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The Priming of Material Values on Consumer Information Processing of Print
This study examines the effects of consumers' internal contexts on judgments and
evaluations of the advertised product. Here, the context refers to the material values of
the consumer. Experimental findings illustrate that similarity/dissimilarity between the
internal context and the product information presented in the ad, along the materialism
dimension, produces context effects. These findings support the assimilation/contrast
framework. Implications for context effect research and materialism are also discussed.
It is well known that consumers rely on personal internal frames of reference to
process information. Advertisers develop ads to activate these internal frames.
Developing ads that are personally relevant to the target consumer is an effective
technique in attracting attention and assisting in interpretation and comprehension.
Of interest to researchers, practitioners, and especially public policy makers is the
issue of consumer materialism. The relationships between it and consumption behaviors
such as credit card usage (Pinto, Parente, and Palmer 2000) and over-consumption
(Zinkhan 1994), have been investigated. Also, previous research suggests a connection
between materialism and information processing strategies (Chatterjee 1997, Hunt,
Kernan, and Mitchell 1996). The present study specifically examines the effect of the
correspondence of an ad’s use of material claims and a receiver’s material values on
one’s product judgments, evaluations and purchase intentions.
Advertising which is consistent with one’s personal values, (as well as schemata,
attitudes, lifestyles, etc.) is generally processed as more self-relevant and more attention-
getting (Engel, Blackwell, and Miniard 1995; Mandler 1982; Myers-Levy and Tybout
1989; and Myers-Levy, Louie, and Curren 1994). These studies suggest that the
processing of advertisements is affected by internal frames of reference or “contexts,”
that are present at the time of ad exposure. Internal contexts are “concepts or categories
previously formed by the individual during the course of encounters with the stimuli in
question” (Sherif and Hovland 1961 p. 30). In other words, internal contexts are
developed through learning and prior experiences with the social stimuli. They are then
internalized, becoming part of one’s psychological core, and used in future judgment
processes. While studies have long characterized the importance of internal contexts
(Bruner 1951), the effect of material values on consumer information processing is yet to
be experimentally investigated. The present research attempts to understand how
material values affect information processing.
A review of materialism research will be provided. This will be followed by a
discussion of priming effects and the assimilation/contrast paradigm leading to proposed
hypotheses. The section on method will detail the experimental stimuli, design and
subjects, dependent measures, and procedure employed in the experiment. Results will
then be presented and the paper will conclude with a discussion section.
Literature Review
Materialism is a concept that has received much attention in academic research, as
well as in the popular press. During the eighties, consumers were said to be highly
materialistic, conspicuously consuming products for the sake of consuming, and not for
need or necessity. While more recently at the onset of the 21st century, consumers are
said to be more sensible and practical, they are still seeking the “good life.” In fact,
materialism seems to be so prevalent today that the concept is being used as a
segmentation variable. Yankelovich’s new psychographic segmentation system called
Monitor Mindbase, segments people into categories of consumers with varying degrees
of materialism among a host of other lifestyle, attitude, and mindset variables. One
segment that has emerged from this segmentation system is titled, “Young Materialists.”
This segment is characterized as single without children, having average incomes,
enthusiastic about shopping, style-conscience, adventurous, and self-absorbed (American
Demographics, October 2000). With our society embracing the concept of materialism
and using it to further understand and target consumers, it is important to develop an
understanding of how materialism manifests itself in consumers and ultimately guides
information processing mechanisms.
Materialism resides within an individual. Much of the materialism research has
focused on the conceptualization and measurement of the construct (Belk 1984,1985;
Fournier and Richins 1991; Richins and Dawson 1990, 1992). Two accepted
conceptualizations have emerged.
Trait Conceptualization and Measurement of Materialism. Belk (1985) defines
materialism as “the importance a consumer attaches to worldly possessions...possessions
assume a central place in a person’s life... at the highest levels of materialism,
possessions are believed to provide the greatest sources of satisfaction and
dissatisfaction” (Belk 1985, p. 265). Belk further explains that materialism is manifested
in three personality traits:
possessiveness - affiliation with objects; the inclination and tendency to
retain control or ownership of one’s possessions;
nongenerosity - unwillingness to share objects or possessions with others; and
envy - a desire for others’ possessions.
Belk (1984, 1985) measures overall trait materialism using 24 items that tap into
the domain of each of the subtraits. However, this scale’s lack of consistency in
reliability assessments has been cited as a major limitation of this conceptualization
(Richins and Dawson 1992).
Value Conceptualization and Measurement of Materialism. Richins and Dawson
(1992) conceptualize materialism as a value. Specifically, these researchers state
“materialism is a value that guides people’s choices and conduct in a variety of situations,
including, but not limited to, consumption arenas...materialism will influence the type
and quantity of goods purchased...those who place a high value on material possessions
and their acquisition will behave differently from those who place a lower value on
things” (p. 307). In other words, this conceptualization of materialism differs from that
of Belk's in that it focuses on possessions rather than one’s personality or behavior. This
view of materialism is manifested in three dimensions within one’s overall value system:
acquisition centrality - a lifestyle in which a high level of material
consumption functions as a goal and serves as a set of plans;
happiness in acquisition - acquisition is essential to satisfaction and wellbeing in life; and
possessions define success - materialists judge their own and others’
success by the number and quality of possessions accumulated (Richins
and Dawson 1992, p. 304).
Richins and Dawson measure material values using an 18-item scale reflecting
values and attitudes about possessions (Richins and Dawson 1992). Previous research on
materialism and information processing has used this value interpretation (Chatterjee
Richins and Dawson were not the first to classify materialism as a value however.
In their classic work, Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) discuss materialism
as a value and differentiate between instrumental materialism and terminal materialism.
Under instrumental materialism, individuals possess “things” as goals that are not related
to greed or status. These “things” are not important as “things” but as means to achieve
an end-state (e.g., a gift to establish friendship). In other words, these “things” are
“instrumental” in achieving a particular goal. Terminal materialism on the other hand, is
that where consumption is the end-state in itself. Individuals who possess terminal
material values are consumed with possessions as status symbols, and are obsessed with
the greed of consumption. Often, these individuals are unhappy and feel helpless.
Therefore, the consumed “things” serve as a fix to their state of being.
It is terminal materialism that is used in much of the materialism research.
Outcomes of consumer materialism such as, over-consumption (Zinkhan 1994),
dissatisfaction with life (Belk 1984; Keng et al. 2000; LaBarbera and Gurhan 1997;
Richins and Dawson 1992; Richins, McKeage, and Najjar 1992), and a lack of concern
for the environment (Durning 1992) are said to result due to terminal materialism.
Zinkhan (1994) suggests that much of the commercial messaging of marketers promotes
terminal materialism, and ultimately creates individual dissatisfaction with life, and
depletes the world of scarce resources due to over-consumption. Thus, due to the
potential negative effects of materialism on consumer consumption, a good
understanding of how consumers process materialistic information (which is often cited
as the motivator for materialistic consumption) is important.
Material Values and Information Processing. As stated previously, there has
been limited research on the consequences of material values and consumer information
processing. Hunt, Kernan, and Mitchell (1996) provide several research hypotheses
concerning the relationship between materialism and components of information
processing (i.e., encoding, organizing, and retrieval/evaluation). The researchers state
that materialists use personal criteria for framing incoming stimuli. They hypothesize
that a materialistic value system manifests itself within an individual and ultimately
guides his or her interpretation of information in such a way as to reflect these values.
In an empirical investigation of materialism and information processing,
Chatterjee (1997) specifically examines the role of materialism in the processing of
persuasive messages. He utilizes Richins and Dawson’s (1992) conceptualization of
materialism and Petty and Cacioppo’s (1981, 1986) Elaboration Likelihood Model
(ELM) as a theoretical framework to investigate the impact of materialism on the
strategies used by consumers in their processing of advertisements. By utilizing the
ELM, he investigates the difference between materialists and nonmaterialists in the
amount of effort exerted in their processing of persuasive communication and ultimately
their use of central versus peripheral route processing. The basic conclusion from this
empirical research is that materialists exhibit greater response to peripheral cues and
engage in more heuristic processing than nonmaterialists, while nonmaterialists exhibit
greater use of central message arguments and engage in more elaborate processing.
Chatterjee (1997) describes how a materialist and nonmaterialist would process
information. The present study keys in on the similarity between the display of
materialism in an advertisement and the consumer’s level of material values. This
approach presumes that consumers often examine and compare incoming information
with their own internal frame of reference when processing information.
Materialistic Advertising. Materialism has been attached to products, advertising,
and media. Displays of hedonic wants and possessions are often utilized in ads as a way
to illustrate an association between the advertised product and “the good life.” Because
advertising has been acknowledged as a powerful tool in communicating societal images
and values (Pollay 1983), the impact of its ability to illustrate materialistic notions via
specific appeals is of importance to advertisers, public policy makers, and those
embracing the social responsibility component of marketing.
It is common to use the term “materialistic” to describe advertising. Belk and
Pollay (1985) defined materialistic advertising as one that emphasizes luxury and
pleasure seeking. Sirgy et al. (1998) refer to the content of television (i.e. both program
content and advertising) as being materialistic.
Maher and Hu (2002) study the effects of similarity/dissimilarity in the
materialistic elements in the background of an ad, and the advertised product. Results
from this study suggested that consumers process print ad information more favorably
when the background context of the ad and the target product information are similar to
each other along the materialism dimension. These researchers used the
assimilation/contrast paradigm to operationalize the similarity. In the present study, the
assimilation/contrast paradigm is also used to operationalize the similarity between the
materialistic nature of an advertisement and the material values of a consumer.
Conceptual Framework
Assimilation/Contrast Paradigm
Social Judgment Theory suggests that judgments or attitudes toward a stimulus
are affected by the context within which it is being evaluated (Sherif and Hovland 1961).
In other words, a stimulus is judged not only by its own characteristics, but also by
internal contexts (e.g., material values) that are present at the time of exposure. Social
Judgment Theory asserts that the evaluation of a target stimulus (e.g., an advertisement)
is based on the discrepancy that one perceives between the target stimulus and an
available context (e.g., internal material values context).
Research demonstrates that large discrepancies between internal contexts and
target stimuli will produce contrast effects; while resemblance, or similarity produces
assimilation effects (Herr 1989; Herr, Sherman, and Fazio 1983; Meyers-Levy and
Sternthal 1993; Sherif and Hovland 1961). A contrast effect occurs when one’s
evaluation of a target stimulus moves away from the internal context; while assimilation
occurs when the evaluation of the target moves toward the internal context.
As previously mentioned, Maher and Hu (2002) employed the
assimilation/contrast paradigm to examine materialistic context effects. While much of
the context effect research relies heavily on the ELM framework to examine the effects of
individual contextual cues on the processing of ad information, print ads are designed in
such a way that contexts (i.e., both internal and external) and product information are
combined to provide meaning. For this reason Maher and Hu (2002) utilized the
assimilation/contrast paradigm to examine the effect of similarity between the target
(materialistic/nonmaterialistic product) and context (materialistic/nonmaterialistic
background setting) on consumer information processing. The present study examines
the effect of similarity between the target (materialistic ad claims/nonmaterialistic ad
claims) and internal context (material values) on consumer information processing.
According to assimilation/contrast literature, a prime is necessary to evoke the internal
When investigating the impact of internal frames of reference on information
processing, most researchers operate within the priming paradigm. Priming provides a
means for activating particular ideas and allows these ideas to more easily come to mind
and be used in a judgment process. In other words, while all incoming information is
filtered through our value systems, priming simply renders a category more accessible for
an individual.
A contextual prime helps to elicit a response from a subject. When attempting to
examine the impact of one internal context, priming is almost always necessary. Herr
(1989) states, “primed categories seem to serve as a standard of comparison for
judgments, producing classic judgment effects noted by social judgment theorists” (p.
67). Because individuals have numerous internal contexts from which to use to make a
judgment, the use of priming will increase the probability that a subject will use a
particular category from a memorial structure to assist him or her in making judgments
and evaluations.
Traditional priming theory states that when stimuli are applicable to a judgmental
response, the subtly activated internal context will influence the judgment in the direction
of the category without the subject’s knowledge (Higgins, Rholes, and Jones 1977; Srull
and Wyer 1979, 1980). This is the aforementioned assimilation effect. This happens
through a process of feature matching (Herr, Sherman, and Fazio 1983; Srull and Wyer
1979, 1980) or feature overlap (Meyers-Levy and Sternthal 1993). In other words,
characteristics of the prime are unconsciously examined for a match with accessible and
similar mental categories. In the absence of feature matching or overlap, contrast occurs.
Material values serve as the primed category in the current study.
There are many priming studies in marketing and advertising. For example, Herr
(1989) used priming in order to activate particular structures in subjects’ memory
concerning the price of automobiles. Stafford, Leigh, and Martin (1995) discuss the use
of priming to examine the effect of activated salesperson stereotypes in sales call
presentations. Recently in advertising, Forehand and Deshpande (2001) extending the
work of Stayman and Deshpande (1989) and Wooten and Galvin (1993) in the area of
ethnic-oriented primes, investigated the impact of advertising-based ethnic primes to
direct a consumer’s self-categorization and ultimately increase ethnic self-awareness.
Their research showed that subjects who were exposed to an ethnic prime, were more
likely to self-report their ethnicity than participants who were not exposed to the prime.
Furthermore, they concluded that an ethnic prime led to more favorable (unfavorable)
evaluations of a spokesperson in an ethnically-targeted ad stimulus when the
spokesperson’s ethnicity matched (did not match) the consumer’s ethnicity. This same
result was found for subjects’ attitudes toward the ad. Thus, Forehand and Deshpande
(2001) conclude that when the ethnic prime is congruent with the consumer’s ethnic
background, the consumer has greater self-awareness and evaluates the ad stimulus more
favorably than when the ethnic prime is incongruent with the subject.
Given the above literature, it is expected that when the ad claim itself is similar to
one’s own primed material values, the ad information will be assimilated; while if there is
a discrepancy, the target ad stimulus will be contrasted. Assimilation and contrast effects
correspond to movement of the target stimulus toward or away from the internal context.
Two sets of judgment measures will have to be secured in order to capture the movement:
(1) judgment of a target stimulus without the context (context-free), and (2) judgment of
a target stimulus with the internal context (context-dependent). The difference between
them would yield the movement.
When the ad claim and the subject are similar along the materialism dimension,
assimilation is expected and the subject will make judgments in the direction of the
primed internal context. Furthermore, when the ad claim and the subject are dissimilar
along the materialism dimension, contrast is the expected outcome and the subject will
make judgments in the opposite direction of the primed internal context. It is important
to note here that “similar” and “dissimilar” mean the correspondence of an ad’s use of
material claims and a receiver’s material values. These context-dependent judgments
will be compared to context-independent judgments to capture the effect of the primed
internal context. Therefore, the following hypothesis emerges:
Judgment of the target ad stimulus is expected to move toward (away
from) the internal context when the target and internal context are similar
(dissimilar) along the material value dimension.
As stated previously, values are important in guiding information processing and
behavior. It has been stated that by appealing to consumer values, an advertiser will
increase the likelihood that the target consumer will become involved in the ad and find
the product, as well as the ad more interesting and appealing (Sherrell, Hair, and Bush
1984). Forehand and Deshpande (2001) found this to be true with matching the ethnic
context of an ad with one’s ethnicity. More favorable evaluations of the ad itself resulted.
Thus, ads and products that are similar to the subject with regard to materialistic qualities
are anticipated to receive more favorable evaluations, while those that are dissimilar will
receive less favorable evaluations. Therefore,
More (less) favorable product evaluations are associated with similar
(dissimilar) conditions.
Attitude-behavior consistency studies suggest that evaluations are indicators of
behavioral intentions (Fishbein and Ajzen 1975). While it is expected that assimilation
leads to more favorable evaluations, stronger purchase intentions are expected in these
situations. Therefore it is hypothesized that,
Stronger (weaker) purchase intentions are to be formed in similar
(dissimilar) conditions.
Experimental Stimuli
It is anticipated that subjects will process the materialistic/nonmaterialistic ad
with their own primed internal material values. The present research uses materialistic ad
elements (i.e., both product and executional cues) as a means for operationalizing the
similarity between the advertisement and subjects’ own material values.
Product. An automobile ad was used as the advertising stimulus. Previous
context effect research has stated that it is important to use a product class that is of
interest to subjects in the experiment, as well as one that lends itself to several
permissible interpretations (Yi 1993). Automobiles are often used in experiments
because they serve this purpose.
Pretest. Pretests were conducted to identify automobiles and ad cues with high
and low materialistic appeals. Consultation with consumer reports, other authoritative
sources on automobiles, and popular magazines generated a listing of different styles of
cars (e.g., 4-door sedan, station wagon, 2-door mid-size) and executional cues used in the
settings of automobile advertising to create imagery for the product (e.g., golf course,
wooded field, mountain).
Forty-nine students from an undergraduate marketing course participated in the
pretest survey. The survey asked subjects to rate the style of an automobile and the
various executional backgrounds along the materialism dimension. Results from this
pretest indicated that a 2-door sports car best represented a materialistic automobile,
while a station wagon was viewed as the most nonmaterialistic. Subjects indicated that a
polo match would most likely be a place where you might find a person who is concerned
with image and possessions, while a campground was a place that represented a
nonmaterialist’s preference in locations. These products and executional cues were used
to construct the ad stimuli. An ad with strong material elements (i.e., a 2-door sports car
with a polo match background) and an ad with weak material elements (i.e., a station
wagon with a campground background) were constructed.
Preliminary Study. A survey was conducted to capture the context-free judgment
of the ads. One hundred four consumers intercepted from a midwestern shopping mall
participated in this preliminary study. Fifty-two percent of the sample was age 35 or
younger. As it will be seen, the young orientation of this pretest sample makes it quite
comparable to the sample used in the main experiment. It should be noted that
participants are not primed in the preliminary study. Internal material values are not
activated to process the target stimulus and thus, will not affect the context-free judgment
being rendered. Each consumer was asked to judge the products and overall
advertisements. As in Herr, Sherman, and Fazio (1983), and Meyers-Levy and Sternthal
(1993), several judgment measures were used in order to measure the context-free
judgments. Specifically three bi-polar items - high/low prestige, expensive/inexpensive,
extremely materialistic/extremely nonmaterialistic were used. Each was measured using
a nine-point scale (1 = low prestige, inexpensive, extremely nonmaterialistic to 9 = high
prestige, expensive, extremely materialistic).
Responses to the 3-item judgment measure were summed for the product and
background settings. As expected, the materialistic 2-door sports car (Pm) (mean =
20.81) was judged as more materialistic than the nonmaterialistic station wagon (Pnm)
(mean = 16.54). The overall materialistic ad (Am) was judged as more materialistic than
the nonmaterialistic ad (Anm) (mean = 19.92 versus 14.19, t stat = 5.27, p = .000).
Design and Subjects
High similarity conditions were operationalized by presenting the materialistic ad
to subjects with high material values, as well as by presenting the nonmaterialistic ad to
individuals with low material values. Conversely, low similarity conditions were
operationalized by exposing materialistic individuals to the nonmaterialistic ad treatments
and by presenting the nonmaterialistic ad to the materialistic subjects.
Subjects in the main experiment consisted of a total of 106 undergraduate student
consumers from a large midwestern university. Students were solicited and told that if
they decided to participate, they would be required to attend two research sessions on the
same day of week and time, during two different weeks. Students were awarded extra
credits in their perspective courses. Thirty-two percent of the subjects were male, and
89% were under 24 years of age. Ninety percent were white Americans. Fifty percent
were marketing majors, and 70% worked between 10 and 30 hours per week.
The experiment was conducted in two sessions. In the first session, subjects were
given a survey booklet and were told by the experimenter that the study required their
participation today and then again one week from the present date and time. In the first
experimental session, participants read and signed a consent form, provided answers to
the Richins and Dawson (1992) Material Values scale, and answered demographic
After the first session, a median-split of materialism scores was conducted.
Scores on the materialism scale were quite uniformly distributed with scores ranging
from 31 to 82. The mean score was 56.8 and the median score was 57.0 (standard
deviation = 10.44) (Cronbach’s alpha = .86). Subjects with scores higher than or equal to
56.8 were assigned to the high material values group; the remaining to the low material
values group.
During the main experiment, subjects received two booklets upon their arrival and
were told that researchers were “examining attitudes toward print media.” The first
booklet contained the prime and ad stimulus. Each priming/stimulus booklet contained
one of the following two paragraphs:
“From the answers you provided last week, it was determined
that you are a person with high material values. This means
you believe that possessions are symbols of one’s success,
and you strive to obtain higher quality in your possessions.
I would like for you to keep these material values in mind
while reviewing the ad and answering the questions that follow.”
“From the answers you provided last week, it was determined
that you are a person with low material values. This means
you believe that possessions do not act as symbols of one’s
success, and you are not obsessed to obtain the highest quality
in your possessions. I would like for you to keep these material
values in mind while reviewing the ad and answering the questions
that follow.”
It should be noted that the priming statements were not randomly assigned to
subjects. Instead, these statements match the high/low material values of the individuals.
In addition, priming in our study not only helps to bring out the material values of each
subject, but the degree of these values (high/low) is also evoked and used in processing
the incoming ad stimulus. The two ads (Am and Anm) were randomly assigned to subjects
within each of the two material values groups.
After reading the priming statement, each subject was instructed to take a few
minutes to view the advertisement and close the first booklet. They then opened the
second booklet and answered the questions. Each subject spent approximately 20
minutes to complete the entire exercise. Following the collection of the booklets, subjects
were debriefed, thanked for their participation, and released.
Dependent Variables
Judgments. The three bi-polar items - high/low prestige, expensive/inexpensive,
extremely materialistic/extremely nonmaterialistic were summed and used to measure
subjects’ judgments of the product and overall ad (i.e., the context-dependent judgments).
The items were summed in order to obtain overall judgments (product, Cronbach’s alpha
= .85; ad, alpha = .83).
Evaluations. Evaluations of the product and the advertisement itself were
measured using Chatterjee’s (1997) three item, bi-polar scale anchored by values of 1
(bad, unsatisfactory, and unfavorable) and 9 (good, satisfactory, and favorable). The
items were summed for both of the evaluations (i.e., product, Cronbach’s alpha = .90; ad,
alpha = .93).
Purchase Intentions. Purchase intention was measured using a single, seven-point
semantic differential scale, ranging from 1 (not likely at all) to 7 (very likely)
(MacKenzie, Lutz, and Belch 1986). Specifically, subjects were asked to indicate their
intention “if money is not an obstacle.”
Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted using judgment of
the car, judgment of the ad, evaluation of the car, evaluation of the ad, and purchase
intent as the dependent measures and the four treatments as the independent variables.
The Wilkes’ lambda takes on a value of 0.2172 and is significant at the 0.0001 level.
One-way ANOVA results are as follows: judgment of the car – F-stat. = 63.72 (p=
0.0001); judgment of the ad – F-stat. = 39.85 (p = 0.0001); evaluation of the car - F-stat.
= 8.18 (p = 0.0001); evaluation of the ad – F-stat. = 3.27 (p = 0.0244); and purchase
intent – F-stat. = 8.43 (p = 0.0001).
Treatment means for the judgment measures in the main experiment are presented
in Table 1. As stated previously, a comparison of the product and ad judgments in the
main experiment to the product and ad judgments in the preliminary study where the
internal context was not primed, served as a way to capture the effect of the internal
material values context. Specifically, by subtracting the context-independent judgments
of the pretest from the context-dependent judgments of subjects in main experiment, a
difference score was calculated. This difference score detects the direction as well as the
magnitude of the movement in judgments. Note that these two sets of measures are taken
from two separate groups of subjects. If measures are taken from the same subject at two
different points in time, then movement in judgment can be captured for each subject in
the experiment. Yet having the same subjects to provide two similar sets of measures
introduces repeated measure bias. For this reason, the decision was made to gather the
measures from separate groups of subjects. Thus, the following formula is applied to
each subjects’ judgment response:
Mji = Ji- J,
(where Mji = movement in judgment from subject i, Ji = context dependent judgment
score from subject i, and J = average context independent score from the preliminary
When the unprimed judgment means found in the second pretest are applied to the
above formula, the following equations are formulated for judgments of the product:
(1) Am/Sm
(2) Am/Snm
(3) Anm/Sm
(4) Anm/Snm
Ji - 20.81
Ji - 20.81
Ji - 16.54
Ji - 16.54
(where A = ad stimuli, S = subject,
m = materialistic, nm = nonmaterialistic)
The constants 20.81 and 16.54 are from the preliminary study. The same
computation is conducted for the judgments of the overall advertisement.
Table 1 About Here
Hypothesis 1. As presented in Table 2, all signs associated with the movement in
judgment are as hypothesized. Moreover, one-sample t-test indicates the average
movements are significantly different from zero in seven of eight cases; highly significant
in six, and marginally significant in the case of Am/Sm for product judgments. Ad
judgments for Am/Sm are not significant. Overall, these results lend strong support for the
notion that consumers compare the material values portrayed by a product/ad claims to
their own material values before making a judgment. Assimilation (movement toward
the context) occurs when the target stimulus and the internal context are similar; and
contrast (movement away from the context) is the outcome when the target and context
are dissimilar.
Table 2 About Here
Hypothesis 2. It was posited that advertising stimuli would receive more
favorable evaluations when they matched the subject’s material values, than when they
were presented to subjects with dissimilar materialistic values.
In order to test this hypothesis, the subjects were reclassified into high and low
similarity groups. Independent sample t-test results indicate that there are statistically
significant differences in evaluations of the advertised product and ad when the stimulus
is presented to subjects with values similar to those reflected in the ad, versus dissimilar
values. When the values reflected in the ad are dissimilar to the subject’s own personal
material values, less favorable evaluations of the product (19.39 vs 16.21) (p  .0001),
and overall ad (16.89 vs 13.57) (p .0013) were obtained, as compared to when the
personal values were similar to those in the ad. See Table 3. Thus, these results lend
overall support for Hypothesis 2.
Table 3 About Here
Hypothesis 3. Independent sample t-test results demonstrated that indeed purchase
intentions were highest in conditions where there was high similarity between the product
ad claims and the subject’s internal material context (Mean = 4.0 for high similarity vs.
3.19 for low similarity, p  .0060). See Table 3. This statistically significant result
provides support for Hypothesis 3.
This research takes an information-processing approach to examine the
relationship between consumers’ material values and their response to various types of
products and advertisements. The assimilation/contrast paradigm suggests that
individuals possess internal contexts that serve as sources of comparison when processing
incoming stimuli. When there is high similarity between the two contexts in comparison,
assimilation occurs, while dissimilarity promotes contrast effects. It is with this notion
that the present study utilized product and ad representations of materialistic values in
order to assess whether consumers perceive similarity/dissimilarity between these various
ad elements and their own material values, which ultimately affects their processing of
the information. Use of this theoretical framework for interpreting the effect of a
material values context is quite logical because the similarity between the material values
context and the external ad context is the main experimental variable. Results suggest
that when there is a high amount of similarity between one’s primed material values and
ad claims, assimilation will occur; while in conditions where there is low similarity,
contrast is the common outcome. This study confirms that judgmental and evaluative
outcomes were indeed influenced by the interaction between subjects’ own materialistic
orientations and the materialistic orientations presented in a print advertisement.
This research has two main implications. It extends the literature on the
assimilation/contrast paradigm. This paradigm is useful in explaining some of the
information processing strategies of consumers. The present research confirms that
consumers make comparative judgments of incoming stimuli. Specifically, the research
suggests that consumers use their own internal contexts (e.g., values) as sources of
interpretation. As expected, they interpret information is such a way that is consistent
with their own internal contexts (e.g., values). When primed, consumers will use
material values as a contextual comparison. Therefore, an understanding of a target
market’s value system would be beneficial to advertising practitioners. As Yankelovich’s
new psychographic segmentation system, Monitor Mindbase recognizes, marketers need
to continue to develop marketing/advertising strategies with a deeper understanding of
the values possessed by their target market segment.
This study also has important implications for materialism research, advertisers,
and public policy. Most materialism research has focused on conceptualization and
measurement of this construct. The present research extends this literature by illustrating
that material values are used to interpret information. These values serve as aided
mechanisms for information processing. Furthermore, if consumers use materialism as a
way to judge and evaluate products and advertising, there is a need for future research to
investigate advertising’s role in the production of the materialistic values of society.
Several researchers have suggested that terminal materialism is reflected in images of
advertising and promotes negative outcomes for consumers and society as a whole
(Zinkhan 1994). While advertisers often state that advertising simply reflects society’s
values and does not create values, this study suggests that if effectively primed,
consumers will indeed generate materialistic judgments and evaluations of products and
advertising. Thus, future empirical research should focus on whether the judgmental and
evaluative processes that occur when exposed to materialistic stimuli, promote or
enhance materialistic values systems.
As in any study of this nature, limitations may compromise the generalizability of
the results. Specific limitations involve the type of product used, the specific ads that
were used, as well as the sample. Additionally, because material values were measured
and used as a prime in this study, socially desirable responding may have occurred to
some degree (Mick 1996). Finally, this study was conducted in a relatively highinvolvement situation (e.g., automobiles and print advertising). Results of the study may
not be readily generalizable to other product categories, other types of advertising
mediums, and to other populations. Therefore findings should be interpreted with
caution. However, the testing of these effects with other product categories and
advertising vehicles (point-of-purchase stimuli, internet advertising, etc.) would serve as
interesting future research avenues and would gain external validity for this research
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