Preference Types Among Viewers of Toothpaste Commercials


Dwight A. Williams (1975) ,"Preference Types Among Viewers of Toothpaste Commercials", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 02, eds. Mary Jane Schlinger, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 615-630.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1975      Pages 615-630


Dwight A. Williams, University of Missouri at Saint Louis

[The author is grateful to Robert R. Monaghan for advice in the design and execution of this study, and to the Ohio State University for use of its computer facilities.]

[Dwight Williams is Assistant Professor of Speech at the University of Missouri in Saint Louis.]

This study takes an in-depth look at preference types among viewers of televised toothpaste commercials. Four construct elements of style and content (Reality, Moral Conflict, Complexity, and Seriousness) were built into a balanced-block design and used to develop a thirty-six item Q-sort instrument. Each item described a hypothetical TV commercial for a hypothetical brand of toothpaste. Thirty-five people, representing several variables, sorted the items along a modified normal-curve distribution, according to personal preference. A 35 x 35 person-to-person correlation matrix was factor-analyzed. Two strong factors (or preference types) resulted, including: I, "The Entertainment Seeker"; and II, "The Information Seeker. ".

A number of research techniques have been developed which are suitable for studying individual consumer decision-making on an in-depth basis. Generally, however, those techniques which tell us the most about individual decision-making are limited in their ability to provide us with comparative data about whole classes of consumers. Similarly, the techniques which tell us the most about consumers as groups are limited in the depth of information they can provide. Combining several of these techniques, however, can go a long way toward reaching the ideal of providing in-depth information about whole classes of consumers. This study illustrates one such combination of in-depth research techniques.

The findings reported here were part of a larger study which undertook to compare people's preferences across several media, including television programs, radio programs, movies, magazine articles, and political messages as well as consumer brand commercials (Williams, 1971a, 1971b). Regarding commercials, the study sought to answer specifically (1) what constructs do viewers use in deciding their preferences among commercial messages, and (2) what preference types can be found among viewers of commercial messages?


The design used in this study of viewer preferences among commercials is an adaptation of a design which has been developed in recent years to study viewer preferences among television programs. The basic design and its rationale were originally developed by Robert Monaghan(1968a). Several studies by Monaghan and his colleagues illustrate the approach(Harries, 1966; Monaghan, Plummer, Rarick, & Williams, 1974; Monaghan & Titchener, 1969; Plummer, 1968; Rarick, 1967). The objective of these studies is to help the creator of media messages see the world through the viewer's own eyes. Typically, the studies combine such techniques as the focused interview, the repertory grid, and Q-methodology. Each of these techniques by itself provides useful, in-depth information about individual decision-making. Combining these techniques, however, makes it possible to move progressively from the most individualized in-depth information to more systematic comparative information on viewer decision-making. At the end of the chain it is possible to draw some in-depth inferences about the decision-making of those people who are clustered together into types of viewers.

The instrument used in this study was built from a balanced-block design incorporating four facet elements of style and content, or "appeal elements," found in television programs. This particular set of facet elements was chosen based on earlier studies of viewer preferences. (Monaghan, 1964, 1968b; Monaghan, Plummer, Rarick, & Williams, 1966). These studies used focused interviews (Merton, Fiske & Kendall, 1956),and a form of George Kelly's (1955) repertory grid to elicit constructs and discover the elements of appeal believed to be working most strongly in viewers' decision-making regarding preferences for television programs.

In essence, the facet elements built into the instrument have the characteristics of Kelly's "constructs". Kelly's "personal construct theory" provides a good explanation for individual decision-making processes. Each person has his own "personal construct system" which is made up of superordinate and subordinate bi-polar constructs. The person then applies the appropriate constructs to a particular area of decision-making in his life. Thus, for example, a viewer might apply the construct "Humorous--Serious" in deciding his preferences among television programs or commercials. The viewer then makes a prediction regarding the "humorousness" or "seriousness" of the program, and selects the one which he predicts will be most consistent with his preferred end of the construct. This constant process of making predictions, in turn, helps him refine his construct system. Kelly's repertory grid test provides a way to discover the individual's constructs, and plotting procedures make it possible to graph or "map" his construct system. By providing certain constructs in the grid test, such as "favorite TV program" or "ideal commercial" it is possible to discover which constructs are most important in determining his preferences in any one area.

The important point here is that the process of instrument-building began with techniques which are especially useful for studying individual decision-making in depth. From this earlier data were culled what appeared to be the most important decision-making elements. These in turn were converted into facet elements strongly resembling "constructs", and built into the balanced-block design. The Q-instrument thus contains a hypothesized set of constructs which assisted in the process of analyzing the factor data arrays. Following are the facet elements and their definitions as applied to toothPaste commercials.

A. Reality

A1 Believable Facts. The presentation of events as they actually are, or were; persons being presented as themselves. Such phrases as "documentary" or "in his own words" may help distinguish commercials in this category from commercials in the next category.

A2 Believable Fiction. Actors play roles or characters other than themselves, but portray "possible" circumstances. Here, the commercials are staged, actors are used, and conversations are scripted, rather than spontaneous.

A3 Unbelievable Fiction, or Fantasy. Represents improbable, fantastic, or cartoon characters in "believable" circumstances; or "believable" characters in unlikely situations; or a combination of both "unreal" conditions.

B. Moral Conflict.

B1 Intellectualized Morality. The issues in these commercials cannot be so clearly defined in terms of the struggle between good and bad. The issues are complex; all is not black or white; there are "shades of gray". Shield helps maintain good dental health, but is not the all-conquering hero.

B2 Sentimentalized Morality. Here the struggle between good and bad is much more pronounced. Shield is clearly the champion of healthy teeth, fighting off the enemies. The main characters in these commercials are likely to be homey, sentimental folks--mother, father, children. school-teacher, etc.

B3 No Moral Conflict. Here the struggle between good and evil is not drawn at either the intellectual or sentimental level. This is simply a message, entertaining or serious, in which the brand is highlighted. This might be a statistical presentation, or a "soft sell" type of commercial.

C. Complexity

C1 High Complexity. The presentation of material in these commercials is complex and the course of the commercial cannot be so easily predicted. It requires more alertness and attention to follow. Perhaps a series of persons are being interviewed, or several aspects of the product are being discussed.

C2 Low Complexity. The presentation of material in these commercials is less complex and the course of the commercial is more easily predicted. It requires less alertness and attention to follow. By contrast to the above, perhaps only one person or family is being interviewed, or only a single aspect of the product is being discussed.

D. Seriousness

D1 Humorous. In these commercials, the term "humorous" refers broadly to the "light touch", and may range all the way from "warmth" to "satire and parody". The commercial may feature "warm, friendly people" who may be seen laughing, smiling, or generally enjoying themselves. Perhaps the answers in interviews or conversations may be funny or humorous. The situation, plot, or characters may be funny and have a humorous quality. Finally, the commercial may have the quality of satire or parody.

D2 Serious. The treatment in these commercials is serious, business-like, and straight-forward.

The facet elements were built into a balanced-block design, as shown in Table 1. The design was used to generate factorially 36 possible combinations of these elements (3 x 3 x 2 x 2). Each one of the possible combinations was represented by an item in the instrument. Thus, item #1 combines elements A1, B1, C1, D1, and item #36 combines elements A3, B3, C2, D2. Each item was written as the description of a hypothetical television commercial for a hypothetical brand of toothpaste(Shield). The items were typed on 4 x 6 cards. The instrument was checked by inter-judge panel agreement and refined to be sure that the items represented the elements assigned to them. The Toothpaste Commercial Messages Instrument is presented in Table 2. The coding for each item is included in Table 2, but was not included on the original cards.

Thirty-five people were interviewed. These people represent a wide cross-section of demographic variables and life-styles. Included were persons from all four socio-economic status levels as defined by the 1960 census of Columbus, Ohio. There was an almost even split between the sexes, and about a fourth of the persons are Black. There was a good representation of major age ranges.





1. "HOUSEPARTY' (A1, B1, C1, D13. In an Art Linkletter "Houseparty" type of interview, several youngsters are asked to tell what they think causes bad teeth and what they recommend to save teeth. They touch on many subjects-eating sweets, not brushing, etc. Generally speaking, the interviews are funny and the kids really do "say the darndest things". We are reminded that new Shield toothpaste helps.

2. TEETH AND SURVIVAL (A1, B1, C1, D2). In a series of scenes we are reminded how important good teeth are to animal and human survival. We see piranha fish eating meat, see the powerful teeth of certain wild animals, and see references to the saber-tooth tiger. We even see some unique human uses --such as Eskimo women chewing leather to make it soft and workable. We are then reminded that using Shield toothpaste will help to keep our teeth healthy.

3. THE LITTLE DENTIST (A1, B1, C2, D1). In this "Candid Camera" type scene a little boy is dressed up like a dentist and asked to imagine that he is a dentist giving advice in his own words to a patient on how to take care of his teeth. He is quite a "ham", and in his funny way tells the cause of tooth troubles.

Shield is identified as the sponsor of the message.

4. A SOUTH SEAS BEAUTY (A1, B1, C2, D2). This documentary type film shows a beautiful native South Seas Island girl dancing. Her dancing creates a scene of beauty.

Then, she opens her mouth! The lack of good, healthy teeth, etc. destroys the illusion of beauty.

We are told that "unhealthy teeth are the great destroyer of beauty". And we are reminded that Shield when used in a program of teeth car, can help keep our teeth healthY.

5. BOYS' VIEWS OF SHIELD (A1, B2, C1, D1). A number of school boys each are interviewed about their new toothpaste, Shield. In their own words they talk about its taste, the smaller number of cavities since using Shield, etc. Often, their comments are humorous and the boys themselves appear to be relaxed and having fun. But, through it all, Shield comes through as the champion toothpaste for youngsters who care about having good teeth.

6. MOTHER, TEACHER, DENTIST . . . (A1, B2, C1, D2). Several people important in the life of a growing boy are interviewed and in their own words talk about the importance of having healthy teeth and the results of using Shield. Mother, teacher, dentist, etc. are all interviewed and in their own way end up endorsing Shield as a champion of healthy teeth.

7. A MODEL'S TEETH AND HER CAREER (A1, B2, C2, D1). A beautiful, friendly, talkative young fashion model with a good sense of humor is interviewed about her feelings on new Shield toothpaste.

She tells us in her own often humorous way now important bright, sparkling teeth are to her career. She has been very happy with new Shield. She thinks it has made the difference in her career.

8. A MOTHER'S WORD (A1, B2, C2, D2). A mother, photographed with her son, is interviewed about the toothpastes her son has used. She tells us in her own words how important it is to her that her son have healthy teeth, and how pleased she is that Shield has reduced the number of her son's cavities.

9. HOW DO YOU BRUSH YOUR TEETH? (A1, B3, C1, D1). Here we see candid shots of many different people brushing their teeth. It has a humorous note in that it shows many surprisingly different ways people brush their teeth. . . and the sometimes funny expressions on people's faces. Everyone photographed, of course, is using Shield. We are reminded, "No matter how you brush your teeth--use new Shield!"

10. A TALK WITH THE SCIENTISTS (A1, B3, C1, D2). We see interviews with a number of research scientists who worked at the Dental Research Center which developed the new anti-cavity ingredient in Shield. They talk in their own way about the new ingredient from a scientific standpoint.

11. GIVE IT YOUR OWN TEST (A1, B3, C2, D1). This short commercial focuses our attention on a graph showing how Shield reduced cavities for a test group. In the background we hear an interview with one of the youngsters in the test. The interview is humorous. In the same light note, the announcer asks us to try new Shield--give it your own test.

12. WHAT ARE THE CHANCES? (A1, B3, C2, D2). In this commercial we are presented the stark, simple statistics--what percent of the people will lose their teeth before age 35, what percent by age 45, etc. The question is then asked, "What are you doing to protect your teeth?"

Shield is identified as the sponsor of the message.

13. HOME FROM THE DENTIST (A2, B1, C1, D1). In this take-off on many modern toothpaste commercials, the children have just returned from the dentist and have an unusually good record for reduced cavities this trip. Father is scratching his head trying to figure out what accounts for the remarkable new record. He checks in on the children to see what they're eating--no, not much change there. He checks a couple more leads. Still no clue. Then he checks the bathroom where he sees the new Shield they've been using. "yep! That must be it!" he says with a wink to the camera. The effect is tongue-in-cheek and humorous.

The announcer chuckles and says, "Well, new Shield alone may not make all the difference--but for the family that really wants to cut down on cavities-it can be a big help!"

14. TEACHER'S WORD (A2, B1, C1, D2). A man representing an authoritative sounding, professional looking teacher is talking to a classroom. He is talking about the many things which contribute to tooth decay and periodontal diseases. Then, he makes the point that regular, proper tooth-brushing contributes most to good dental health. And he recommends a toothpaste like new Shield.

15. THE SKELETONS SPEAK (A2, B1, C2, D1). In this tongue-in-cheek commercial, an attractive pair of young college boys are seen talking good-naturedly in a biology lab. While Prof. is out, they begin playing around with a couple of the skeletons in the room. One of the boys is an amateur ventriloquist. They begin manipulating the jaws of the skulls as if they are puppets.

"Notice my bright shiny teeth?" one of the skeletons says.

"Yes! And how do you do it?" the other asks.

"It must be the toothpaste I use," the first voice replies good-naturedly.

The boys laugh.

The announcer assures us it's all in good fun, reminds us that there are several steps to healthy teeth, and suggests that Shield might help after all.

16. A SKELETON'S TEETH (A2, B1, C2, D2). A young man representing a teacher is lecturing to his college class. They are discussing why the teeth of a skeleton survive so much longer than anything else. There is some talk about what makes for good, strong, healthy teeth in the first place, and some suggestions for maintaining good, healthy teeth. We are reminded in the end that new Shield has brought the message and can help.

17. LITTLE JILL'S FOOD (A2, B2, C1, D1). In this humorous staged interview, a mother comments on "how difficult it is to get my little Jill to eat what's good for her--if she doesn't like the taste." The camera passes over all kinds of recommended, but not especially tasty foods. Then she adds, "And you know-I used to have trouble getting Jill to brush her teeth--until new Shield came along. Didn't like the taste of her old toothpaste. But Shield changed all that."

18. "THAT'S IT!" (A2, B2, C1, D2). In this "slice of life" drama, Mom and Dad are excitedly happy over their 4 children's latest dental check-up. It seems they have fewer cavities. The talk centers around what could have caused the improvement--and the several benefits in other ways resulting from the improvement. Finally, like a surprise ending, Dad says, "Golly! Do you think it could be the new Shield we switched to?" Mom says, seriously, "Why, of course. That's it!"

19. A STAR IS BORN (A2, B2, C2, D1). The rise to stardom of an aspiring young actress is traced in this tongue-in-cheek commercial. A point is made of her choice of a toothpaste. Then, the announcer tells us, humorously, that "Shield alone may not make you a star. But when looks are important to your career, new Shield can be a strong friend in the right place--something like having a good agent."

20. A TIMELY TIP (A2, B2, C2, D2). Here is the short story of an aspiring young model who was having a hard time breaking into the big league of modeling. A top photographer seriously gives her the tip to "try new Shield." She does. And then we see her soon afterwards being photographed for the top magazines in the country. She tells us she has new Shield to thank for her success.

21. A HEALTHY, HAPPY WORLD (A2, B3, C1, D1). This message consists of a series of short scenes of happy, healthy people doing things--usually in some way involving their mouth. They are eating, talking, laughing, smiling, playing sports, partying, even kissing. The message ends with the phrase, "Healthy people have more fun in life."

Shield is briefly identified as the sponsor.

22. WHAT'S NEW IN SHIELD (A2, B3, C1, D2). In a series of interviews, actors representing research scientists in the laboratory tell us about the new ingredients in Shield toothpaste. They tell the story of how these new ingredients were discovered and what they are intended to do for your teeth.

23. A VIBRATING ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH (A2, B3, C2, D1). In this early-morning tooth-brushing scene, a young working man is sleepily trying to get toothpaste onto his new vibrating electric toothbrush. He has all sorts of difficulties-he misses his aim, he squeezes too much, it falls off the vibrating brush, etc. --finally he makes it. A big grin breaks over his face. His toothpaste, of course, is new Shield. The voice-over says, "New Shield--a good way to start the day."

24. THE BIG PICTURE (A2, B3, C2, D2). A man representing a teacher is seen showing a group of grade-school children a large picture of a tooth. He explains the different parts of the tooth and tells why brushing is important.

Shield is briefly identified as the sponsor of the message.

25. PUT UP A SHIELD (A3, B1, C1, D1). In a sequence of cartoon scenes, several different villains of the vaudeville type appear, each representing a different one of the several causes of bad teeth, such as tobacco stain, lack of time to brush after every meal, etc.

The sound track reads something like, 'That old villain tobacco stain trying to dull your healthy teeth? Put up a Shield, and defend your good teeth."

Then, a cartoon shield pops up, and the villain is foiled.

26. THE VIEW FROM INSIDE (A3, B1, C1, D2). An actor representing a scientist is telling us about the several causes of tooth decay. Through a bit of film magic, we are able to go inside the mouth and the teeth appear man-sized. Through speed-up techniques, we see the process of decay in action. The scientist then tells us that proper brushing is one of the ways that help.

Shield is briefly identified as the sponsor of the message.

27. A PIRANHA'S ADVICE (A3, B1, C2, D1). Two live piranha fish, with their teeth glistening, appear to be having a conversation. The dubbed-in voices provide a conversation about how important teeth are, and ways to keep them healthy. The announcer reminds us that, "Whenever teeth are important--you find folks using new Shield toothpaste."

The treatment is tongue-in-cheek humorous.

28. THE STRENGTH OF GIBRALTAR (A3, B1, C2, D2). The scene opens with a picture of Gibraltar. The announcer says, "Imagine that Gibraltar--were a tooth." At this point, Gibraltar appears transformed into a giant tooth. Then, the comparison is made about erosion and decay, etc. Finally, the commercial ends with the theme--"To give your teeth the strength of Gibraltar--use new Shield."

The treatment is serious throughout.

29. THE FANTASTIC VOYAGE (A3, B2, C1, D1). In this take-off on the Fantastic Voyage kind of movie, a dentist and his assistants are inside a cavernous mouth trying to save a tooth. The experience is full of surprises and dangers --but the dental party finally concludes that the only thing that will help now is new Shield. TheY want to tell this to the patient--if they can ever get out!

30. THE QUEEN OF LIGHT (A3, B2, C1, D2). In a series of scenes, Glistenanna, the Queen of Light and Brightness, solves several different crises of love by brightening up dull teeth. She tells us seriously we can do the same with new Shield toothpaste. All the people except the Queen appear real rather than as cartoon or fantasy characters.

31. GOLDILOCKS (A3, B2, C2, D1). In a cartoon take-off on "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" we see Goldilocks about to brush her teeth after furnishing the porridge and before she goes to bed. She tries three brands of toothpaste --Pappa Bear's, Mamma Bear's, and Baby Bear's.

"This one tastes too bad," she says of the first.

"And this one stings too much," she says of the second.

"Ah! But this one is just right," she says of the third.

The third, of course, is new Shield.

32. CINDERELLA (A3, B2, C2, D2). Cartoon characters enact a "Cinderella" type story in which Prince Charming falls in love with and asks Cinderella to marry him. He confesses that he was overcome by her smile. At the end, we're reminded how much beautiful teeth can help your smile--and "Who knows--new Shield may even help you get a smile that will conquer a prince."

All in all, the treatment is one of fantasy and romance, charmingly presented. And it is presented as a serious message.

33. SHIELD AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (A3, B3, C1, D1). In a cartoon story with a Walt Disney quality, the Seven Dwarfs are seen marching down the trail from the castle-like Shield toothpaste factory in the background. With toothbrushes slung over their shoulders, they march along singing, "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, A-Brushing we will go-o-o!" In a series of comical scenes, they stop along the way to help brush the teeth of various animal characters in this enchanted forest. Especially funny is when Dumpy tries to help the frog--bubbles everywhere! The treatment is charming ant humorous.

34. A TOUR OF THE FLUORIDE PLANT (A3, B3, C1, D2). In this cartoon, a scientist in a lab coat takes us on a tour of the plant where the fluoride active compound is made for new Shield. It is an interesting and educational tour.

35. THE PAINTERS (A3, B3, C2, D1). The scene opens on what appears to be a pair of painters in their white cover-all uniforms who appear to be painting a strip down the center of a highway using a painting machine. On closer look, however, we see that the painting machine is laying down a big round strip of toothpaste--the color of new Shield. The characters are exaggerated and are "cutting up" quite a bit. We are then told it would take a continuous strip of toothpaste x number of inches in diameter circling around the world x number of times to equal the total output of Shield toothpaste in a year.

"That's how popular new Shield is--worldwide "

36. LAKE SHIELD (A3, B3, C2, D2). Through the magic of the camera, we see a small lake being filled up with new Shield toothpaste. By the end of the commercial, the lake appears to be filled up. The announcer says, "Every year, Shield makes enough toothpaste to fill a small lake. That's enough to brush an awful lot of people's teeth. Why don't you try new Shield and see why it's the world's largest selling toothpaste."

Each person sorted the 35 toothpaste commercial description cards into nine piles. The nine piles represented a rank ordering along the quasi-normal curve distribution from "Most Prefer" to "Least Prefer", as follows:

                                     Most Preferred       Least Preferred

Pile number & Score        1     2    3    4    5     6    7    8    9

Frequency                         2     3    4    5    8     5    4    3    2

Instructions preceding the sort stressed the importance of expressing personal preference. Following the sort, the person was asked to comment at length on the reasons for most preferring the two items in pile number 1, and least preferring the two items in pile number 9.

The sorting of these commercial description items by each individual formed the basis for clustering persons together into "preference types". Each person was correlated with every other person in the sample, using Pearson r computations. A 35 x 35 person-to-person correlation matrix was built, and then factor-analyzed using a principal axes-analysis with varimax rotation. Only those factors which accounted for seven percent or more of the total variance between people were reported.

Each factor represents a hypothetical type of viewer. This hypothetical viewer is defined according to the shared preferences for toothpaste commercials. In essence, the factor clusters together those persons who share similar "most preferred" and "least preferred" toothpaste commercials, and whose shared preferences were different from all other types. A factor data array was built to show the "best estimate" of the order of preference for items by each type of viewer. Persons who loaded .70 or higher on the factor were considered to be most representative of the preference type. Item scores for the commercials in the factor data array are averages of the scores (rankings) of the items by those persons loading highest on the factor. Inferences about each type were drawn from the data array for that type. Each type was then described in terms of the toothpaste commercials they most accepted and rejected in expressing their preferences.

The balanced-block design, Q-sorting technique, and factor analysis of matrixes of persons are all features of Q-methodology, which was developed by William Stephenson (1953). Q-methodology offers several important advantages for in-depth study of viewer/consumer decision-making. The Q-sorting technique allows the viewer to express his preference for particular commercials in relationship to all other commercials available to him. This is a process of decision-making which is more realistic than techniques which require him to express degrees of liking or disliking of individual commercials without reference to other commercials. The technique of factor analyzing matrixes of persons makes it possible to discover factors, or types of viewers based on shared decision-making and preferences rather than purely demographic characteristics. The use of the balanced-block design makes it possible to build constructs into the instrument. This in turn assists the process of interpreting the preference patterns of the types in depth. Finally the process of drawing inferences from the factor data arrays is itself a creative, hypothesis-generating process which can lead to important insights which might be missed using traditional experimental designs. Stephenson calls this process "abduction". Stephenson (1961) says, "Abduction is what one does in guessing or inventing, or proposing a theory or explanation or hypothesis: it is the initial proposition to explain facts . . . the emphasis is on the discovery of hypotheses, not their deduction from postulates". Abduction is a process of inference which is very appropriate to in-depth study of decision-making.


The sorting of the Toothpaste Commercial Messages Instrument produced two main factors. Each of these factors represents the preference patterns of two types of viewers of toothpaste commercials on television. Factor I has been labeled the "Entertainment Seeker Type", and Factor II the "Information Seeker Type". Each of these viewer preference types is described below in greater detail. Titles and numbers in parentheses refer to descriptions of toothpaste commercial messages found in Table 2.

Factor I: The Entertainment Seeker Type. The data array for Factor I (Table 3) indicates that this type of viewer prefers those toothpaste commercials which have an entertainment value. He most prefers the elements of unbelievable fiction (fantasy) and comedy in commercials. He rejects the elements of believability, high complexity, and seriousness.

The most prevalent element in the Entertainment Seeker's favorite commercials is comedy. Eight of his twelve most preferred commercials are coded comedy (D1). The comedy ranges all the way from candid views of human foibles to spoofs on commercials and contemporary culture. Commercials illustrating this quality include: (9) How do you Brush Your Teeth?; (27) A Piranha's Advice; (29) The Fantastic Voyage; (35) The Painters; (23) A Vibrating Electric Tooth- brush; (19) A Star is Born; (31) Goldilocks; and (33) Shield and the Seven Dwarfs.

The Entertainment Seeker also prefers that his commercials contain the element of fantasy. Seven of the twelve favorite commercials are coded unbelievable fiction, or fantasy (A3). In some cases, the fantasy is achieved through film magic, and in others, the fantasy is in the form of cartoons. The fantasy commercials include: (27) A Piranha's Advice; (29) The Fantastic Voyage; (28) The Strength of Gibraltar; (355) The Painters; (31) Goldilocks; (33) Shield and the Seven Dwarfs; and (34) A Tour of the Fluoride Plant.

This preference for commercials which combine the elements of fantasy and comedy indicates a desire to be entertained and amused while being persuaded. This preference for entertainment is apparent from looking at the coding and themes of the commercials which the Entertainment Seeker rejects. He rejects commercials which are based in "believable" reality (whether fact or fiction). which are highly complex, and which take themselves and their messages terribly seriously. In addition, many of his rejected commercials feature children and domestic family settings.

Eight of his nine least preferred commercials are coded believable (A1) and (A2). In some cases these are "believable fact" messages which have a documentary quality to them, while others are the realistic "believable fiction" messages. Included among these are (6) Mother, Teacher, Dentist; (14) Teacher's Word; (13) Home from the Dentist; (17) Little Jill's Food; (18) 'That's It!"; (20) A Timely Tip; (11) Give it Your Own Test;and (10) A Talk with the Scientists.



Seven of the nine rejected commercials are coded high complexity (C1). In these commercials that coding has been used to refer to messages which are more difficult to follow and filled with a number of scenes or people. The high complexity commercials include: (6) Mother, Teacher, Dentist; (14) Teacher's Word; (13) Home from the Dentist; (17) Little Jill's Food; (18) "That's It!" (25) Put us a Shield; and (10) A Talk with the Scientists.

The Entertainment Seeker also rejects serious messages. Five of the nine commercials he least preferred are coded serious (D2). Several of these feature serious minded professional people, such as scientists, dentists, and teachers. Almost always, the characters in these commercials treat their message quite seriously. These commercials include: (6) Mother, Teacher, Dentist; (14) Teacher's Word; (18) "That's It!"; (20) A Timely Tip; and (10) A Talk with the Scientists.

In summary, Factor I wants to be entertained. He prefers fantasy to reality. He prefers fun to seriousness. He prefers to see a single idea entertainly presented, rather than a series of ideas treated seriously in one hard-to-follow commercial. lt will take something new and different, something fantastic and amusing to appeal to this viewer.

Factor II: The Information Seeker Type. The data array for Factor II (Table 4) indicates that the Information Seeker most prefers commercials which are believable and do not contain a moral conflict, and that he least prefers commercials which contain an element of sentimentalized morality. The Information Seeker wants to be given the facts about a problem and information about a product which will help solve the problem. The presentation should be believable, and the product should not be presented as a knight in shining white armor who is going to miraculously solve the problem.

Four of the six commercials the Information Seeker most prefers are coded believable, (A1) and (A2). Three of these are believable fact presentations, with a live, spontaneous, or documentary quality to them, including: (1) "House- party"; (10) A Talk with the Scientists; and (11) Give it Your Own Test. The fourth is a believable fiction presentation: (24) The Big Picture.

Four of the six most preferred commercials are coded no moral conflict (B3). Generally, this means that the commercial contains no struggle between good and bad, whether of the intellectual "shades of gray" variety, or the sentimental "good guys versus bad guys' variety. Generally, a mere identification of Shield as the sponsor of the message, or a good-natured invitation to try Shield suffices. Commercials in which moral struggle is conspicuously absent are (10) A Talk with the Scientists; (34) A Tour of the Fluoride Plant; (11) Give it Your Own Test;and (24) The Big Picture.

Consistent with the Information Seeker's preference for commercials which are believable and which do not contain a moral struggle is his rejection of commercials which contain the element of sentimentalized moral conflict. Five of the eight least preferred commercials are coded sentimentalized morality (B2). These are the commercials which clearly promote Shield as the good guy and champion of healthy teeth. Commercials containing this element include: (32) Cinderella; (20) A Timely Tip; (17) Little Jill's Food; (30) The Queen of Light; (29) The Fantastic Voyage.



In summary, it is a combination of the No Moral Conflict--Sentimentalized Morality construct with the Believable--Unbelievable construct which distinguishes the Information Seeker. The sentimentalized morality element appears to be rejected in part because it is unbelievable. The information Seeker wants information presented in a believable, non-moralistic fashion.


The combination of techniques used in the design of this study illustrates one possible approach to studying viewer/consumers in depth. The study built upon earlier work using focused interviews and repertory grids. From these earlier studies were culled a set of facet elements which have the characteristics of constructs. These elements were built into a block design and used to construct a Q-instrument containing descriptions of hypothetical commercials. Viewers sorted these descriptions according to personal preference. Persons were then correlated with each other, and the resulting matrix was factor-analyzed, producing two strong factors, or preference types. The hypothetical set of constructs which were built into the instrument aided the process of ''abduction", or drawing inferences, from the factor data arrays. This basic design could be used to study preferences in other categories of commercials, or to study other aspects of consumer decision-making.

The preference patterns revealed by the two strong factors developed in this study suggests possible creative strategies for creators of brand commercials. Factor I, the Entertainment Seeker, clearly prefers commercials with an entertainment quality. He likes comedy and fantasy, while rejecting realistic, complicated, and serious commercials. By contrast, Factor II, the Information Seeker, prefers commercials which provide him with information about the problem and the product in a believable, non-moralistic format.


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Monaghan, R. R., Television preference and viewing behavior. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Michigan State University, 1964.

Monaghan, R. R. Creative strategies in audience analysis. Educational Broad- casting Review, 1968, 2, 29-37. (a)

Monaghan, R. R. A systematic way of being creative. Journal of Communication, 1968, 18, 47-56. (b)

Monaghan, R. R., Plummer, J. T., Rarick, D. L., & Williams, D. A. Recommended target audience and appeal elements for the Girl from U. N. C. L. E. Unpublished report, Ohio State University, 1966.

Monaghan, R. R., Plummer, J. T., Rarick, D. L., & Williams, D. A. Predicting viewer preference for new TV program concepts. Journal of Broadcasting, 1974, 18, 131-142.

Monaghan, R. R., & Titchener, C. EBR readership profile analysis. Educational Broadcasting Review, 1969, 3, 31-42.

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Dwight A. Williams, University of Missouri at Saint Louis


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 02 | 1975

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