Matching the Pitch to the Perspective
STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS—A JUICE COMPANY IS TRYING TO DECIDE between alternative marketing campaigns. One approach promotes the product as an energizing and fun drink. Another touts its ability to help prevent disease. One relates to the consumer as an individual. Another shows the individual surrounded by family. Which approach would be the most effective? Recent research by Jennifer Aaker, associate professor of marketing, suggests that persuasion depends on the kinds of benefit promised, and whether consumers view themselves as either autonomous beings or members of an interdependent group. Cultural factors outside anyone's control, as well as message content that the marketer can tweak, both may play a role in making one type of appeal more effective than another.
Working with two Northwestern University scholars—Angela Lee, associate professor of marketing, and Wendi Gardner, assistant professor of psychology—Aaker ran a series of experiments to test the different advertising approaches. In one experiment, 94 participants were asked to look at a website for Welch's grape juice. Half of them were shown a version with promotion-focused language, saying that the product contributed to "higher energy levels" and was "fun to drink." The other half were given prevention-focused content, saying that the juice could "reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease." The researchers also tried to trigger different self-perceptions in the participants by modifying the website's pictures and text. An "independent" self-view was activated by addressing the user as a single person, while an "interdependent" self-view was activated by referring to a family.
Participants were asked to rate the different website versions and their level of affinity toward the brand. The researchers found that participants placed in the "independent" condition were more likely to be drawn by a promotion pitch than a prevention pitch. Conversely, the prevention-focused argument was more effective among participants in the "interdependent" condition, who were primed to think of themselves in a family context, emphasizing responsibilities to others.
The researchers conclude that appeals compatible with a consumer's own goals tend to be more persuasive. Thus, an independent self-view—which cultural psychologists say tends toward self-improvement and self-enhancement goals—is compatible with promotion-oriented benefits. "The consistency of the responses and the magnitude of the effects were remarkable. Further, they seem to be relatively persistent," says Aaker. Indeed, a questionnaire sent to the participants two weeks later found that this effect persisted over time.
Do the results hold for non-Western consumers? Two subsequent experiments in the study also included Chinese participants in Hong Kong. This brought into play consumers' different "chronic" self-views—products of their cultural backgrounds. In line with conventional wisdom, the researchers found through questionnaires that the Americans saw themselves in more independent terms, while the Chinese leaned toward interdependent self-views. However, these self-views may be malleable. The researchers found some evidence to suggest that a culturally shaped self-view could be trumped by a message that primes the consumer to shift perspective. In one of the experiments, messages put in terms of a "team" made Americans more amenable to prevention-focused arguments. Conversely, Chinese participants were rendered more open to promotion-focused messages when these were framed in a way that emphasized individual rewards.
The findings suggest that it should be possible for marketers to craft goal-compatible messages that work across cultures. Culture may make one self-view more mentally accessible than the other most of the time. However, a marketer can activate an otherwise latent self-view by framing the message, thus making consumers more receptive to pitches that describe benefits either in terms of the pleasure to be gained or the pain to be avoided.
Can Mixed Emotions Peacefully Co-Exist?, Patti A. Williams; Jennifer Aaker, GSB Research Paper #1637R, 2002
Off Target, changing Cognitive Based Attitudes, Aimee L. Drolet, Jennifer L. Aaker, GSB Research Paper #1630, 2002
Consumers as Motivated Beings: The Influence of Self-Regulation on Judgment and Persuasion, Michel Pham and Jennifer Aaker, Advances in Consumer Research (Vol. 29), 2002
"I" Seek Pleasures and "We" Avoid Pains: The Role of Self-Regulatory Goals in Information Processing and Persuasion, Jennifer Aaker and Angela Lee, Journal of Consumer Research (Vol. 28), June 2001
What Is Your Goal? The Impact of Goals on Counterfactual Thinking, Attitude Formation, and Predictions of the Future, Jennifer Aaker and Angela Lee, Advances in Consumer Research, 2001
When Does Culture Matter? The Transitory Nature of Cultural Differences in Judgments and Choices, Donnel Briley and Jennifer Aaker, Advances in Consumer Research, 2001
Pessimism and Coping: A Consideration of the Differential Impact of Chronic Negative Expectancies in the U.S. versus Hong Kong, GSB Research Paper # 1648, 2001
Approach and Avoidance: the Role of Risk and Framing in Persuasion, GSB Research Paper #1726, 2001
The Pleasures and Pains of Distinct Self-Construals: The Role of Interdependence in Regulatory Focus, Angela Y. Lee, Jennifer L. Aaker, and Wendi Gardner, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vo. 78), June 2000