Product Expertise and Advertising Persuasiveness

ABSTRACT - Consumer knowledge about a product class varies widely, in terms of experience with using a product, and in terms of more conceptual product information. Advertising may be most persuasive when it presents brand information that "matches" consumers' prior knowledge about products. The theory presented here discusses how the interaction between consumers' prior knowledge, and the type of copy used to advertise a particular brand, can influence: attention to advertisements, interpretation of advertising information, and responses to advertised brands.


Ann E. Beattie (1983) ,"Product Expertise and Advertising Persuasiveness", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, eds. Richard P. Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 581-584.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, 1983      Pages 581-584


Ann E. Beattie, Carnegie-Mellon University


Consumer knowledge about a product class varies widely, in terms of experience with using a product, and in terms of more conceptual product information. Advertising may be most persuasive when it presents brand information that "matches" consumers' prior knowledge about products. The theory presented here discusses how the interaction between consumers' prior knowledge, and the type of copy used to advertise a particular brand, can influence: attention to advertisements, interpretation of advertising information, and responses to advertised brands.


Advertising is an attempt to persuade consumers to buy specific product brands. Generally, this involves communicating two types of copy information: information about the quality of product attributes, and/or information about how a product can be favorably used. Understanding both types of information requires prior knowledge on the part of the consumer. Interpreting information about product use simply requires accumulated experience with a product class. Interpreting advertising information about product attributes, though, requires knowledge of how those attributes relate to product performance. This distinction between experience-based or information-based advertising is important for many product classes where consumers may have experience with using the product (such as automobiles, sports equipment, cameras, stereo equipment), yet have little knowledge of how product attributes relate to product performance.

Given the wide range of individual differences in consumer knowledge within certain product classes, advertising may be most effective when the information it provides "matches" consumers' prior knowledge. Experience-oriented advertising, focusing on what it feels like to use a product, may be most persuasive for consumers who have considerable experience using a product, but little product attribute information stored in memory (product novices). Information-oriented advertising, focusing on the quality of product attributes, may better persuade consumers who have extensive knowledge of product attribute/performance relationships (product experts). [Similarly, Anderson and Jolson (1980) have shown that consumers' responses to complex camera equipment, advertised with a range of technically worded copy, are affected by both education level and experience with complex camera equipment.]

In more closely examining product expertise, it is important to briefly consider the content and organization of product knowledge in memory. In so doing, a discussion of product knowledge and the processing of experience- or information-based advertising copy can show how both these factors influence: 1) attention to advertisements, 2) the interpretation of advertising information, and 3) responses to advertised brands.


Knowledge in memory is generally considered in terms of both content and structure. By content, we mean specific information about a product class and about particular brands stored in memory; by structure we mean the way that information is organized. Consumers can have both experience-based information in memory (e.g., a representation of the general experience of listening to stereo speakers), and product attribute information that relates to that experience (e.g., tweeters produce high sounds, woofers produce low sounds). One general distinction between these two types of knowledge in memory refers to experiential knowledge as episodic, and more specific verbal or conceptual knowledge as semantic (Tulving 1972). As originally conceptualized, episodic knowledge was considered as a perceptual representation in memory. Krugman 41965) refers to episodic knowledge as "photo-like." Semantic knowledge was thought to contain factual information, but also had rules for interpretation of information, making inferences, and problem solving. While the distinction between episodic and semantic memory has proved useful in studying a variety of cognitive phenomena, the independence of the two has blurred in application of the theory over time (Hastie and Carlston 1980; Mitchell 1982A). It is generally agreed that while "photo-like" perceptions of events or episodes are originally encoded in memory, they are often difficult to retrieve. However, repeated experience can lead to the formation of distilled, general frameworks for any particular type of episode. These frameworks are often referred to as scripts (Shank and Abelson 19?5) or schemata (Rumelhart and Ortony 1977), and are thought to be stored in memory with more conceptual. or semantic, knowledge.

Concern with memory content here lies both with consumers' experience within a particular product class, and with more semantic knowledge about a product's attributes. When a product class is familiar to consumers, they generally have enough experience in using a product to have both usage information and some information about product attributes stored in memory. A true product "expert" consumer will tend to have more attribute information in memory than the product novice, but in addition, the expert will have established the relationship between product attributes and product use or performance (Johnson and Russo 1980; Taylor and Crocker 1981). Thus, product experts tend to have both more content knowledge in memory, and more associations within that organized content knowledge (Chi, Glaser, and Rees 1982).

As mentioned earlier, stereo speaker experts and novices may both have a general "listening to stereo music on speakers" episode stored in memory. Advertising stressing that experience, then, e.g., "a concert in your living room," will match these consumers' prior knowledge. But semantic knowledge of stereo speakers, in terms of product attribute/performance relationships, will vary widely for consumers. For example, a stereo speaker expert knows that an enclosure baffle acts to reduce resonance produced mainly by the low frequency sound waves of the woofer cone reverberating from behind the cone and interacting with sound waves projected forward from the cone. Advertisements that give information on the type of baffle a speaker has, then, will match a speaker expert's prior knowledge.

So, while both product experts and novices have episodic knowledge stored in memory, allowing interpretation of experiential information in advertising, product experts can better understand semantic information. In terms of advertising designed to persuade consumers to purchase specific brands, the product expert may be more effectively persuaded by tapping into semantic knowledge components (specifically, product attributes) that affect positive product performance (informative copy). The product novice may simply need a cue to recall positive performance (experiential copy). The ways these types of copy information are processed by consumers are critical to a discussion of how new brands are evaluated, based on advertising.


In processing information, there are two basic stages relevant to consumers and advertising. Attention is drawn to an advertisement, and the advertisement is interpreted by the consumer. Attention is elicited by salient, or noticeable, advertising stimuli. The salience of visual components in print advertising (pictures) can be manipulated by vividness of color, pattern, or emotional interest (McArthur 1981). The salience of verbal information in advertising (copy) can also be manipulated through vividness. Nisbett and Ross (1980) suggest that information is vivid to the extent that it is detailed and concrete, particularly informative or extreme, or when it refers to direct or potential experience.

Since visual components of an advertisement tend to be more perceptually salient than verbal components (Pavio 1971), it is obviously in the advertiser's best interest to capture immediate attention through vivid pictures. In designing advertising copy, though, salience can be achieved, and consumer attention maintained, by directing copy to fit consumers' prior knowledge. We will maintain that the salience of brand information in advertising is determined by consumers' prior knowledge, so that copy referring to product experience is more vivid for product novices. Copy referring to product attributes is particularly informative, and therefore vivid, to product experts.

Once attention is directed at environmental stimuli, it directs interpretation of that incoming stimuli (Norman 1976; Craik and Lockhart 1972). Information is interpreted by reference to knowledge structures. That is, consumers draw on their structured knowledge to decide how incoming stimuli, or information, corresponds to information cued in memory. Experience-based advertising can generally be interpreted by both product experts and novices. In fact, anyone who is familiar with the use of a specific product class is likely to have that general experience represented in memory. But for product novices, this type of information provides a better "fit" to their knowledge structures than it would for experts. For novices, product experience is likely to be better represented in memory, proportionally, than is semantic information.

Product attribute descriptions are informative, and thus salient, to the degree that they can be semantically interpreted by a consumer. Product attribute information-based advertising, then, is more likely to be attended to and interpreted by the product expert, than by the novice (i.e., Edell and Mitchell 1978). Information-based advertising better "fits" the product expert expert's knowledge structure. The product expert's knowledge structure contains extensive semantic knowledge, which is represented to a greater degree proportionally than episodic knowledge.

Thus far discussion has centered on the cognitive mechanisms by which advertising information is processed. To review briefly, consumer attention is elicited by perceptually salient visual stimuli, and by the interpretive salience of verbal information. For product experts, salience can be achieved by providing information about product attributes that allows inferences to be made about product performance during information interpretation. For novices, salience is attained by providing information about simply experiencing product performance. Experiential information about a particular brand is easily interpreted by any consumer who has accumulated use with products in the product class. However, informative cues about brands from print advertising can be interpreted only in light of a consumer's prior knowledge about a product class--knowledge that includes relationships between product attributes and product performance.

Since a product novice's prior knowledge includes very little product attribute/performance knowledge, experiential knowledge is "over-represented." Thus an advertisement providing information about experiencing product performance provides a general fit to the product novice's knowledge in memory. The product expert's knowledge structure contains both experience and attribute/performance knowledge, but the latter semantic knowledge is better represented, proportionally Product attribute information gives a better general fit to the product expert's knowledge structure. Matching the type of information in an advertisement to consumers' prior knowledge, then, can both elicit attention and facilitate interpretation of information.


How then, does differential matching of brand information to product experts' and novices' prior knowledge ultimately persuade consumers to purchase particular brands? We have discussed how environmental salience elicits attention, which in turn directs interpretation of stimuli-, Interpretation, in turn, can direct evaluation of that stimuli. In addition to episodic and semantic content, knowledge structures are thought to have evaluative components "tied" to other knowledge content (Mandler 1975; Isen and Clark 1982; Bower 1980; Fiske 1981). When new information does correspond to prior knowledge, an evaluative label stored in memory with prior information can be quickly transferred to the new stimuli. In this sense, evaluative responses are triggered by a match to priorly evaluated knowledge (Fiske 1981; Fiske, Beattie, and Milberg 1981).

The previously described product knowledge structure, then, with both experiential and product attribute information can also contain evaluative components. Advertising describing the experience of using a product can cue episodic portions of knowledge structures that are evaluatively labeled. So, for example, an advertisement with information about listening to stereo speakers can cue a distilled "music listening" episode, and be assigned the same evaluation associated with that episode. This is expected to be true for both product experts and novices, but to a greater extent for novices. The bulk of the novice's knowledge structure involves a distilled "product use episode"--memory content is almost exclusively experience-based. Experience-based information in advertising fits this consumer's knowledge structure, and assuming that using the product is a pleasant experience, positive evaluations can be transferred to the advertised brand.

This same novice consumer might react differently to information-based advertising copy. Without prior knowledge of product attributes, and their relationship to performance, information-based copy cannot be interpreted. Brands advertised with this type of copy cannot be evaluatively tagged by a match to prior knowledge for product novices. In fact, work in cognitive psychology has indicated that when novices are confronted with information they do not understand, they often become frustrated (Chi, Glaser, and Rees 1982). Information-based advertising does cue the substantial semantic knowledge in product experts' memory, though, and a description of quality product attributes should correspond to positively evaluated attribute information in memory. Information-based advertising can correspond in many ways to the product expert' s prior knowledge, and is more likely to elicit the positive evaluation associated with quality products than is experience-based advertising.

In sum then, attention to advertising cues interpretation of brand information in an advertisement. Interpretation involves referencing prior knowledge. When brand information fits prior knowledge, the evaluation associated with the prior knowledge is transferred to the new brand Based on an advertising copy match to prior knowledge, and brand evaluations resulting from that match, we can predict that product experts will form more positive evaluations of brands advertised with product attribute information. Product novices will form more positive evaluations of brands advertised with experiential information.

A second important consideration here is the effect of attention on the intensity of an evaluative response. Attention to stimuli can intensify or polarize evaluations of that stimuli. In fact, attention has been shown to polarize (or make more extreme) evaluations of objects, pictures, attitudes, and a wide range of stimuli (Tesser 1978). Since visual stimuli elicits greater immediate attention than verbal stimuli (Pavio 1971), the visual component of print advertising is important in determining the strength of evaluative responses.

In addition to polarizing evaluations, attention to visual portions of advertising can contribute to brand evaluations. For instance, Mitchell (19828) has suggested that pictures of emotional symbols (e.g., a kitten or sunset) can also match prior knowledge and elicit brand evaluations by association, as described here for verbal information. Other researchers (i,e., Rossiter and Percy 1980; Kisielius 1981) have shown that visual components of advertising can lead to imagery on the part of consumers, strengthening evaluative responses to brands. Given these effects of visual portions of advertisements--evaluative responses through a match to prior knowledge and polarized evaluations through focused attention and/or imaging--we can predict that vivid pictures will add to and intensify any evaluative responses to advertised brands.

So far, we have described how advertising information (both visual and verbal) is processed, and how the evaluative component of attitudes may be assigned. Two other responses to advertised brands have been shown to affect brand attitudes: beliefs formed about specific brands, and affect directed towards the advertisement itself. To assess the possible effects of these factors, we will briefly review the information processing theory outlined here for responses to advertised brands in light of product expertise. Figure 1 shows a simplified version of advertising information processing and resulting brand responses. Salient components of advertising elicit consumer attention, which cues interpretation of those components. Consumers' attention can be drawn to pictures in advertisements when those pictures are vivid: brightly colored, complexly patterned, etc. In terms of advertisement copy, informative verbal copy should be particularly vivid to product experts, while novices may find experiential copy to be more vivid. This is based on consumers' differential prior knowledge.



Interpretation of information involves a comparison or incoming advertising stimuli concerning specific brands to prior knowledge. Product novices' knowledge is based mostly on product experience, while product experts' have both experience-based and extensive semantic knowledge of products. According to the fit between incoming information and stored knowledge, evaluations are assigned to the advertised brand, and beliefs about the brand are formed.

These beliefs and assigned evaluation (intensified by attention) are considered as attitude components (Fishbein and Ajzen 1975). While beliefs about brands have been shown to play an important role in consumers' responses to various brands, it may be product experts who tend to weight them highly in brand responses since beliefs are semantically oriented.

In addition, several researchers (e.g., Mitchell and Olson 1981; MacKenzie and Lutz 1982) have shown that affect directed towards the advertisement itself can influence brand responses to advertised brands. In this case, it may be product novices who are particularly influenced by affect for an advertisement. This will hold true if novices are proved to react to experience based stimuli, which is closely tied to the sensory, emotional aspects advertising can call into plaY.


Prior knowledge has direct influence over every portion of the described brand response process, as does the type of information conveyed in an advertisement. By measuring the contents of product knowledge structures, particularly in terms of product attribute/performance knowledge, and by assessing product experience, predictions can be made about brand responses, based on the kind of information conveyed in advertising.

For instance, visual components of advertising can be designed according to principles of perceptual salience, to capture consumer attention. Verbal information conveyed in advertisements can be designed to capture attention too, through reference to experiencing product performance, or, for more knowledgeable consumers, through its very level of informativeness about product attributes. Experience-based advertising is predicted to elicit positive evaluations of brands from product novices, since it provides the best fit to their priorly evaluated, experience-based knowledge. For product experts, information oriented advertising best fits the substantial portion of semantic product knowledge in memory. Thus brands advertised with product attribute information can elicit positive evaluations associated with the extensive semantic portion of the product expert's knowledge.


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Ann E. Beattie, Carnegie-Mellon University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10 | 1983

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