Effects of Advertising and Experience on Brand Judgments: a Rose By Any Other Frame...

ABSTRACT - Consumer researchers have become increasingly interested in the effects of context on brand judgments. One contextual phenomenon receiving much attention is the effect of "framing." This research reviews the various uses of the term "framing" in the literature and summarizes the findings to date. A new form of framing is identified - the effects of trial experience on advertising response - and is contrasted with the more familiar framing effect of advertising on experience. Recommendations are proposed for research concerning the effects of experience framing advertising.


Alice A. Wright and Richard J. Lutz (1993) ,"Effects of Advertising and Experience on Brand Judgments: a Rose By Any Other Frame...", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 165-169.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 165-169


Alice A. Wright, California State University, Long Beach

Richard J. Lutz, University of Florida

[This work was partially supported by a Scholarly and Creative Activities Grant from the California State University, Long Beach. Special thanks to John Lynch, David Mick and Alan Sawyer for comments on an earlier version.]


Consumer researchers have become increasingly interested in the effects of context on brand judgments. One contextual phenomenon receiving much attention is the effect of "framing." This research reviews the various uses of the term "framing" in the literature and summarizes the findings to date. A new form of framing is identified - the effects of trial experience on advertising response - and is contrasted with the more familiar framing effect of advertising on experience. Recommendations are proposed for research concerning the effects of experience framing advertising.

Over the past decade, consumer research has used the concept of the "frame" as a metaphor for the effects of judgment context on a variety of consumer decision phenomena. Whether under managerial control or not, important contextual variables, are seen as shaping the very nature of the decision faced by a consumer, much as a picture frame can enhance or diminish the appreciation of the artwork it surrounds. The purpose of this paper is threefold: (1) to summarize the "framing" literature in consumer research, (2) to identify a new form of framing, and (3) to describe in detail research investigating two forms of framing that entail the interaction of advertising and direct product experience.


In the consumer framing literature the term "frame" has been used in at least four distinct ways, some more closely related than others. A fifth form of framing is implied but not explicitly considered in the literature. Each of the various construals of the "frame" concept is discussed below.

Decision Frames

Kahneman and Tversky (1979) introduced the notion of decision frame in their influential prospect theory of decision-making under risk. In any choice situation, they argued, two stages exist: an editing stage, wherein the decision-maker structures the problem into more manageable terms, and an evaluation stage, in which alternatives are compared. A decision frame is formed at the editing stage, based on the juxtaposition of each outcome with a reference point, i.e., a "frame of reference". Armed with these framed alternatives, the decision-maker is better able to evaluate the alternatives and arrive at a choice.

Puto (1987) showed that organizational buyers were somewhat more likely to accept the riskier of two contracts when it was accompanied by a sales letter emphasizing a possible gain in cost advantage, as opposed to avoiding a possible loss. The expected values of the risky and riskless contracts were identical in both situations. Thus, a decision frame can alter judgments of the overall attractiveness of a choice alternative. In a more recent study, Maheswaran and Meyers-Levy (1990) showed a moderating effect of involvement. A positive frame was more effective in low involvement conditions and a negative frame more effective under high involvement.

Decision frames have not received a great deal of attention from consumer researchers, possibly due to the difficulty of assessing and comparing subjectively valued outcomes. As in Puto (1987), most prospect theory research has dealt with more objective outcomes and known probabilities (e.g., Thaler 1985); thus it may be better suited to more structured buying situations like organizational procurement (e.g., Qualls and Puto 1989).

Framed vs. Unframed Pictures in Print Ads

Edell and Staelin (1983) used the distinction between "framed" and "unframed" pictures in print ads to refer to ads that contain picture-related copy vs. those that do not, respectively. Essentially, in the framed case, the copy becomes a verbal label that facilitates the interpretation of the picture. When unframed, the picture is potentially a source of distraction, decreasing attentional resources devoted to processing the (unrelated) copy claims and forming a brand judgment. Edell and Staelin (1983) reported a strong effect of this form of framing, such that their subjects were deflected from using their own previously reported choice criteria when confronted with unframed pictorial ads. Indeed, they engaged in less brand evaluation than those seeing a framed pictorial ad. Marks, Kamins and Murphy (1986) and Kamins and Marks (1987) reported interactive effects of pictorial framing with audience expertise and ad sequence, respectively.

Problem Framing

P. Wright and Rip (1980) coined the term problem framing to describe the deliberations of a novice decision-maker in structuring the preference judgment task. Working within the dominant multiattribute preference model tradition, Wright (1977) and Wright and Barbour (1975) had earlier catalogued various strategies by which advertisers might influence, or bias, decision processes in their favor. For example, Wright (1977, p. 101) enumerated five distinct subproblems comprising the choice process: (a) define the number of options to be chosen; (b) define the pool of candidates; (c) define the set of choice criteria; (d) select a choice model, or combination rule; and (e) sample the relevant data and apply the appropriate model to arrive at a choice. Then, he offered (pp. 103-104) twenty explicit message strategies aimed at altering consumers' positions on these five subproblems. In a content analysis of three magazines as well as prime time television advertising, Wright and Barbour (1975, p. 257) found meager evidence that many of these strategies were being used by advertisers. Indeed, the three dominant appeals were all seen as simply advocating that a particular brand was superior concerning a particular desirable benefit. Thus, advertisers were not reaching their full potential for influencing choice processess.

Wright and Rip (1980), in their empirical work, developed "advocacy messages" specifically aimed at influencing (1) the relative importance of choice criteria and (b) the decision rule. Their results were mixed, evidencing no effect on estimated importance weights and modest effects on the use of screening strategies, as coded from free response protocols.

Subsequent studies emanating from the problem framing perspective generally have supported the proposed phenomena. MacKenzie (1986) reported attentional effects on the importance of water resistance after exposure to a print ad. He found that attention was a function of the concreteness of the ad copy, but that framing a pictorial element with copy (cf., Edell and Staelin 1983) had no effect on attention or attribute importance. Bettman and Sujan (1987), working with a decision-making task rather than an advertising exposure setting, showed that framing in the form of a priming manipulation affected novice consumers more than experienced consumers. Instructions to focus on either creativity or reliability in a choice between two 35mm cameras caused heightened attention (measured via cognitive responses) and increased importance ratings, particularly for novices. Finally, Keller (1991) demonstrated that placing a memory retrieval cue in the decision context can enhance recall of ad claims and heighten their importance in the brand choice process.

In general, research on problem framing has found support for the proposition that advertising messages can influence the brand preference judgments by altering key aspects of the decision process. The effects tend to be stronger for novice consumers and/or novel brands, as initially proposed by Wright and Rip (1980). The primary cognitive mechanism through which these effects occur appears to be a refocusing of the consumer's attention away from certain attributes or choice rules in favor of others. This stream of research has not considered what happens when the consumer purchases or uses the brand after having made a "framed" judgment of it.

Advertising's Framing of Product Experience

Wells (1980) and Puto and Wells (1984) developed the concept of "transformational advertising," whereby an ad literally transforms how the consumer perceives and judges subsequent brand consumption. Deighton (1988) suggested that a transformational ad exerts its influence by "framing" the experience for the consumer. Thus, unlike the problem framing literature discussed in the preceding section, advertising framing of product experience operates through both attention and interpretation. The ad causes the consumer to attend selectively to certain aspects of the consumption experience, but it also must exert some influence on how the consumer judges those aspects. This is of particular importance to the advertiser when the consumption experience is difficult to judge objectively, i.e., it is ambiguous in some respect (Hoch and Deighton 1989). This form of framing is the most powerful, in that it influences both pre- and post-consumption judgments of attributes and/or overall brand evaluations.

Advertising's transformational "frame" of product experience has no impact when taken by itself but works by modifying consumers' perceptions of product experience. This differs from the more traditional persuasive focus of advertising wherein beliefs, attitudes and intentions are modified by simple ad exposure.

Several studies have investigated the framing effect of advertising on experience and are described below. In this work, an "ad-frames-experience" paper has to include (a) actual brand experience, (b) brand experience followed by ad exposure, and (c) an experimental condition of experience only (with one exception, discussed below). The first requirement eliminates papers such as Deighton's (1984) seminal work on the advertising-evidence interaction, while the latter two requirements eliminate the consumer satisfaction literature, in which ad-plus-experience conditions are typically contrasted with ad-only (rather than experience-only) conditions.

To the extent that an ad has successfully "framed" the product experience, differences between the ad-plus-experience and experience-only conditions should be observed on such dimensions as attribute perceptions and importance weights, brand attitudes and purchase intentions.

Olson and Dover (1976, 1977, 1978). This investigation actually predated the ad-frames-experience literature but nevertheless meets the criteria for inclusion. Olson and Dover, in this series of papers, report the results of a 2-group experiment on expectancy formation and disconfirmation in which they exposed subjects to "ad-like" messages stating that a new coffee brand had no bitterness at all, but then created a very bitter brew by doubling its concentration. Their intent was to create expectancies in the form of beliefs about bitterness and then disconfirm them.

Olson and Dover reported findings as follows: (a) no framing effect on the evaluations attached to the bitterness dimension (1976, p. 172), and (b) a framing effect on the belief that the coffee was not at all bitter, such that the ad-plus-experience subjects considered it less bitter (1978, p. 33). These two results, taken together, are more indicative of an interpretation effect than an attentional effect. Though Olson and Dover did not report the attribute beliefs and evaluations for the other four attribute dimensions, they did report belief confidence ratings (Dover and Olson 1977, p. 459). Interestingly, no framing effect was apparent for bitterness (possibly due to a ceiling effect), but each of the other four belief confidence ratings was significantly higher for the ad-plus-experience group. It should be noted that none of the three ads mentioned any attribute other than bitterness, such that the ads provided no information directly pertinent to the other dimensions. This unusual, indirect effect may be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that ad-plus-experience subjects had rated the brand on all five attributes after each of the three ad exposures. Thus, the sheer repetition of their ratings may have bolstered their confidence.

Olson and Dover's framing effect was limited to the above cognitive elements, however. They found no significant differences for the overall index of cognitive structure, brand attitude or purchase intention. In sum, Olson and Dover's research demonstrated that even a deliberately deceptive ad can alter attribute perceptions and thereby "frame" product experience. However, that effect was not strong enough to carry through to brand attitudes or intentions.

Hoch and Ha (1986). Hoch and Ha conducted two experiments designed to directly investigate the impact of the ambiguity of product experience on consumers' ability to learn from that experience. In Experiment 1, six brands of polo shirts were selected as the ambiguous product, while 6 brands of paper towels represented the unambiguous product. After first rating all brands on a few attributes as well as overall quality, subjects viewed three ads in storyboard form, two of which emphasized the quality of JC Penney shirts and Bolt paper towels; experience-only subjects saw three filler ads. Then, subjects were allowed to inspect the six shirts and to use the towels to wipe up water and ketchup spills. A framing effect was observed for the JC Penney shirt, such that it was rated much more favorably after experience by the ad-plus-experience group. In contrast, Bolt was rated much more favorably by both groups after testing, as its performance was unambiguously superior. Unobtrusive observation of the subjects during the experience portion of the experiment revealed a disproportionate amount of time devoted to inspection of the JC Penney shirt compared to the other shirts, suggesting an attentional mechanism at work.

Experiment 2 attempted to replicate the findings with regard to polo shirts, using the same brands, procedures, and measures. Once again, a strong framing effect emerged for the JC Penney shirt, but somewhat inexplicably, the allocation of inspection time was unaffected. Thus, the issue of attention versus interpretation remains open. The fact that Hoch and Ha reported only overall quality ratings makes it impossible to conduct post hoc analyses on attribute ratings and importance weights that may help to unravel the nature of the cognitive dynamics underlying the effect. However, their research was instrumental in demonstrating the importance of the ambiguity of experience as a moderating factor.

Deighton and Schindler (1988). Deighton and Schindler exposed 157 students to simulated radio commercials touting the amount of "new" music played (an ambiguous but desirable attribute) by three Boston rock format radio stations. Across three levels of reported listenership a strong framing effect was found; the ad-plus-experience group rated the station higher than did the experience-only group, regardless of which particular station had been advertised.

Although Deighton and Schindler did not control the amount of experience in their research, the self-report data indicated no effect of the commercials on the amount of listening time devoted to advertised versus unadvertised stations. This finding stands in contrast to Hoch and Ha's findings with regard to inspection time (Expt.1). Thus, although the lack of experimental control leads one to discount Deighton and Schindler's data to some degree, their findings are nevertheless more supportive of an interpretation, as opposed to attentional, mechanism underlying the framing effect.

Marks and Kamins (1988). Marks and Kamins exposed students to either a slightly exaggerated or greatly exaggerated print ad on behalf of a new ballpoint pen, elicited dependent measures, had Ss use the pen for 2 minutes, and then elicited the same dependent measures again. Two other groups of subjects read the ads after having used the pen, providing measures after both the experience and the subsequent ad exposure. (A separate control group was used to rule out test-treatment interaction.) By using an internal analysis, whereby the first set of measures from the experience-plus-ad groups are used to represent experience only, a contrast with the second set of measures from the ad-plus-experience groups can yield a test of the framing effect.

Marks and Kamins did not report findings related to the five product attributes they measured on an item-by-item basis, but did report a cognitive structure index (with and without the attribute confidence ratings included), brand attitude and intention. For the slightly exaggerated ad condition, a weak positive framing effect was observed for intention only; no other measure exhibited reliable differences between the two groups. However, for the greatly exaggerated ad, a negative framing effect was obtained for attitude and intention. That is, when experience was too discrepant from the ad claims, the students in the ad-plus-experience group reacted strongly negatively, rating the pen much less favorably than did the experience-only group.

This seeming contrast effect stands in direct contradiction to Olson and Dover's (1978) finding of an assimilation effect. It is not clear that the taste of coffee is inherently more ambiguous than the performance of a pen; nor is it clear why Olson and Dover found framing effects at the individual attribute level, but not for attitude and intention. In contrast, Marks and Kamins observed effects on intention but not on cognitive structure. Presumably, some of the differences are attributable to calibration of the discrepancy between claims and actual experience, but it suggests some very real limits regarding the efficacy of an ad-frames-experience strategy. Admittedly, both Marks and Kamins and Olson and Dover set out to create deceptive ads, but there may be a fine line between "framing" and "deception."

Levin and Gaeth (1988). Levin and Gaeth, working from a prospect theory perspective, were actually the first researchers in this stream of research to articulate the position that an ad can serve as a "frame" for experience (p. 375). In their experiment they used simple "ads" consisting of the labels "75% lean ground beef" vs. "25% fat ground beef." These ads, or labels, either preceded or followed a taste test of 1.5 oz. of freshly cooked lean ground beef. In an earlier experiment Levin (1987) had employed a label-only condition, which served as the ad-only group for comparison purposes (with appropriate caveats). Subjects in both studies rated the ground beef on four dimensions, including fat/lean (the direct manipulation) and quality.

Levin and Gaeth concluded that a framing effect existed, as indicated by differences in the ratings between the positive and negative label conditions. However, they also noted that the framing effect was reduced when consumers actually sampled the product. In a sense, then, Levin and Gaeth were examining the transition from the problem framing research stream to the ad-frames-experience research stream. Levin (1987) observed a framing effect on initial product judgment, while Levin and Gaeth observed similar but smaller effects (for two of the three attributes plus overall quality) when actual experience was involved. Unlike other studies in this stream of research, Levin and Gaeth's (1988) study did not incorporate an experience-only condition. Instead, framing effects were tested by contrasting the positive and negative label conditions. Thus, their study cannot address the issue of which framing condition (if either) was closer to the subjective reality of an unframed taste test; however, it is clear that the frames affected the interpretation of the taste experience.

Experience Framing of Advertising Processing

Closer examination of Levin and Gaeth's (1988) research, which incorporates order effects (i.e., ad before experience vs. experience before ad) suggests the possibility of another interesting and potentially important framing effect: how prior experience frames the interpretation of advertising. It is noncontroversial that prior experience with a brand influences how the consumer responds to brand advertising. Indeed, it is often the case that advertising on behalf of a well-known brand can do little more than remind the consumer to use the brand or, perhaps, bolster the brand's salience.

What is of interest here is the case in which a consumer has direct experience with a product prior to having seen advertising for it. This occurs more frequently than one would think. Consumer promotions have been growing at a rapid pace for more than a decade, and these promotions rival media advertising expenditures in terms of the proportion of the overall promotional budget allocated to them. Product sampling campaigns aided by microsegmentation technology are commonplace. These intensified efforts by consumer package goods marketers to put the product in the hands of the consumer either directly via sampling or indirectly via deep-discount coupons have been accompanied by a rapid acceleration in the fragmentation of media exposure. It is increasingly difficult to reach a target audience through traditional media, at least with any real efficiency. As a result, it may be the case that greater numbers of consumers actually confront a new product before they confront (or at least become aware of) advertising for that product.

The question then becomes one of determining the possible "framing" impact of the experience on consumers' reactions to subsequent advertising. Note that the focus is not on evaluations of the ad per se, but rather the brand perceptions and judgments that are formed as a result of an "experience-plus-advertising" exposure sequence, standing in contrast to an "advertising-only" exposure. Prior research on attitudinal effects of direct vs. indirect experience (e.g., Fazio and Zanna 1981) suggests that experience dominates advertising in determining ultimate brand judgments. Information gleaned from one's own direct product experience is more reliable and trustworthy than that provided by advertisers, particularly when the product has many important "experience" attributes (Nelson 1974). In contrast, Nelson's "search attributes" can be veridically discovered through second-hand media (e.g., an ad describing a rug's colors, size and knots per inch). Results such as Marks and Kamins' (1988) contrast effect for greatly exaggerated advertising appeals suggest that more attention to possible experience-plus-advertising framing effects is warranted. Prior brand experience may cause consumers to be more skeptical of ad claims, leading to greater counterarguing and possible "boomerang" effects.

Only two studies (Marks and Kamins 1988; Levin & Gaeth 1988) could be located that incorporate conditions permitting examination of the "experience-frames-ad" effect. Unfortunately, Marks and Kamin's research was focused heavily on the effects of exaggerated advertising prior to product experience, and their article does not report the data for the ad-only condition, which is needed for the examination of experience framing.

Levin and Gaeth reported the necessary data in their Table 1 (p. 376). Comparing their "label-only" (i.e., ad-only) results with the "taste-before-labeling" results yields two tests of the experience-frames-ad phenomenon, one for the positive ("75% lean") frame and one for the negative ("25% fat") frame. Differences between the combination condition and the ad-only condition for the positive frame were -.69, -.90, -1.10, and -.82 for taste, quality, fat/lean, and greasy, respectively. Based on the significance tests reported in the article, it is reasonable to "guesstimate" that all differences were significant at p < .05, indicating a framing effect of experience on advertising. For the negative frame condition, the respective differences were .66, .43, .62, and .09. Again, a rough approximation suggests that all but the last difference were significant at p < .10. Importantly, the effect, though weaker, was in the opposite direction, indicating a positive effect of the taste experience on the interpretation of the advertising. It should be noted, however, that the ultimate brand ratings tended to be higher under the positive frame than under the negative frame, such that advertising had some effect in spite of the framing by prior experience.

In sum, Levin and Gaeth's results are indicative of a framing effect of experience on advertising, though moreso when the "ad" was positively rather than negatively worded. This pattern is consistent with the impact of exaggerated ads found by Marks and Kamins and suggests that experience will have more framing power when the ad can be more easily discounted (due to exaggerated claims) and the experience itself is unambiguous enough to lead to the formation of confidently held judgments about the product.


The present research has identified and reviewed five different kinds of "framing" in the consumer research literature. The previously unrecognized form of framing whereby initial product experience frames subsequent advertising response was explored conceptually. Despite the importance of trial experience and its effect on advertising exposure, this area is under-researched.

One issue that is open to debate is the attention vs. interpretation effects of direct experience on advertising (or the reverse). To examine a framing effect, an experiment could elicit cognitive responses and attribute level questions for one group of consumers exposed to the both trial and then advertising (or the reverse) and another group of consumers exposed to advertising alone (or direct experience). Large differences between the combination and single condition concerning the number of cognitive responses but not attribute levels might indicate a purely attentional mechanism, while the reverse might signal an interpretational influence of direct experience (or advertising) framing. Content analysis of the cognitive responses and belief levels would reveal what kinds of attributes were the attentional focus and/or most likely to be interpreted differently because of framing. Such an effort is being completed by the authors.

Future research could answer whether direct experience-frames-ad makes the consumer less sensitive to image-making advertising devices (as opposed to unambiguous product benefit description) while ad-frames-direct experience makes the consumer more sensitive to those same image-making devices. In other words, when the consumer is exposed to direct experience first, this might make the consumer more likely to ignore the exotic images that an ad attempts to associate with a product. If this is the case, the advertiser using an image-making strategy (e.g., most perfume ads) would want to make sure that all consumers were exposed to advertising before direct experience.

The attention vs. interpretation effects of framing examine the power of product exposure context. Marketing inputs like sampling programs, promotions and advertising alter the context of consumers' brand judgments and, if successful, serve to alter the enjoyment of product related activities including actual product consumption. To paraphrase Shakespeare "...a rose by any other (frame) might smell sweeter."


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Alice A. Wright, California State University, Long Beach
Richard J. Lutz, University of Florida


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20 | 1993

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