An Analysis of Alcohol Advertising Using French and Raven's Theory of Social Influence

ABSTRACT - Previous research on the content of advertising has found limited use of information based appeals and has asserted that advertising is typically non-informative in nature. The present study investigated this assertion using a theoretical classification system based on French and Raven's Theory of Social Influence to classify alcohol advertisements. Results of the study showed that within the product category studied, information based appeals were used far more frequently than previously thought. In particular, wine ads were found to concentrate primarily on informational and expert based appeals, while liquor and beer ads concentrated more on referent, Froward and coercive appeals.


Scott B. MacKenzie and Judy L. Zaichkovsky (1981) ,"An Analysis of Alcohol Advertising Using French and Raven's Theory of Social Influence", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 08, eds. Kent B. Monroe, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 708-712.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 8, 1981      Pages 708-712


Scott B. MacKenzie, University of California at Los Angeles

Judy L. Zaichkovsky, University of California at Los Angeles

[The authors would like to thank Carol Scott and Jim Bettman for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper.]

[Scott MacKenzie and Judy Zaichkovsky are doctoral students, Department of Marketing, Graduate School of Management, UCLA.]


Previous research on the content of advertising has found limited use of information based appeals and has asserted that advertising is typically non-informative in nature. The present study investigated this assertion using a theoretical classification system based on French and Raven's Theory of Social Influence to classify alcohol advertisements. Results of the study showed that within the product category studied, information based appeals were used far more frequently than previously thought. In particular, wine ads were found to concentrate primarily on informational and expert based appeals, while liquor and beer ads concentrated more on referent, Froward and coercive appeals.


Perhaps one of the most often asked questions in advertising research is "What does advertising do?" Economists have contended that the value of advertising is in the information it provides the consumer. However, it is not clear exactly how much information is actually conveyed in most advertisements. Similarly, in recent years, public policy makers have expressed their concern with how advertisements influence the consumers' choice of products and if advertisements supply consumers with enough information to make "informed choices". In response to these concerns research into the information content of advertising has been carried out by various researchers (Resnik and Stern 1977, Marquez 1977, Shimp 1979 and Pollay et al 1980). Results of these studies show only limited support for the contention that advertising provides information to consumers upon which they can then make informed choices, but if advertisements are not making information based appeals then what types of appeals are being made? It is the purpose of this study to examine the content of advertising using a theoretical framework that will provide insight not only into the information content of advertising but also into the types of non-informational appeals being used.

Review of the Literature

Research dealing with content analysis of television advertising (Resnik and Stern 1977 and Pollay at al 1980) has indicated that only about 50% of all advertising supplies some information cues to the customer. Resnik and Stern (1977) analyzed the content of 378 videotaped television ads randomly drawn from those aired on the major networks during April 1975, while Pollay et al (1980), using exactly the same methodology analyzed the content of 884 television ads from 1971, 1973 and 1977.

These studies were very generous with their definition of informational cues and looked for these cues along fourteen and twenty dimensions respectively. All specific claims were accepted as valid and classified as information. Assertions in the ad copy were coded so that ads could be classified as providing information on any or all dimensions, (rather than coding just the dominant theme or 'copy premise'). For example, an informational cue of convenience would be an assertion by the ad that the product is easy to use and/or easier than some alternative. Some of the other cues classified were price, safety, availability, taste, guarantees, etc.. The Resnik and Stern (1977) findings indicated only about 1% of the ads contained three or more informational cues, some 16% provided two cues, and slightly more than half (50.8%) provided no informational cues at all. The Pollay et al (1980) findings also concluded that the advertising studied presented little in the way of informational cues to the consumer. One of the problem with studying the content of advertising in this way is that no information is gained about the types of non-informational appeals being made. If in approximately half of the ads studied no informational cues were given, than what are the advertisers saying in their commercials?

A study by Marquez (1977) [This study made no mention of who exactly judged the ads or of any reliability measure usually associated with content analysis.] using print advertisements attempted to address this issue. Using a variety of nationally distributed magazines, he classified 600 advertisements on the dimensions of persuasion, information and intimidation. An advertisement was classified as basic persuasion if it did not contain specific facts about the product and if the claims made could not be verified. Basic information is the converse of basic persuasion and was defined as the specific, relevant and verifiable facts about an advertised product. Intimidation was defined in this study as an act of creating a desire for the product through the use of fear appeals.

Marquez reported that 43.3% of advertisements were basic persuasion, 22.8% of the advertisements were basic information, 22.4% of the ads were high persuasion/low information, 10.2% were high information/low persuasion ads and that 1.2% were primarily intimidation based. Persuasive appeals were thus used twice as often as information based appeals. In addition, he found that the different types of appeals were used more frequently for some product categories than others. Wine and liquor advertisements contained more persuasive appeals than any other product category, while institutional advertising relied heavily on information based appeals.

Marquez's study is a step in the right direction in that he attempted to classify, albeit broadly, both the informational and non-informational types of appeals being made in the advertisements. However, his operational definitions completely lacked any theoretical basis. The definition of persuasion was derived from the dictionary as "an act of causing (someone) to do or believe something, especially by reasoning, urging, etc,; convince". Similarly the definition of information was also based on the dictionary definition of the word, "something told or facts learned; news or knowledge". These definitions are not mutually exclusive. The "reasoning" mentioned in the definition of persuasion could possibly be expected to include "facts, news or knowledge".

What is needed is a classification system that is more soundly based on theory. It is the purpose of this study to propose such a classification system and use it to investigate the types of appeals being made in advertising. The theoretical framework proposed is French and Raven's theory of social influence, and the advertisements classified will be printed alcoholic beverage ads. This medium and product category were chosen in order to make the ads in this study as similar as possible to those used by Marquez, so that any differences in the results obtained could be attributed to the different classification systems used.

Marquez found wine and liquor ads during 1973-1976 to be highly persuasive in nature and very low in basic information. The present study samples print alcohol advertising from the same time period. Ideally in order to make this study comparable to the previous studies a random sample of all types of ads should have been used. However, since this research is somewhat exploratory in nature, it was deemed sufficient to select one category of advertisements previously judged as non-informational and compare the results using a classification system that is conceptually more precise.

French and Raven's Theory of Social Influence

French and Raven (1959) define influence as a change in a person's cognition, attitude, or behavior, which has its origin in another person or group. Their theory is appropriate for the study of advertising because advertising can really be defined as an attempt on the part of one person or group (the sponsoring firm) to influence the purchase behavior of another person or group (the consumer).

In extending the theory, Raven (1965) identified two types of influence; socially dependent and socially independent influence. Independent influence depends entirely on the "content of the communication" between the influencing agent and the actor, whereas dependent influence depends not only on "what is said" but on "who said it". Raven (1965) theorized that independent influence is the result of a basic change in cognitive elements having its basis in information communication by the influencing agent. Here the content of the communication is of primary importance, not the nature of the influencing agent.

Five different types of dependent influence were identified: reward, coercive, expert, referent and legitimate. Reward power [Following Raven (1965), the terms power and influence are used somewhat interchangeably. Raven defines power as potential' influence and influence as kinetic power.] stems from the ability of the influencing agent to mediate rewards for the influencee; coercive power results from the ability of the agent to mediate punishment. (It should be noted that rewards can either be physical or symbolic). Expert power (or influence) stems from the attribution of superior knowledge or ability to the influencing agent. The influencing agent then functions as a guide for the other person indicating the path which will most likely lead him to his goals. It is necessary both for the person to think that the influencing agent knows the truth, and for the person to trust that the influencing agent is telling the truth, for expert influence to occur. Referent power results from the person's identification with the influencing agent and his desire to maintain similarity with him. By identification they mean a feeling of oneness between the influencing agent and the person or a desire for such an identity. Legitimate power stems from internalized values in the person which dictate that the influencing agent has a legitimate right to influence them. In other words, the person feels obligated to accept this influence. In all cases the concept of legitimacy involves some sort of code or standard accepted by the individual, by virtue of which the external agent can assert his power. (Only a brief description is possible here, see French and Raven 1959 for more details).

In this study a group of judges were asked to determine the extent to which each of the above mentioned types of appeals were presented in a set of advertisements. The judges responded on seven point scales ranging from "definitely not implied" to "definitely implied". The influence bases were operationalized as follows: [The authors would like to thank Bert Raven for his help in operationalizing these concepts.]

1) Information: The ad explains why this is a good product, citing available evidence such as quality off ingredients, caloric content, price, taste, etc.. An example of an informational appeal would be,

"Lite beer has one third less calories than your regular beer."

2) Expert: The ad implies that someone who is an expert, who knows about such products, thinks this product is the best and recommends it. For example, having a wine master stating that, in his opinion, a certain product is the best, would be an expert appeal.

3) Referent: The ad implies that other people, whom you admire or want to identify with, use the product. The following is an example of a referent appeal for Ambrosia Liqueur,

"Are you an Ambrosiac? Have you ever seem the sun rise? Did you ever swim in the nude? Do you enjoy walking on autumn leaves? Have you ever seen the same movie three times?"

4) Reward: The ad implies that if you use the product you will experience some positive consequences from others; i.e., social approval, acceptance, sexual success. The following appeal implies some increase in social approval or sexual success if the product is used,

"Gene Robins recently introduced his girlfriend to Ballantine's Scotch. She, in turn, introduced five friends to Ballantine's. Now Gene Robins has six girl friends. Moral: it pays to be loyal."

5) Coercive: The ad implies that if you do not use this product you will suffer some negative consequences from others; i.e., loss of social approval or prestige, rejection. The following appeal implies some loss of social prestige if the proper wine is not selected,

"Will your chilled wine get a chilly reception? Will the white be wrong? The Chablis shabby?"

These operationalizations of information, expert and referent power are directly derived from French and Raven's definitions. However, the definitions of reward and coercive power used in this study were not exactly the same as French and Raven's. The definitions of reward and coercive had to be broadened to include rewards and punishments mediated by third parties because there obviously was no direct contact between the sponsors of the advertisements and their target audiences. Appeals of this type are really a mixture of information and reward/coercion. The ad gives the person information, but the information is not about the product or its benefits, but concerns what other people will do if the product is used. Therefore, in this study a reward or coercion based appeal is one that gives information concerning what other people (who presumably have direct contact with the target audience) will do if the person does or does not do as the advertisement says.

Legitimate based appeals were secluded from the analysis because it is difficult to imagine any truly "legitimate" advertising themes for alcoholic beverages. Such an appeal would have to persuade you to buy the product because you feel you 'ought' to buy it. Even if such appeals have been used on occasion in the past it is felt that their occurrence would be so rare that their seclusion would not significantly effect the analysis.


The Sample

The sample of beer, wine and liquor ads chosen for the study was drawn from a large group of nationally distributed magazines. This media is representative of alcohol advertising because all liquor and most wine advertising appears in print media. While much of the advertising for beer appears on television, industry experts and advertising agency executives indicated that the same themes and campaigns were used on television and in print advertising. Thus, even though most beer advertising does not appear in print, the print ads are still representative of beer advertising in general.

For each of the eight years between 1971 and 1978, fifteen ads were selected; five liquor ads, five wine ads and five beer ads. One ad for each beverage was randomly selected from each of the five magazines carrying the most advertising pages for the product categories during the year. These five top magazines accounted for 30% to 55% of the total alcoholic beverage advertising pages appearing during the year.

Using the sampling procedure described above, 120 ads were selected. A 35mm color slide was made of each ad. The ads were then randomly assigned to one of the three coding sessions,


The judges were introductory psychology students who participated as a part of a course requirement. Ninety coders participated, 30 in each coding session. However, not all of the judges completed the task, thus reducing the number of coders in each session to approximately 24.


At the beginning of each coding session the experimenter carefully explained the various power bases to the Judges giving them numerous examples, and then answering any questions that arose. All of the judges indicated that they fully understood each of the types of appeals they were to rate. The judges were instructed to consider only the advertisements they were currently viewing when making their judgments and to ignore any images or concepts they had developed from prior experience. (Obviously in some instances it is impossible to ignore past experiences, however in this situation, given the relatively straight-forward judgment task, it seemed reasonable to assume this was possible).

Each slide was projected onto a screen and rated by a group of approximately 24 Judges. The Judges were asked to: 1) Rate the extent to which each of the five social influence appeals was used in each advertisement and 2) Indicate which of the five appeals they thought was the main point of the ad.


The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the types of appeals made in alcohol advertisements and to assess the usefulness of French and Raven's Theory of Social Influence in classifying them. Consequently, the analyses focused on determining: 1) the extent to which each of the theoretical bases of social influence was used in the ads studied, and 2) how reliable the appeals could be classified.

The extant to which each of the five types of appeals was present in a given ad was determined by calculating the mean rating for each type of appeal averaging across all judges who rated the ad. For a given product (i.e. beer, wine or liquor), the strength of each type of appeal was assessed by averaging the ratings across all judges and all the ads in that category. The product class mean ratings for each type of appeal were the result of averaging across all judges and all ads. Table 1 contains the mean ratings for each type of appeal for the three products and over all products.



The strength of each type of appeal or the extent to which each type of appeal was present is indicated by the magnitude of the mean ratings. From the bottom line of Table 1 it can be seen that information had the highest mean rating (3.78) followed by reward (3.58), referent (2.75), expert (2.51), and coercive (1.95). These means are significantly different at the .001 level, thus indicating that, overall, information based appeals are the strongest type of appeal made in alcohol advertising.

Table 2, which contains the percentage of ads in which each type of appeal was judged to be the main point, also supports this ordering of effects. Thirty-nine percent of the ads were judged to have information based appeals as their main point. Again, reward, referent, expert, and coercive, followed in precisely the same order.



The strength of the information based appeals observed in this study are in direct opposition to Marquez's findings. Both studies sampled ads from virtually the same product category published during the same years. (Marquez sampled wine and liquor ads published between 1973 and 1976, this study sampled wine, liquor and beer ads published between 1971 and 1978). Yet Marquez observed that the ratio of 'persuasive' to 'informational' ads in this product category was 37 to 1. In this study, if all the source dependent appeals (reward, coercion, expert, and referent) are combined into a 'persuasive' category similar to Marquez's, the ratio of persuasive appeals to information based appeals is only 1.5 to 1 (see Table 2). A difference of this magnitude indicates how sensitive the results are to the type of classification system chosen. The choice of the classification system thus becomes an extremely important decision, one that should be as soundly based on existing theory as possible.

The above discussion has been concerned with the overall nature of alcohol advertising as a product class. In looking at the results for beer, wine, and liquor separately, some interesting differences in advertising strategy become apparent. A multivariate analysis of variance, using the judges ratings of referent, information, coercive, expert and reward appeals as the dependent measures and the type of product (beer, wine or liquor) as the grouping variable, was performed to investigate the possibility that the ads for the three types of products reflected different advertising strategies. An overall F of 52.1, which was significant at the .001 level, was obtained. Group level differences across the three product types were tested for by summing each judge's ratings on the five types of appeals and then using this summed variable as the dependent measure in a univariate analysis of variance where product type was again the grouping variable (F = 22.15, p < .001). It was also important to determine whether there was an interaction between the type of product advertised and the kind of appeal being used. To test this the following four quantities were computed for each judge on every ad: referent minus information; information minus coercion; coercion minus expert; and expert minus reward. These quantities then became the dependent measures in a multivariate analysis of variance designed to test for product-appeal interactions. An F of 57.27 (p < .001) was obtained thus indicating that the profiles for the three types of products are not parallel. In sum, as shown in Figure 1, the three types of alcoholic beverages use significantly different advertising strategies.



From the figure it appears that liquor and beer ads are basically the same but that they differ in content from the wine ads. This is in fact the case for referent, information, expert and reward mean ratings. The wine mean ratings for these variables are all significantly different (p < .001) from either the liquor or beer means, while the liquor and beer means never differ significantly. (The fact that the coercion mean ratings did not follow this pattern is not too disturbing since coercion was the weakest of the five types of appeals and was the main point of only 4% of the ads studied).

Furthermore, it can be seen that wine ads use significantly (p < .001) stronger information and expert based, appeals, while liquor and beer ads use significantly stronger referent, reward and coercive appeals. (Table 2 confirms this pattern of results). It appears that liquor and beer are sold primarily on the basis of "social" appeals, while wine is sold on the basis of "rational" appeals. Referent, reward and coercive appeals are all based on the social consequences of using or not using the product.. Information and expert based appeals are in a sense more rational because the decision to purchase the product is based on either information about the product or on expert testimony concerning the product. We might say the person purchases the product because they believe it is better than the competition, rather than because they are concerned with what other people will do or think.

As is typically the case in content analyses, the reliability of the judges ratings was assessed by determining the percentage of times their judgments agreed. In order to do this it vas necessary to transform the judges ratings, which were continuous in our study, into dichotomous variables. This was done by recoding the judges ratings so that a rating of 1, 2, or 3, was scored as a zero on the new variable and a 4, 5, 6, or 7 was scored as a one. The newly created variable crudely represents the absence (0) or presence (1) of a given type of appeal. The percentage of agreement between the judges was then calculated for each appeal on each ad. These percentages were then averaged across the appropriate groups of ads to produce the percentage agreements shown in Table 3.



Across all types of ads and all types of appeals the Judges agreed an average of 77% of the time (93% of the ads had greater than 70% inter-judge agreement).In order to determine how sensitive these percentages were to the way in which the judge's ratings were recoded, an alternate recoding was tried, (1, 2 versus 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). The overall percentage of agreement was 75%. On the basis of these figures in Table 3, we can therefore conclude that the judges' ratings of the types of appeals used in the ads were quite reliable.


One of the most interesting findings of this exploratory study was the extent to which the advertisements were classified as having informational based appeals. This finding is in contradiction to Marquez's (1977) study and could be due to two points; 1) the fact that the present study only looked at alcohol advertisements, so there was no room for comparison across product categories, and 2) the different classification schemes used in the two studies had a significant impact on the conclusions reached. It could be the case that the use of French and Raven's framework results in a higher percentage of the appeals being classified as informational, but that this increase occurs for all product categories, thus leaving the relative amount of information unchanged.

Perhaps the main contribution of this paper is the theoretical framework proposed to study and classify the advertisements. French and Raven's Theory of Social Influence not only allows one to distinguish between informational appeals and non-informational appeals but also distinguishes between the various types of non-informational appeals. This information would be very helpful in assessing the value of advertising from both an economic and public policy point of view. For example, public policy makers might become less concerned with controlling advertising for product categories that concentrate on 'rational' appeals and perhaps more concerned with product categories that rely on ads using 'social' or 'emotional' appeals.

Although the present study used print media, the classification scheme also seems adaptable to television advertising. The next step in developing the application and suitability of the French and Raven framework, would be to classify a cross section of print advertisers to see if the results are comparable. It would also be interesting to reclassify the Resnik and Stern (1977) or the Pollay et al (1980) television advertisements to determine what kinds of appeals are being made in that 50% non-informational category.


French, J. R. P. and Raven, Bertram H., (1959), "The games of Social Power", in D. Cartwright (ed.), Studies in Social Power. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Marquez, Francis (1977), "Advertising Content: Persuasion, Information, or Intimidation", Journalism Quarterly, 3, 482-491.

Pollay, Richard W., Zaichkowsky, Judy L., and Fryer, Christina (1980), "Regulation Hasn't Changed Advertising Much", Journalism Quarterly, 3

Raven, Bertram B., (1965), "Social Influences and Power", in I.D. Steiner and M. Fishbein (eds.), Current Studies in Social Psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston; pp. 371-382.

Resnik, Allan and Stern, Bruce L., (1977), "An Analysis of Information Content in Television Advertising", Journal of Marketing, 1, 50-53.

Shimp, Terrance A, (1979), "Social Psychological (Mis)Representations in Television Advertising", Journal of Consumer Affairs, 2, 28-40.



Scott B. MacKenzie, University of California at Los Angeles
Judy L. Zaichkovsky, University of California at Los Angeles


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 08 | 1981

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