«of the AM’s Brand, Corporate Identity and Reputation SIG INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE SESSIONS Sessions chairs The main function of a session chair is to ...»
What is less clear, however, is whether, and to what extent, mere exposure might influence attitudes towards stimuli that are already perceived to be negative (as might be the case when discarded packaging is categorised as litter by the observer; see Roper, Parker & Bosnjak 2008). In a recent study of emotionally-valenced stimuli, Robinson and Elias (2005) found enhanced affective response to positive and neutral faces, but not to negative ones. However, this is at odds with previous research that indicates the MEE can improve affective reactions to negative stimuli (e.g. Hamm et al., 1975; Grush, 1976; Bornstein, 1993). More specifically, there is growing evidence that the extremity of both positive and negative evaluations will be diminished by repeated exposure to a valenced stimulus (Claypool et al., 2007; Dijksterhuis & Smith, 2002; Rosenblood & Ostrom, 1971; Young & Claypool, 2010).
The mechanism by which this is proposed to occur has been variously described as ‘adaptation’ (Rosenblood & Ostrom, 1971), ‘desensitisation’ and ‘affective habituation’ (Dijksterhuis & Smith, 2002). However, Dijksterhuis & Smith (2002) ultimately propose that the extent to which repeated exposure to a negative stimulus diminishes negative evaluations may be a function of the extremity with which the stimulus was initially judged to be negative. Reflecting on this, the authors rationalise that the processing of mildly negative stimuli is unlikely to disrupt other psychological responses that are required to deal with it (e.g. ’fight or flight’), and so there is less need for habituation. Furthermore, there is less room for mildly negative evaluations to be improved before the valence of the response is altered (to neutral).
In summary, therefore, repeated mere exposure to brand packaging might be expected to improve attitudes towards both the brand pack and the depicted brand, regardless of whether it is encountered as an affectively neutral (e.g. in use) or negatively valenced (i.e. as litter) stimulus. On this theoretical basis, the current study sets out to the test the following
P1. Repeated mere exposure to a novel, unfamiliar brand pack “in use” will improve attitudes towards the brand pack stimulus and the depicted brand (by way of a classic mere exposure effect) P2. Repeated mere exposure to a novel, unfamiliar brand pack “as litter” will improve attitudes towards the brand pack stimulus and the depicted brand (by way of a classic mere exposure effect or a mere exposure effect for negatively valenced stimuli) Methodology/approach Participants: 400 adult participants, characterised by a broad demographic spread, containing only active consumers of the study-relevant product categories.
Study design: Participants are exposed to brand packs during a paced categorisation task. The task allows exposures to be repeated, brief and incidental - outside of the participant’s focal purpose, whilst still requiring that they attend to the brand pack. We then test attitudes to previously exposed vs. non-exposed brand packs (allowing a demonstration of any effect of exposure) and packs exposed “as litter” vs. “in use” (allowing a demonstration of any effect of exposure context).
Brand stimuli: The brands in question are drawn from familiar product categories (chocolate bars, soft drinks, fast food, and snack bars), but are selected on the basis that they are not familiar to participants (this removes any influence of prior brand experience on our measures). Each photograph presents the brand pack either “as litter” or “in use”, and is placed within a series of photographs that also contains filler items (natural street scenes in which none of the brand packs are included). Each photograph is presented three times within a randomized sequence of images.
Exposure task: Participants are given a simple categorisation task to complete during a short, automatically-timed exposure to each photograph. For example, they may be asked to identify the quadrant of the photograph in which particular element has been placed during a three second exposure. This element may also be placed next to the target brand pack. Each participant only sees half the available brand pack stimuli.
Attitude tests: Following the exposure phase, participants rate all brands for how well they are liked, whether they have seen them before and in particular whether they have seen them earlier in the experiment (following Stafford & Grimes, 2012), whether they perceive the brand packs to be litter, how likely they would be to try each of the brands, and how much they would be willing to pay for them (following Roper et al., 2008; Roper & Parker, 2013).
This allows us to gauge the mere exposure effect (by comparing exposed vs. non-exposed brands) as well as measure the effect of exposure being “as litter” or “in use”. Questions to establish the sample profile and facilitate measurement and analysis of potential moderators (such as general attitudes to litter, packaging, and the product categories employed) are also included.
Findings As the work is currently in progress findings are not yet apparent. However, we expect to find that repeated mere exposure to a brand pack stimulus that is encountered both ‘in use’ and ‘as litter’ improves attitudes to the pack and the brand it depicts. This may take the form of a classic mere exposure effect for both types of stimulus (i.e. ‘in use’ and ‘as litter’), should they be categorised as affectively neutral or mildly negative during exposure. Alternatively, it may occur as a result adaptation and habituation to a negatively categorised stimulus (i.e.
brand pack ‘as litter’) leading to less negative - but not necessarily positive – attitudes towards the pack and the brand it depicts.
Theoretical implications The main theoretical implications of the study are likely to be in the area of consumer psychology, and in particular that which relates to the communication effects of brand packaging. Specifically, the study endeavours to extend the theory of mere exposure to include complex, real world stimuli (e.g.. brand packaging) that may be categorised in different ways, and with differing valence, depending on the state and situation in which they are encountered. In so doing, it serves to test the validity of the mere exposure effect in a dynamic, real-world context that is of direct relevance to marketers and society.
Practical implications Support for the propositions distilled may have implications for both brand managers and public policy. Such findings would paradoxically suggest that it might be beneficial for the brand to produce a lot of litter, rather than a little. This may be explained by way of a classic mere exposure effect (i.e. repeated exposure to a brand stimulus leads people to evaluate it more positively). Alternatively, where brand litter is negatively categorised, repeated mere exposure may serve to desensitise consumers to the extent that they feel less negatively towards littered packs and the brands they depict (see also Roper and Parker, 2008).
Ultimately, the implications of this study could therefore be that, left unchecked, the propagation of brand litter may result in positive outcomes for the brands in question and/or greater consumer apathy and less resistance to an even greater proliferation of brand litter.
Either way, the onus may be on public policy to prevent an exposure-induced drift towards a littered society.
Limitations In order to isolate the influence of mere exposure in this study, unfamiliar brands were utilised as target stimuli. The question of whether, and to what extent, the results hold for well-known and mature brands remains an issue for future research.
Originality/value This original, experimental study provides new insights into the impact of mere exposure on attitudes to brand stimuli that may be categorised in different ways, and with differing valence (i.e. affectively neutral or negative), in an applied consumption context. It also provides a novel perspective on the potential impact of attitudes towards litter and brands when discarded packaging is repeatedly encountered as brand litter.
KeywordsBrand, Attitudes, Litter, Exposure, Mere Exposure
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Can pre-emptive CSR advertising mitigate the impact of crisis news on company image?
Han, Joon Hye Grimes, Anthony Davies, Gary Purpose CSR communication has the potential to improve company image and reputation (e.g. Perks et al., 2013, Pomering, 2011, Du et al., 2010), enhance consumer loyalty, satisfaction and purchase intentions (e.g. Du et al., 2010, Bhattacharya et al., 2009, Luo and Bhattacharya, 2006, Sen et al., 2006, Brown and Dacin, 1997), and protect the company from reputational damage (e.g. Coombs and Holladay, 2012, Varadarajan and Menon, 1988, Vanhamme et al., 2014, Fombrun et al., 2000). In particular, CSR advertising is a form of corporate image advertising that aims to build favourable images of a company in society (Pomering, 2011), and has been found to be a key CSR information source for consumers (Cone, 2013).
However, advertising practitioners and scholars have long expressed concerns about consumer scepticism of companies’ motivations for engaging in CSR advertising, the credibility of such claims, and thus the effectiveness of this as a medium for enhancing and maintaining corporate image (e.g. Morsing et al., 2008, Schrøder, 1997, Morsing and Schultz, 2006, Du et al., 2010). Academic research has so far failed to sufficiently address these concerns, and the effects and effectiveness of CSR advertising remains one of the least researched aspects of CSR communication (Farache, 2012, Perks et al., 2013).
To the extent that CSR advertising has been studied, it has often been considered in the context of crisis management. Here, research has focussed on the effects and effectiveness of CSR advertising as both a reactive (e.g. image restoration, Bebbington et al., 2008, Kim and Yang, 2009, Kim et al., 2009, Kim, 2013) and a proactive (e.g. inoculation, Pashupati et al.,
2002) response to a particular crisis. To date, however, there has been no research into the effectiveness of CSR advertising as a pre-emptive strategy for minimising the damage to a company image that might accrue from unspecified crises in the future. This is somewhat surprising as considerable attention has been paid to the question of how a positive image as a socially responsible company might influence the impact of a subsequent crisis (e.g.