Consumers have mixed reactions to puffery in advertising

Jan 19, 2010

According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers don't always react positively to persuasion tactics that have nothing to do with the product (what the authors refer to as "puffery").

"In some cases advertisements describe technical details that are only appreciated by experts in the product domain to which the ads pertain," write authors Alison Jing Xu and Robert S. Wyer, Jr. (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). "Other attribute descriptions, however, may be puffery. That is, they purport to be of great importance but are actually inconsequential and often meaningless."

The authors conducted a series of studies designed to elicit consumer reactions to advertising claims. They found that when descriptions are ambiguous, consumers interpret them in one of two ways: They may infer that the attributes refer to technical details that they personally don't understand but are likely to be informative to people that are more knowledgeable then they are. Or they might assume that the attribute descriptions are intended only to persuade (puffery).

The authors found that consumers' reactions depended on their perceived level of knowledge about the product and the media context in which they viewed the ads. For example, they found that when consumers perceived themselves to be less knowledgeable about the product than the intended recipients of beer or cleansing gel ads, they were more likely to assume that the descriptions were useful.

In another experiment, the authors manipulated participant perceptions of their knowledge about fabric. Afterwards, all participants read an ad about a down jacket and then evaluated the product. "The results showed that when participants perceived they had less relative knowledge than average consumers, addition of puffery increased their evaluation of the product no matter whether the ad came from a popular magazine or a professional magazine," the authors write.

"When participants perceived they had more relative knowledge than average , addition of puffery increased their evaluation of the product when the ad came from a professional magazine, whereas decreased their evaluation when the ad came from a popular magazine."

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

More information: Alison Jing Xu and Robert S. Wyer, Jr. "Puffery in Advertisements: The Effects of Media Context, Communication Norms and Consumer Knowledge." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2010.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Taste sensation: Ads work better if all senses are involved

Jul 20, 2009

Corporations spend billions of dollars each year on food advertising. For example, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, and McDonald's each spent more than $1 billion in advertising in 2007. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research sugges ...

Consumers and commercials studied

Jun 20, 2006

U.S. scientists say the more consumers are absorbed in the narrative flow of a story, called transportation, the less likely they'll respond well to ads.

Placing ads: Location, location, location

Aug 24, 2009

Marketers have always known they must carefully choose where they place their ads, but a new study in Journal of Consumer Research shows that even the nearby content in a publication—its difficulty and design—affect consum ...

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

8 hours ago

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...