Beauty and the Beast: Attractive Spokespersons in Chocolate Advertisements

ABSTRACT - This paper is written as an attempt to rejuvenate an old body of literature that, despite its pedigree and scope, has left more questions unanswered than resolved: research on the use of highly attractive spokespersons in advertising. The study presented examines the inherent paradoxes that lie in using slim, beautiful models for advertising a product category with potentially disastrous effects on a 'real life’ consumer’s appearance: chocolate advertising. Through an exploratory study by means of focus groups and depth-interviews, it is examined whether consumers are aware of these paradoxes and, if they were, how this influences their perception of chocolate advertisements using highly attractive models.



Citation:

Susi Geiger and Amy Fennell (2003) ,"Beauty and the Beast: Attractive Spokespersons in Chocolate Advertisements", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 110-114.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 110-114

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: ATTRACTIVE SPOKESPERSONS IN CHOCOLATE ADVERTISEMENTS

Susi Geiger, University College Dublin, Ireland

Amy Fennell, University College Dublin, Ireland

ABSTRACT -

This paper is written as an attempt to rejuvenate an old body of literature that, despite its pedigree and scope, has left more questions unanswered than resolved: research on the use of highly attractive spokespersons in advertising. The study presented examines the inherent paradoxes that lie in using slim, beautiful models for advertising a product category with potentially disastrous effects on a 'real life’ consumer’s appearance: chocolate advertising. Through an exploratory study by means of focus groups and depth-interviews, it is examined whether consumers are aware of these paradoxes and, if they were, how this influences their perception of chocolate advertisements using highly attractive models.

INTRODUCTION

Images of beauty constantly invade our daily lives through adverts on television, in magazines and on larger-than life outdoor posters. Since Baker and Churchill’s seminal paper in 1977, a large body of research has focused on the possible effects of using highly attractive versus less attractive models in advertisements. Empirical evidence to date however has been mixed in its support for the contention that physical attractiveness of a person pictured in an advertisement serves to increase the effectiveness of the ad. While some research has suggested that attractiveness effects are small and ecologically insignificant (e.g. Caballero et al. 1989; Maddux and Rogers 1980), other studies have shown that physical attractiveness is an important mediator in advertising effectiveness (Chaiken 1979; Brumbaugh 1993; Bower and Landreth 2001).

This study focuses on the use of highly attractive and normally attractive models in chocolate advertisements from the perspective of the female consumer at whom these ads are aimed. For an investigation into consumers’ perceptions of and feelings about attractive models in ads, the chocolate industry has a number of interesting features. Firstly, the confectionery market is one of the few areas of the international food industry to display constant growth in the last decades. Every day consumers indulge in the consumption of chocolate; the average Irish person for example eats 10 kg of chocolate and confectionery each year (Mintel 1998). Media expenditure within the confectionery industry is significant with advertising spend on chocolate totaling ,98 million in the United Kingdom for the year ending June 1998. Most importantly however, it is an industry where the use of highly attractiveBand generally very slimBmodels involves some inherent paradoxes of consumption (Mick and Fournier 1998):

Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction

We often consume chocolate to satisfy some need or want, be it simply hunger or, at a psychological level, a craving for comfort. The consumption of chocolate is said to release a feeling of happiness or solace. However, for most of us this consumption does not come guilt-free. Hence, although our consumption of chocolate does lead to satisfying a need or want it will also most probably lead to some degree of dissatisfaction with the very act of consuming (www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/fatcattran.shtml).

Thinness/Obesity

According to Liebman (2001) chocolates are calorie-condense, packing a lot of calories into a small volume, which may lead to overconsumption and thus to possible weight gain. However the majority of promotional campaigns carried out by chocolate manufacturers feature slim models indulging themselves with chocolate, without any apparent effect on their bodies.

Independence/Enslavement

Recent research has shown that the chemical makeup of chocolate could explain why some people believe that they are 'chocaholics’, that is addicted to chocolate (Roessner 1997). Chocolate advertising targeted at women often portrays the actresses making a conscious choice of indulging themselves with their favorite brand of chocolate; for many real-life consumers, however, this choice may be dictated by their (perceived or real) addiction to the product as a comforter or stimulant.

Marketing Concept/Marketing Practice

The marketing concept espouses the creation of customer satisfaction as the actual goal of marketing (Richins 1991); the use of highly attractive models in advertisements has however been proven to lead to customer dissatisfaction (Harrison et al. 2001; Phau and Lum 2000). Advertisements using highly attractive models can result in consumers’ involving themselves in social comparison, which may lead to negative evaluations of the self Richins 1991).

Through a three-tiered qualitative investigation, this paper explores whether and to what extent consumers are aware of these paradoxes, and it examines the impact of highly attractive versus normally attractive models in chocolate advertisements on the self-concept of consumers as well as on their intention to purchase. The first section reviews the research on the use of highly attractive versus normally attractive models in advertising and its relationship to the self-concept. The second section presents the research methodology employed and the results arrived at. Section three offers areas for discussion and further research as well as some of the marketing implications arising from the study. The final section provides some concluding comments.

BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE IN ADVERTISEMENTS

Beauty can ensnare the minds and hearts of almost every person (Etcoff 1999). Every day men and women spend large sums of money chasing their image of ideal beauty. But does such a thing as a universal beauty ideal exist or is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? Research has proposed that physiologically, perceptions of beauty are based on pleasant (golden) proportion, which can be represented mathematically in the ratio of 1:1.618 (www.beautyanalysis.com). Indeed, several studies have shown consistency in attractiveness ratings regardless of the judges’ sex, age, geographic location and social economic class (Byrne et al. 1968; Dion et al. 1972; Fisher and Cleveland 1958; Sirgy 1982). Whether beauty is culturally or physiologically defined, person perception research has shown that physical attractiveness often entails positive inferences about a person’s personality traits, such as warmth, responsiveness, control, social and intellectual ability and expertise (Albright et al.1988; Bordo 1993; Brumbaugh 1993; Dion et al. 1972; Etcoff 1999; Herman et al. 1986). This 'what is beautiful is good’ hypothesis (Dion et al. 1972) lies at the basis of advertising’s use of highly attractive models. It is assumed that consumers are more likely to be motivated to accept influence from attractive people with their inherent reinforcement value than from unattractive people (Chaiken 1979). Particularly in low involvement situations, the attractive model is assumed to act as a positive peripheral cue that generates a halo-effect on the attitude object (Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann 1983). It is therefore unsurprising that for a given culture and era, models from one advertisement to another often resemble each other remarkably in their almost flawless beauty, regardless of the product or service being advertised.

Studies examining the effect of highly attractive spokespersons in advertisements however have so far yielded mixed results. Chaiken (1979) and Brumbaugh (1993) found that the physical attractiveness of a communicator-subject positively influences the attitude and behavioral intention toward the communicated message. In a similar vein, Harrison et al. (2001) showed that respondents are more willing to purchase from a more attractive model than from an ordinary model. These results however contrast with Caballero and Solomon (1984) and Caballero et al. (1989) who found that beauty is not a significant factor in inducing behavioral compliance in general. Bower (2001) even detected negative affect induced by highly attractive models in some women. It appears that the use of highly attractive models can be more effective in certain situations than in others, specifically when objective or task related sources are weak (Maddux and Rogers 1980), when a non- established brand is advertised (Phau and Lum 2000), and when the communication topic is emotionally appealing and less of a factual or logical issue (Maddux and Rogers 1980). According to the so-called match up hypothesis, a consumer’s potential to relate to a physically attractive source or believe the advertising claims is also dependent on, firstly, whether an association between the source and the product can be established and secondly, how important such an association is (Till and Busler 2000). If a product category does not require strong object-related source characteristics, consumers tend to resort to peripheral cues such as physical attractiveness of the spokesperson in the formation of their brand attitudes (Phau and Lum 2001). Thus, for low involvement products, the more attractive the model is, the more likely it is that consumers will view the advertisement as persuasive (Maddux and Rogers 1980). Attractiveness effects also appear to vary according to audience rather than message traits; Baker and Churchill (1977) for instance showed that female models featured in advertisements had a stronger and more positive impact on males than on females and vice versa.

It needs to be noted that most of the research investigating the effect of highly attractive models in advertising has contrasted highly attractive spokespersons with unattractive ones, which in the case of advertising is a rather unrealistic undertaking. It is only recently that researchers have started to compare highly attractive models with normally attractive models (for example Bower and Landreth 2001).

HIGHLY ATTRACTIVE MODELS AND THE CONSUMING SELF

In recent years, a few studies have linked the use of attractive models to a consumer’s self-concept. It has been shown that exposure to advertisements can trigger a process of social comparison, where a person evaluates his/herself by comparing themselves to the people represented in the advertisements (Richins 1991). The use of highly attractive models in advertising can lead to negative self-evaluations, insecurity and dissatisfaction on the part of the consumer (Richins 1991). Myers and Biocca (1992) found that idealized images raised comparison standards for attractiveness and increased dissatisfaction with one’s own attractiveness. It seems that the larger the negative discrepancy between the perceived 'standard’ of attractiveness and the perceived self-performance is, the larger the potential dissatisfaction could be (Richins 1991). This finding is particularly significant for the use of attractive models for target groups who are highly susceptible to social comparison, since stimuli which are threatening to the consumer’s self-concept may be rejected (Zinkhan and Hong 1991).

If one considers the effects of physically attractive spokespeople on the consumer’s self-concept, it is surprising that most of the extant literature on attractiveness effects is limited to product categories that are either beauty-enhancing or beauty-irrelevant. For beauty-enhancing products, attractive spokespersons are credible communicators as they are consistent with the target audience’s ideal self-concept (Zinkhan and Hong 1991). For beauty-irrelevant products such as facial tissues, normally attractive spokespeople such as the 'girl next door’ seem to have more credibility than highly attractive ones (Caballero and Solomon 1984), probably because they appeal to consumers’ actual selves. However, to date no study known to the authors has investigated products that are potentially detrimental to consumers’ attractiveness and thus form a threat to their selvesBproducts such as chocolates with their inherent paradoxes of consumption. The use of highly attractive models in advertisements for such products may indeed meet resistance or even rejection if the typical target consumer was to find it difficult to compare herself to a size eight model. Thus, chocolates are a product category where the use of highly attractive models could potentially backfire if consumers recognize the inherent paradoxes of using exceptionally beautiful and slim models for promoting a product whose consumption makes the attainment of the very beauty ideal displayed in the ads even more difficult than it already is for the 'normal’ consumer.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

Exploring female consumers’ feelings about and perceptions of highly attractive models used in chocolate advertising in relation to their own actual and ideal self-images, this research follows a qualitative research agenda. From the outset, it was decided to limit the investigation to one genderBfemale consumersBas attractiveness stereotypes have shown to be more important for females than males (Richins 1991; Harrison et al. 2001) and a great deal of chocolate advertising is aimed at women rather than men. Two factors were thought to conceivably influence self-image and perception of advertising images, namely the age of the respondent and their social or living environments. Thus, it was decided to include female participants from two different age groups (20-30 and 40-50) and two different environments (city and rural locations) in the study.

As young women were believed to be more willing to talk about body-image and beauty issues in public than older women, it was decided to run two focus groups with respectively six and seven participants each for the younger age group, one in a city location and one in a rural location. For the older age group, the researchers decided to employ one-to-one semi-structured interviews using the same questioning format as for the focus group in order to reduce inhibitions to talk freely for this group. Six women, three from rural backgrounds and three city-dwelling individuals, were interviewed. The triangulation between focus group results and findings from the one-to-one interviews was also thought to shed light on potential social norms or pressures with regard to the issues investigated.

For both procedures, the researchers decided to use six chocolate advertisements as a trigger for discussion and evaluation; three that used highly attractive models (henceforth HAMs) and three employing normally attractive models (henceforth NAMs). Ten chocolate advertisements of both past and present TV campaigns were pre-selected for the purpose of this study. Close-ups of the models used in the ten adverts were freeze-framed and color-printed. It was decided not to show consumers the entire advert nor to show a still containing the product in order to avoid any product-related influence.

In order to determine which of the spokespeople in the ads were highly and which were normally attractive, two sets of pre-tests were carried out. In the first pre-test, the 'truth of consensus’ method was used to determine attractiveness of the ten models. 30 female students were approached on a University campus to view a photograph of the initial ten models and to evaluate them in terms of whether the model was highly or normally attractive. The three models that were ranked the most highly and most 'normally’ attractive were selected. In the second pre-test the faces of the 10 initial models were measured against the 'universal beauty mask’ devised by Dr. Stephen Marquardt. Based on the ancient theory of golden proportion, he designed a facial mask for which all features conform to the 1:1.618 golden ratio mentioned in section one (www.beautyanalysis.com). A positive correspondence was found between the models whose faces perfectly/imperfectly fitted the universal beauty mask and those models that were deemed to be highly/normally attractive by the participants. Thus, for the purposes of this study, highly attractive models (HAMs) are models whom the majority of people find attractive (truth of consensus method) and whose face almost perfectly fits the universal beauty mask. Normally attractive models (NAMs) are models who were judged to be of average weight, height and facial beauty by pre-test participants and whose faces only imperfectly match the beauty mask.

Each focus group and individual respondent had the possibility to view the pictures of the models for the duration of the questions asked. 12-16 open-ended questions were asked to the individual respondents, with the first 12 questions also being asked to both focus groupsBthe remaining four related to issues of self-evaluation and body satisfaction/dissatisfaction, which were omitted for the focus groups as they could have proven to be embarrassing for some research participants in a group context. The 12 core questions were broken down as follows: questions 1 to 3 were general questions including asking respondents their general opinions about the use of models in TV and print advertisements. Questions 4 to 7 focused on the particular still frames used for the investigation and asked respondents to make for example personality judgements based on the models’ appearance. Questions 8 to 10 examined the respondents’ purchase intentions and self-concept and questions 11 and 12 were summary questions. At the beginning of each session it was established whether each of the participants regularly ate chocolate (all of whom did). Each participant was also asked to rate the six models presented. The following section gives an overview of the study results.

RESEARCH FINDINGS

The most salient observation of both focus groups and depth-interviews was that the respondents viewed the highly attractive models featured in the chocolate advertisements shown as underweight and unrealistic and expressed a preference for seeing more models that reflect the average (chocolate-consuming) consumer. Research participants thought that the models deemed normally attractive could be believed to eat chocolate; however, surprisingly cynical views were voiced in relation to highly attractive models:

"If she did eat chocolate she would probably wash it down with a few laxatives ".

"She might eat it and then throw it back up again afterwards".

"You can’t look that good and eat chocolate".

"I wouldn=t say she eats chocolates and probably has never tasted it in her life".

Not only did HAMs not seem credible as spokespeople for a highly calorific food category, many of the research participants also found it downright ironic to use such skinny and perfect-looking models for a product category that could wreak havoc with their own appearances:

"Like [picking up a picture of a HAM] that’s great if you are trying to sell a car to a man. It’s not going to attract a female, what is it meant to say that I’m gorgeous and slim and therefore eat chocolate?"

Only one respondent felt that she was positively influenced by one of the HAMs, "because I would like to be like her". All other participants however seemed not able to relate to the HAMs as much as they could to NAMs, who clearly appealed to the 'actual self’ of consumers:

"You could relate to this lady [a NAM] unlike some of the other models. It addresses the majority, the everyday consumer".

"Yes, I’d say she’d have a bar of chocolate watching Coronation Street or something like that. Yes, it’s the best one I’ve seen, it’s more realistic. The other ones seem more appropriate for clothes or perfume."

Being able to relate to the spokesperson of the adverts seemed particularly important to the older age group. It may be that for this age group, aspirations for the ideal (bodily) self have diminished somehow and that ads appealing to the actual rather than the ideal self are seen as more relevant.

Maybe because participants recognized the inherent irony of using skinny models with flawless skin for advertising a product that is clearly detrimental to people’s exterior and discounted this strategy as nothing more than a marketing ploy, adverts using HAMs did not seem to evoke a feeling o threat to consumers’ actual or ideal self:

"No I don’t compare myself to these models but I compare myself to what I looked like a couple of years ago".

"I don’t relate to the super-glamorous on any level and therefore they don’t influence me".

When it came to the personality associated with the different models, most of the NAMs were viewed as friendlier and warmer as compared to some of the HAMs, who were deemed to have "no genuine friends", "cold and standoffish", "sour", "very posh" and even "smug and false looking" and "cunning and manipulative". In contrast, NAMs again were linked to consumers’ actual selves; they were said to be "happy", "enjoying themselves" and "friendly":

"[about a NAM] Now she looks more like a chocolate woman. She looks really outgoing."

"she [a NAM] seems warm and friendly with lots of friends. She looks very homely looking; I’d say she is a good full-time mother".

Interestingly, despite the fact that respondents more readily identified with normal-looking women and despite the caustic comments made in relation to HAMs’ personalities, the "what is beautiful is good" thesis seemed to hold true to a certain extent. In both age groups, while NAMs were believed to be warmer and to have more friends than HAMs, they also were seen as professionally unsuccessful and sometimes even as "insecure". HAMs were viewed to be more successful in their relationships with the other sex and in their professions.

So, what seems to be more important for the effectiveness of a chocolate advert, the halo-effect of 'what is beautiful is good’ or the ability of consumers to identify with a model? When asked about how persuasive respondents thought the ads were, overwhelmingly the most important persuasion criterion for respondents appeared to be whether the model was seen to enjoy the product or not:

"Yes, she looks like she enjoys food".

"if you had an ugly person advertising the product and using the product but it looked like they were enjoying themselves, then you are much more likely to buy the product than someone who is gorgeous looking but is all stuck up and dead like some of the earlier models."

"She just looks happy...Yeah, I would have positive feelings about her."

"I might try [the brand advertised] because she is enjoying it."

In this context, it is interesting to note that the Terry’s chocolates advertising campaign currently aired in the UK and in Ireland features TV celebrity and size-16 woman Dawn French emphasizing exactly how much this celebrity enjoys her chocolateBto the point where she refuses to share it with anybody else! While this particular celebrity ad was deemed too untypical to be included in the investigation, all of the respondents were aware of it and often started talking about it without being prompted. Particularly the younger age group found this advert very appealing, as the celebrity endorser is depicted to be happy, friendly and "really enjoying [the chocolate]". Interestingly, the older age group found Dawn French slightly too much of a reminder of what could happen when somebody overindulges in the product advertised! While Dawn French’s celebrity status and 'prominent’ body shape may make her a rather uncommon spokesperson, it seems that in general, for both age groups the perceived believability of a model and how much she seems to enjoy the advertised brand were the most determining factors for the effectiveness of a chocolate ad.

DISCUSSION

It is old advertising wisdom that the selection of an appropriate model particularly for low involvement products is crucial, as consumers often tend to focus on peripheral cues in such advertisements more than on product arguments (Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann 1983). Chocolates are typically a low-involvement product category that in itself does not require a great amount of 'expertise’ from the spokesperson used. However, the results of this study indicate that rather than using attractiveness as a peripheral cue to brand attitude formation, consumers are acutely aware of the credibility of the spokesperson in terms of (likely) product experience. It seems that as an everyday product in which consumers indulge, often with an associated bad conscience, chocolates are more related to the actual rather than the ideal self of the consumer. Any depiction of an 'ideal self’ in the form of a highly attractive spokesperson seems to diminish rather than augment the persuasiveness of the advert, while the portraying of a model the (female) consumer can identify with in their enjoyment of the product seems more effective. Even the display of a 'worst possible self’ in the form of jolly but fat and greedy celebrity Dawn French who refuses time and time again to share her Terry’s chocolates with others appears to be readily acceptable especially for the younger generation.

Even though this investigation can only be a first step in exploring the relationship between the self-concept and spokesperson effectiveness in advertising, it may serve as a reminder to advertising managers and chocolate manufacturers that the saying 'beautiful is good’ does not hold true for all product categories. Older participants in particular reacted more positively to the realistic normally attractive models, while younger participants were willing to accept highly attractive spokeswomen, but were also sensitive to the inherent paradox.

By and large, the paradoxical nature of chocolate consumption, in its evocation of satisfaction/dissatisfaction, thinness/obesity and pleasure/guilt, seems to be a pervasive theme for female chocolate consumers. Any advertising that takes up these themes, with a spokesperson that can personify them in some way, may find a ready audience. To what extent (female) consumers themselves are 'paradoxical’ in their consumption of chocolates showed a test conducted during the focus groups and interviews. In order to obtain an indication as to whether all the talk about chocolate consumption, its potential link to weight problems and the bony attractiveness of TV advertising models had any impact on consumers’ hunger for the product category, the researchers passed a box of chocolate around before the focus groups/interviews. They took them away, counted the pieces of chocolate eaten and passed them around a second time at the end of the hour-long interview. Even accounting for the fact that research participants (and researchers!) were undoubtedly hungrier after the interview sessions, the fact that four times more chocolates were eaten after the sessions compared to what had been eaten before may indicate that, if received in the right circumstances, any reminder of the joys of chocolate consumption is effective in bringing out the 'Dawn French’ in women!

FUTURE RESEARCH

This paper set out to investigate the use of highly attractive versus normally attractive models in chocolate advertising from the perspective of the (female) consumer. Its exploration of the relationship between advertising spokespersons and consumers’ self-concept added to a stream of research attempting to answer a rather old question from a novel perspective. Indeed, the results of this research indicate that this is a highly promising angle that needs to be explored in more detail and in relation to a wider range of product categories in future studies. The effect of attractive spokespeople in advertising needs to be explored in much more detail in relation to products that are neither 'beauty-enhancing’ nor 'beauty-irrelevant’ (Bower and Landreth 2001), but sometimes possibly detrimental to consumers’ attractiveness. In this study, results indicate that the type of model used is rather irrelevant as long as it is apparent that the model is enjoying the product that is 'bad for you’. From this perspective, future questioning may need to focus more on non-physical aspects of the spokesperson, such as factors facilitating the identification of consumers with the product endorser. Again, the theory of the self can provide several perspectives to answering these questions. Qualitative research tools are probably more apt at capturing consumers’ readings of ads in relation to their self-concept than the traditional survey-based or experimental research methods employed in this body of marketing literature.

The most important message for academic researchers and marketing managers alike from this research is likely to be the existence of a highly advertising literate 'postmodern’ consumer who is not ignorant of her own life paradoxes and who appreciates if these are taken upBand even caricaturedBin clever advertising.

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Authors

Susi Geiger, University College Dublin, Ireland
Amy Fennell, University College Dublin, Ireland



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003



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