumer input, considered as an internal factor, has motivation as its most salient factor. Several reasons account for this. First, motivation is the "force", or "tendency" that directs behavior and answers the "what-for" question regarding one’s activity. It is the underlying force behind one’s attitude or behavior (Heckhausen, 1991; Reeve, 1997). Second, prior studies have empirically shown that information is communicated effectively if the message matches the motives of the audience (Katz, 1960). The congruence between message and motivation will therefore significantly influence beliefs and attitude. Motivation then serves as a means to filter and select information presented by the communication media. Similar to Aaker and Maheswaran’s (1997) argument that the central and peripheral routes of persuasion are subjectively determined by individuals based on his/her perceived value, motivation can serve as a criterion for mentally selecting information to be perceived. If an individual, for instance, is utilitarian motivated, s/he tends to perceive the utilitarian dimension of the product as the salient attribute. Therefore, such utilitarian information becomes the central route of persuasion. On the other hand, a hedonic-motivated person will regard the utilitarian dimnsion as the peripheral route and use the hedonic information for central route of processing. As an illustration, an advertisement on a liquid soap will be processed differently by a person attending a party (i.e. hedonic motivated) versus another person who is staying at home (i.e. utilitarian motivated). The hedonic-motivated consumer looks for beauty, while the utilitarian-motivated consumer looks for a fresh feeling after taking shower.

Further, motivation and communication media can interact in determining the magnitude of the evaluation on the hedonic and the utilitarian dimensions. Hedonic motivation, pertaining to the inner desires, lie below the threshold of consciousness. The complex structure of the information "hidden" in the subconscience needs to be interpreted. Motivation then serves as the conscious process of extracting information stored in the subconscience (Kuhl, 1986). Hedonic motives stored in the subconscience can be formulated as part of motivation. Even though a consumer may be hedonically motivated, the subconscious nature of the dimension will be translated into a conscious-type of motivation (Kuhl, 1986). Moreover, motivation involves rational consideration of the consequences of the preference (Heckhausen, 1990). Therefore, a hedonic-motivated consumer needs further confirmation on product performance. If the evidence confirms the expectation, the hedonic evaluation is enhanced. Product trial, which provides direct and multisensory experience, thus serves as the amplifying factor for the hedonic evaluation of the product. Meanwhile, although advertising can retrieve hedonic desires, the existence of hedonic motivation is the result of the retrieval of hedonic desires. Therefore, for a hedonic-motivated consumer, advertising (compared to trial) will generate less favorable evaluation on the hedonic dimension.

On the other hand, a utilitarian-motivated consumer will obtain valid information as expected from direct experience. Therefore, product trial serves as a reinforcement for the evaluation of the utilitarian dimension. In the existence of utilitarian motivation, evaluation of the utilitarian dimension of a product will inhibit the retrieval of inner desires required to evaluate the hedonic dimension of a product. As a result, evaluation of the hedonic dimension is less favorable. Based on the above discussion, Hypothesis 2 and 3 state:

Hypothesis 2: When a consumer is hedonically motivated, product trial compared to advertising will generate:

(a) higher score of belief strength of the utilitarian dimension of a product

(b) higher score of belief strength of the hedonic dimension of a product

(c) more imagination

(d) greater emotional arousal

Hypothesis 3:When a consumer is utilitarian-motivated, product trial compared to advertising will generate:

(a) higher score of belief strength of the utilitarian dimension of a product

(b) lower score of belief strength of the hedonic dimension of a product

(c) less elicitation of imagination

(d) less emotional arousal

The Moderating Role of Product Type

Prior studies on advertising-product trial tended to use utilitarian products such as paper towel and polo shirt (Hoch and Ha, 1986). However, there are product classes in which the categorization can be based on the intensity of hedonic and utilitarian properties. Product type can serve to determine the type of responses elicited more strongly by consumers. Therefore, it serves as an important moderator in determining the comparative impact of advertising and product trial on hedonic or utilitarian dimensions (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982).

Product type falls along the hedoni-utilitarian dimensions. Hedonic products have a hedonic personalityBmore emotionally involving, inspired by imagination, and strong in their symbolic values rather than in tangible features (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982). For example, a product that sells its image more than its core or functional benefits, such as cosmetics and fragrance, is naturally hedonic. Products, whose functional benefits are not apparent, such as paintings or antiques, also possess hedonic properties.

The interaction between product type and communication medium affects the comparative effectiveness of the medium in communicating hedonic and utilitarian dimensions of hedonic and utilitarian products. Product trial, with its utilitarian nature, will hardly communicate the hedonic dimension of a product. Similarly, the hedonic dimension of a hedonic product will be difficult to evaluate through a trial. Both factors additively result in less favorable evaluation of the hedonic dimension. For example, offering trial to communicate the hedonic dimension of a lipstick will be ineffective. Meanwhile, for a utilitarian product, trial’s effectiveness to communicate a product’s hedonic dimension is contributed by the little hedonic property of the product. Therefore, trial will generate slightly less favorable hedonic evaluation for a utilitarian product versus that of a hedonic product. On the other hand, advertising can stimulate fantasy and imagination, and thus amplify the hedonic dimension of a hedonic product. Meanwhile, the high functional benefits of a utilitarian product will inhibit the evaluation of the hedonic dimension. Therefore, advertising will generate much less favorable hedonic dimension for a utilitarian product versus that for a hedonic product.

In terms of the evaluation on the utilitarian dimension, product trial reinforces the utilitarian dimension of a utilitarian product resulting in a favorable evaluation of the utilitarian dimension. However, for a hedonic product with little functional value, trial will much less effectively communicate the product’s utilitarian dimension. Therefore, trial exposure will generate less favorable evaluation of the hedonic product’s utilitarian dimension relative to that of a utilitarian product. On the other hand, compared to trial, advertising will generate less favorable evaluation of the utilitarian dimension. Advertising, due to its partisan nature, will then be less effective in communicating the utilitarian dimension of both hedonic and utilitarian products. As a utilitarian product will contribute to a favorable evaluation of the utilitarian dimension, ad exposure will result in slightly higher evaluation of a utilitarian product versus that of a hedonic product. Formally, Hypotheses 4 to 6 propose:

Hypothesis 4: For a hedonic product, product trial compared to advertising will generate

(a) higher score of belief strength of the utilitarian dimension of a product

(b) lower score of belief strength of the hedonic dimension of a product

(c) less imagination

(c) less emotional arousal

Hypothesis 5: For a utilitarian product, product trial compared to advertising will generate

(a) higher score of belief strength of the utilitarian dimension of a product,

(b) lower score of belief strength of the hedonic dimension of a product

(c) less imagination

(d) less emotional arousal

Hypothesis 6: The difference in the

(a) belief strength of the hedonic dimension of a product,

(b) imagination elicitation, and

(c) emotional arousal, generated by advertising and product trial is greater for a hedonic than a utilitarian product.

CONCLUSION

This paper argues that the comparative effectiveness of advertising and product trial depends on the hedonic and utilitarian dimensions of a product, moderated by consumer motivation and product type. This study provides practical insights for marketers in formulating promotion strategy in terms of communication media selection. Kotler, et al. (1996) states that sampling is the most expensive and yet the most effective way to introduce a product. This paper argues that the "taken-for-granted" superiority of product trial should be reconsidered.

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Authors

Ike Janita Dewi, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Swee Hoon Ang, National University of Singapore, Singapore



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 2001



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