Want to convince? Use abstract rather than concrete language

January 19, 2010, University of Chicago

When consumers talk to each other about products, they generally respond more favorably to abstract language than concrete descriptions, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"In a series of experiments, we explored when and why consumers use abstract language in word-of-mouth messages, and how these differences in language use affect the receiver," write authors Gaby A. C. Schellekens, Peeter W. J. Verlegh, and Ale Smidts (Erasmus University, The Netherlands).

In the course of their studies, the authors found that consumers who described a positive experience with a product (like a smooth shave with a new razor) used more abstract language when they had a positive opinion about the brand before they tried the product. "When consumers were told that the product was a brand they did not like, they used more concrete language to describe a positive experience. Thus, consumers use different ways of describing the exact same experience, depending on whether they use a liked or disliked brand," the authors write.

For a disliked brand, favorable experiences are seen as exceptions, and concrete language helps consumers to frame the experience as a one-time event, the authors explain.

On the receiver end, the studies showed that consumers responded differently to abstract and concrete language. "In our study of receivers, we gave a description of a positive product experience, and asked them to estimate the sender's opinion about the products," the authors write. "We found that perceived opinion of the sender was more positive when the description was cast in more abstract terms." For descriptions of , the perceived opinion of the sender was more negative when the description used abstract language.

"Our finding that abstract messages have a stronger impact on buying intentions can be translated straightforwardly into the recommendation to use abstract language if you try to convince someone of the (positive or negative) consequences of buying a product, or of following your advice," the authors conclude.

Explore further: The art of persuasion: Are consumers interested in abstract or concrete features?

More information: Gaby A. C. Schellekens, Peeter W. J. Verlegh, and Ale Smidts. "Language Abstraction in Word of Mouth." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2010.

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1 / 5 (1) Jan 19, 2010
It's perfectly true - people are creatures of deeply religious nature and they just want to hear abstract things, which they cannot comprehend. For example, when I say, Universe appears like fluctuations of dense gas, everyone is starring on me like idiot. But when I say, it's a giant hologram, everyone is impressed - although it cannot have a slightest idea, how such thing should be really working.
not rated yet Jan 20, 2010
well, this article is way too abstract. did author think it will be more convincing like this?
Jan 20, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
3 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2010
Zenmaster is correct in his comment. The Obama campaign used good old fashion Madison Avenue psychology to create the broadest appeal. Phrases that have one meaning for liberal-oriented people can have a completely differen meaning for conservative-oriented people. Psychological research has illuminated this over the last 10 years. There is, indeed, a dichotomy of thought process among us. This is not good or bad...it just is. Liberals or conservatives are born in the best of families. An example is illustrated by the hypothetical family in the television series Family Ties and Alex P. Keaton, and All in the Family.
Use of ambiguous phrases calculated to deliver 2 different meanings is manipulative and cynical.

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