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Chapter 5
In this chapter we discuss the attention and comprehension processes involved in interpreting information from the
physical and social environment, as well as information about one's own behavior.
We emphasize that the
distinctions between attention and comprehension are somewhat blurred...higher levels of attention involve
rudimentary levels of comprehension.
The Cognitive System. We begin the chapter by discussing four characteristics of the cognitive system-- (1)
interpretation involves interactions between knowledge in memory and information in the environment, (2) activated
knowledge influences attention and comprehension processes, (3) because of the cognitive system's limited capacity,
only a few things can be considered at once, and (4) much attention and comprehension processing occurs
automatically without much conscious awareness.
Exposure. Interpretation processes first require exposure to marketing information. Strictly speaking, exposure is
not a cognitive process, or part of interpretation. Rather, a great deal of exposure to marketing information occurs
through consumers' own behaviors that bring them into contact with information in the environment. Thus, the
Wheel of Consumer Analysis and the principle of reciprocal determinism are relevant for understanding exposure.
That is, behavior leads to exposure to environmental factors that might create a change in behavior as well as
cognition and affect, exposure to new aspects of the environment, etc. We distinguish between intentional and
accidental exposure, and we also discuss the strategies marketers use to influence exposure.
Attention versus Comprehension. In the next two sections, we discuss attention and comprehension processes.
Although we present them separately for pedagogical purposes, the distinction between attention and comprehension
can become quite "fuzzy" on close examination. Basically, attention processes "shade off into" comprehension
processes during an interpretation episode. Exactly where attention ends and comprehension begins is not clear, nor
is it very important (for purposes of this course) to identify that point. Instead, we emphasize that both attention and
comprehension are key processes in sense-making or interpretation. Typically, attention and comprehension occur
whenever consumers' cognitive systems are exposed to aspects of their environments.
Automatic vs. Controlled Processes. We also point out that much of interpretation processing is automatic and
largely unavailable to conscious awareness. Because most of the information to which consumers are exposed is
highly familiar, they have already formed meanings to represent these stimuli. Simple interpretation occurs
"automatically" when these stored meanings are activated from memory and comprehension (recognition of the
object) occurs ("Oh, this is a Pepsi."). These processes of activation and recognition are largely automatic and
difficult to control. Sometimes, however, interpretation processes are more controlled, such as when people are
exposed to unfamiliar stimuli. Then, people must consciously "compute" the meanings of new information.
Attention Processes. Attention refers to how certain stimuli in the environment are selected to receive further
cognitive processing, as well as the intensity or arousal level of the consumer. For pedagogical purposes, we
distinguish two levels of attention, even though attention actually varies over a continuous range (see Exhibit 5.2).
Preconscious attention involves largely automatic and effortless selection of stimuli with little or no conscious
awareness. In contrast, focal attention involves conscious and controlled selection of stimuli and an intentional
focusing of interpretation processes on those stimuli. Focal attention requires cognitive effort. Essentially, focal
attention is indistinguishable from the early stages of comprehension.
Next, we discuss how consumers' attention is influenced by their affective states and their level of involvement.
Consumers attend to the objects and situations that are most relevant to their current goals and values (their activated
self-concepts). Marketers, of course, try to design marketing strategies that are appropriate for consumers' level of
intrinsic self-relevance for a product, or they may try to influence consumers' involvement by modifying the selfrelevance of the situation. We also discuss how the prominence of stimuli in consumers' environment affects their
attention processes. More prominent stimuli are more likely to receive attention. Marketers use this principle by
designing prominent (large, novel, even garish) stimuli.
Comprehension. Comprehension is the key cognitive process in interpreting environmental information. Through
comprehension processes, our cognitive systems create meanings by which we represent our environments and our
behaviors. Comprehension refers to the cognitive processes by which consumers make sense of their environments.
A key influence on consumers' comprehension processes is the previous knowledge or meanings that are activated
from memory. During comprehension this activated knowledge "interacts" with the incoming information and new
meanings are produced.
Many comprehension processes are automatic. That is, the meanings for familiar stimuli already stored in memory
are automatically activated and the meaning just "comes to mind." Little or no conscious effort is required for this
type of "identification" comprehension to occur. Many of our comprehension processes are like this. Occasionally,
however, we are exposed to unfamiliar stimuli and unfamiliar situations, and we have to consciously construct our
meanings. Of course, most natural situations involve a combination of automatic and controlled comprehension
Depth or Level of Comprehension. Comprehension processes (and the meanings they produce) also vary in level or
depth (see Exhibit 5.3). Shallow comprehension processes create cognitive representations of the more concrete,
physical features of the stimulus (such as concrete attributes). Deeper comprehension processes create cognitive
representations of the more abstract, nontangible aspects of the stimulus (such as psychosocial consequences and
value states). Deeper comprehension processes also tend to create meanings more closely related to self. In sum,
depth of comprehension processing is related to the levels of meanings in means-ends chains--shallow
comprehension focuses on product attributes and functional consequences; while deeper, more semantic
comprehension focuses on psychosocial consequences and values.
Elaboration. Comprehension processes also vary in degree or amount of elaboration (see Exhibit 5.3). Low
elaboration comprehension processes require little effort and create relatively few meanings. In contrast, more
elaborate comprehension processes require greater cognitive capacity and effort and create multiple meanings.
Memorability. We point out that the level and elaboration of comprehension affects consumers' ability to remember
the information. That is, deeper and more elaborate comprehension produces meanings that are remembered better.
Inferences. We also discuss how inferences are formed during comprehension. Inferences involve the construction
of meanings that are not explicit in the environment. A great deal of comprehension processing involves the
formation of inferences. Inferences are created whenever the consumer goes beyond the information in the
environment to form "new" meanings. For instance, by definition, all elaborations are inferences based on previous
knowledge. We note that means-ends chains are constructed largely from inferences. Often, the consumer makes an
inference that a particular attribute leads to a desired psychosocial consequence or value state.
Knowledge and Involvement. Next we identify a number of factors that influence consumers' comprehension
processes. Foremost among these is consumers' current knowledge--the meanings and beliefs stored in memory.
Relevant knowledge in memory affects consumers' ability to process information. Researchers refer to this as
expertise. Expert consumers have a great deal of relevant knowledge that can be activated and used in the
interpretation process. Their comprehension is likely to be fairly easy and relatively automatic. Novice consumers,
on the other hand, know relatively little and have to exert effort to comprehend marketing information.
Consumers' level of involvement also affects their comprehension processes by influencing consumers' motivation to
process information. In general, the more involved consumers are with the marketing information (a function of both
intrinsic and situational self-relevance), the more intensive will be their comprehension processes. Thus,
comprehension of highly involving stimuli is likely to produce deeper, more abstract, and more elaborate meanings.
At very low levels of involvement, comprehension processing is likely to be minimal, producing only a few sensorylevel meanings.
The exposure environment (crowding, time pressure, noise, temperature, amount of information, etc.) also affects
attention and comprehension processes by influencing the consumers' opportunity to process information.
Marketing Implications. The attention and comprehension processes that occur during interpretation have many
implications for developing marketing strategies. Marketers should design their information (marketing strategies) to
fit consumers' ability (knowledge) and motivation (involvement) to process the information. Marketers need to
recognize that the depth and elaboration of consumers' comprehension processes affects the types of meanings
produced as well as their memorability. Meanings that are produced by deeper, more elaborate comprehension
processes tend to be more memorable (more easily activated when needed). This has implications for advertising. A
third implication concerns the miscomprehension of information during comprehension processing. Although some
miscomprehension is unavoidable, marketers should design their messages to be comprehended accurately by the
target consumers. In sum, marketers want to maximize exposure to their marketing strategies, they want to capture
the attention of their target market, and they want consumers to comprehend the information at an appropriate level
of depth and elaboration.
 Accidental versus intentional exposure
 Automatic cognitive processes in attention and comprehension
 Preconscious versus focal attention
 Effects of environmental prominence on attention and comprehension processes
 Effects of involvement on attention and comprehension processes
 Depth or level of comprehension processing
 Elaboration in comprehension processing
 Inference processes in comprehension
 Effects of expertise (stored knowledge in memory) on comprehension processes
A. The Power of Advertising
B. Exposure to Information
1. Selective exposure to information
2. Marketing implications
C. Attention Processes
1. Variations in attention
2. Factors influencing attention processes
a. Affective states
b. Involvement
c. Environmental prominence
3. Marketing implications
a. Intrinsic self-relevance
b. Situational self-relevance
c. Factors affecting environmental prominence
D. Comprehension
1. Variations in comprehension
a. Automatic processing
b. Level
c. Elaboration
d. Memorability
2. Inferences during comprehension
3. Factors influencing comprehension
a. Knowledge in memory
b. Involvement
c. Exposure environment
4. Marketing implications
a. Knowledge and involvement
b. Remembering
c. Miscomprehension of marketing information
d. Exposure environment
E. Back to ….. The Power of Advertising.
F. Marketing Strategy in Action: Exposure, Attention and Comprehension on the Internet
Upon completion of this chapter, students should be able to:
 describe accidental and intentional exposure and identify appropriate marketing strategies for these
 distinguish between preconscious and focal attention.
 define depth of comprehension and describe its effects on the meanings consumers produce.
 define elaboration of comprehension and describe its effects on the meanings consumers produce.
 describe how consumers' involvement (motivation to process) affects attention and comprehension.
 describe how consumers' knowledge stored in memory (ability to process) affects attention and
 describe how the consumers' exposure environment (opportunity to process) can influence attention and
 discuss inferential processes in comprehension.
 identify several marketing implications for attention and comprehension in actual exposure situations.
Overview. This chapter concerns basic cognitive processes that are relevant in understanding consumers' reactions
to marketing strategies. We describe the cognitive processes involved in interpreting information from the
environment. The key cognitive processes in interpretation are attention and comprehension (see Exhibit 5.1). It is
very important for marketers to understand how consumers are exposed to marketing information, attend to it, and
comprehend or understand it.
You could take two broad approaches to teaching this material: (1) lecture "from the book" by reviewing selected
concepts in the text and elaborating and illustrating them with new examples, or (2) asking questions and conducting
in-class exercises that lead students to an understanding of the key concepts. The latter approach is more interesting.
Accidental and Intentional Exposure.
The text presentation regarding exposure is non-technical and
Remind students of the key distinction between two types of exposure to marketing information--(a)
intentional exposure that occurs through consumers' purposeful search for relevant information and (b)
accidental exposure.
Intentional exposure to marketing information often occurs during decision-making when consumers search for
information. Intentional information exposure is discussed again in Chapter 7 on Decision Making.
Although accidental exposure occurs when consumers "randomly" come into contact with marketing information, it
can be influenced by marketing strategies. Often such strategies involve trying to make the marketing stimulus (an
ad, a sales promotion, a store) more prominent in the environment.
An interesting example is the special insert ads found in some magazines--someone called them "printaculars." These include ads printed on heavy stock, multi-page ads, and pop-up ads that unfold into three
dimensions when the pages are opened. These techniques have a strong effect on accidental exposure.
Because of the construction and weight of the pages, the magazine often will open "automatically" to these
inserts. They are so effective that other advertisers in the magazine have begun to complain, arguing that
the chances of their ads being seen are reduced if the magazine carries a print-acular ad.
Here is another example of increasing the chances of accidental exposure. The McDonald's franchise that
produced the most sales in the world in 1988 was located in the heart of Rome, very close to the famous
Spanish Steps, one of the most popular tourist sites in the Eternal City. The thousands of visitors to the
Spanish Steps each day have a good chance of being exposed to the nearby McDonald's store. That single
McDonald's produced more than $15 million in sales in 1988.
Selective Exposure to Marketing Information. One approach to understanding exposure is to focus on its
opposite--how consumers selectively seek out and avoid marketing information.
You can start an interesting discussion by asking students to describe the tactics they use to avoid
exposure (or discontinue accidental exposure) to marketing information.
For instance, some people throw away all junk mail unopened, or they hardly look at it if opened.
Students who have remote controls for their TV set will probably mention zapping (shifting
channels during commercials) or zipping (fast-forwarding during commercials on recorded
programs). Others may report that they read a magazine or the newspaper during TV commercial
breaks. Simply turning away from the set when a commercial begins is a way to avoid visual
exposure to the ad. Intentionally not looking at billboards when driving is another example of
selective exposure.
Have students discuss reasons why they avoid this information and probe for deeper reasons.
The most obvious reason is that consumers do not perceive the information to be personally
relevant (low involvement). Other reasons include environmental factors such as time pressure,
distracting stimuli in the environment, the marketing information is not prominent (not noticeable),
or consumers misinterpret (miscategorize) the information (they think it is something else).
Also ask students to describe some possible strategies that marketers can use to counteract information
avoidance behaviors.
Some marketing strategies attempt to create situational self-relevance (thereby increasing
consumers' involvement with the information). For instance, special words or phrases on the
outside of direct mail envelopes--"YOU ARE ALREADY A WINNER!"--might be effective.
Another strategy is to make commercials that grab the viewers' attention in the first couple of
seconds can work. Creating ads that don't look like ads might work (some magazine ads are
designed to look like editorial material).
Other strategies are based on making the marketing information more prominent in the
environment. Examples include bright colors and bold graphics (on packages), loud noises (radio
ads are often louder than the surrounding program), unusual stimuli (early ads for Silk Cut
cigarettes showed only a brightly colored piece of silk with a cut in it).
As a point of contrast, ask students to identify circumstances in which they intentionally seek out
marketing information (intentional exposure) and discuss why they do so.
They should mention influences such as needs, goals, and personal values. If these higher-ordered
meanings are activated from memory, and if they are linked to the product, the resulting means-end
chains create a state of involvement that motivates consumers' intentional search for relevant
product information.
Direct the discussion toward potential strategies that marketers might develop to influence intentional
exposure behaviors.
In general, marketers should make product-related information available where and when it is
needed by consumers. For instance, most consumers want product information in the store when
they are seriously shopping (technical information in product brochures in stereo stores; in-store,
cut-away displays of the inner construction of a ski, a mattress, or a high-pressure valve).
Information on the package can be critical for grocery store products, given that an estimated 60
percent of grocery purchase decisions are made in the store.
Of course, marketing information should be in a form that can be understood and used by
consumers. This requires an understanding of the type and amount of product knowledge
possessed by consumers in the target market. Ads in magazines targeted at product enthusiasts
(cooking, running, biking, skiing, tennis) are often rather technical and complex because the target
market has expert knowledge. These differences can be illustrated by comparing advertisements
for computers from technical magazines, such as PC World, with advertisements from general
interest magazines, such as Time.
Example: Product Exposure in the Movies. It was one of the most important scenes in the movie Flipper and it
was perfect. The actor said his lines without mistake, the lighting was just right, and the trained dolphin performed
on cue. Unfortunately, the label on the crunched up soda can sitting on the dock said, “Coke.” Just after shooting
this scene, the producers of Flipper signed a joint marketing deal with Pizza Hut, then owned by PepsiCo, so they
had the high-tech editing room digitally change the can label to the familiar red, white, and blue of Pepsi. Products
and movies have indeed become very closely connected, as more and more companies seek to have their brands
“placed” (shown or possibly featured) in movies and on TV shows.
MGM, a major movie studio, likes product placement so much that it actively seeks brands to slip into its films.
Thus Pierce Brosnan, who plays James Bond in GoldenEye, used IBM computers, drank Perrier, and wore Omega
watches…when he wasn’t driving his BMW. Producers and directors like using real brands because it adds to the
realism of the films. A generic brand can distract the audience (Can you imagine having a hero chug a soft drink
labeled “Cola”?) Also, an actual brand can help establish the social class or subculture of the character who uses it
(Why didn’t James Bond drive a Toyota Camry?). Moreover, long-standing brands such as Ivory Soap or Hershey
chocolate can help establish a time period and lend an air of authenticity to a film. Finally, showcasing actual brands
in films can help the bottom line, too, because companies pay a fee for many (but not all) product placements.
In some cases, the product plays a prominent role in the movie. When this happens, sales can take off. When
Brosnan drove the BMW Z3 sports car in GoldenEye, sales of the sporty little roadster increased. According to Al
Bender, marketing director at Spalding Sports, “In placement, what you’re looking for is billboards…where your
name is big. Also, there is the implied endorsement (since a star is using the product).”
Attention. The material in the text regarding attention is fairly straightforward and easy to understand. You could
emphasize a couple of points in class, however. One important idea is that much attention occurs automatically, with
little or no conscious control. Stimuli that activate salient knowledge, meanings and beliefs tend to automatically
receive attention without the consumer having to think about it.
A second, related point is that the environment has considerable influence over consumers' attention processes.
Certain objects and events can influence consumers' attention to related objects and events. Marketers use stimuli
such as pictures of babies, dogs, and scantily clad men and women to influence consumers' attention to products.
Levels of Attention. You may want to elaborate the idea of levels of attention a bit. Attention processes vary from
highly automatic reactions called preconscious attention (you automatically attend to the mention of your name) to
more controlled attention processes called focal attention (if you are running out of gas on a trip, you pay closer
attention to anything that looks like a gas station sign).
Of course, marketers often want consumers to pay close (focal) attention to product-related information.
Ask students to discuss how marketers can influence consumers' levels of attention to marketing
Students should recognize that consumers' focal attention is strongly influenced by their
involvement. And, involvement is a function of intrinsic and situational self-relevance. By
understanding consumers' intrinsic self-relevance, marketers can anticipate their likely level of
involvement when exposed to marketing information.
In addition, marketers may be able to manipulate consumers' situational self-relevance through
various marketing strategies (price reductions, contests, etc.). This will influence their level of
involvement and motivation to pay attention and comprehend the information.
Another point worth mentioning in class concerns the distinction between attention and comprehension
processes. We do not believe that a strong distinction can be made between the "higher" levels of
attention (focal attention) and comprehension. As one's attention becomes focused on a stimulus,
comprehension processes are already occurring. In this sense, we say that attention processes "shade
off" into comprehension processes.
To illustrate focal attention, ask students to bring in examples of marketing strategies that seem designed
to attract consumers' attention. Alternatively, you could bring a few of your favorite print ads or
marketing stimuli to class and ask students to analyze how each one attracts consumers' attention. Or,
you could have students just describe examples they have encountered.
Examples range from large point-of-purchase displays, moving or lighted signs in stores, certain
stimuli portrayed on ads or billboards, to color or contrast in print ads. The word "FREE" usually
attracts attention.
Sexual stimuli (attractive, scantily-clad models of either sex) gets many people's attention.
Pictures of babies, kittens and dogs are often strong attention getters in ads.
Selective attention is a common label to describe people's ability to avoid exposure or not maintain accidental
Ask students to identify the various factors that could influence consumers to selectively attend to a
particular example of marketing information such as a print ad you bring to class.
Answers should include personal characteristics of the consumer and aspects of the environment-consumers' relevant knowledge in memory (ability to process) and their involvement with the
information (motivation to process)--as well as the prominence of the environmental stimuli.
Students should mention "people's interests or current goal states" (activated values and desired
consequences) as important influences on selective attention. These factors concern "perceived
personal relevance," or involvement. Consumers pay attention to stimuli that are relevant to their
current state of involvement.
Of course, certain affectively laden stimuli elicit affective responses from most people--attractive
models in ads, babies, and puppies and kittens.
Example: Measuring Attention to Warning Labels. Marketers and public policy makers are frequently interested
in consumers' reactions to specific informational messages, such as warning labels found on many products
(alcoholic beverages, lawn mowers, over-the-counter drug products). For cigarettes, warning messages about health
risks can be found on the packages and in print ads and outdoor (billboard) ads. Several researchers have claimed
that the warning labels on cigarettes don't work because people don't pay attention to them.
One study used video equipment to monitor the focus of people's eye gaze. It found that most people who
were exposed to a cigarette ad focused their attention on the pictures, not the words in the ad or the
warning. In fact, in about half of the exposures to a large sample of ads, subjects did not even see the
warning message.
In a less formal study of warnings on city billboards for cigarettes, all subjects could make out the brand
name of the cigarette being advertised after only 3 seconds of exposure, but people often were unable to
read the warning or only partially read it (perhaps it was too small, too far away, or the exposure time was
too short). The attention rates were even lower for billboards in a country environment, where hardly any
of the warning messages could be read.
In another casual study of attention to cigarette ads on taxicab signs in New York City, researchers found
that the brand name could be read in every case but viewers were unable to read any of the warnings.
[Source: Researchers Say Cigarette Warnings are Inadequate," Marketing News, February 13, 1989, p. 8]
Comprehension Processes. Most marketing strategies must be attended to and comprehended by the target segment
of consumers before the strategy can be effective--for example, a new ad campaign, a pricing strategy (a new rebate
program by an auto manufacturer), a change in distribution (switch to different type of retail store or a remodeling
that changes the store atmosphere), or a new set of product features. Students should be able to describe, in a general
way at least, the attention and comprehension processes that influence the effectiveness of such marketing strategies.
As students discuss how consumers attend to and comprehend virtually any marketing strategy, you will have many
opportunities to point out key ideas about comprehension and to emphasize the major factors that influence attention
and comprehension processes (especially prior knowledge and involvement).
Depth and Elaboration of Comprehension. Comprehension processes vary in depth and elaboration, which in turn
creates different types of meanings at different levels of abstraction (e.g., attributes, consequences, or values). This
exercise can help illustrate these important concepts.
Show your class a print advertisement or a TV commercial (or describe some other marketing strategy),
and ask students to identify possible meanings that consumers might form during comprehension. Write
these meanings on the chalkboard.
Then ask students to discuss how these meanings vary.
Students should be able to recognize differences in level or depth of comprehension and amount of
Shallow comprehension tends to produce less abstract meanings about tangible aspects of the
product (concrete attributes such as color or size). Moderately deep comprehension produces
more abstract meanings about intangible characteristics of the product (abstract attributes and
functional consequences). Very deep comprehension produces highly abstract, symbolic meanings
about psychosocial and value consequences.
Elaboration refers to the number of meanings produced during a comprehension episode.
Consumers can have elaborate or nonelaborate comprehension processes that produce many or few
meanings, respectively.
Remind students about emotional meanings and other nonverbal and symbolic meanings that consumers
may form and use.
Finally, ask the class to identify some of the factors that might lead consumers to form such meanings.
Students should mention consumers' existing knowledge about the product or brand (ability to
comprehend) and their involvement with the product or brand (motivation to comprehend).
Factors in the environment that influence opportunity to process also can affect the meanings
consumers produce.
Ask, “What can marketers do to influence consumers' comprehension processes?”
Marketing strategies could be directed at influencing consumers' ability and motivation to process.
Sometimes marketers try to teach consumers new information about their products so that
consumers will have appropriate knowledge to comprehend additional information.
Influencing consumers' motivation to process involves making the marketing information more
self-relevant. For instance, you usually have to read through most of the material in a direct mail
promotion in order to figure out how to enter the sweepstakes.
Finally, marketers can modify the environment to give consumers greater opportunity to process (if
that is considered desirable).
Example: Problem Comprehension. Trying to sell existing brands in foreign countries can raise some interesting
comprehension issues.
For instance, Sara Lee Corporation, one of the world's most successful packaged goods companies, was
considering introducing a line of bath soaps and gels into the European Market. They had been selling a
herbal soap called Radox in Great Britain since the 1920s and, in the late 1980s, had successfully
introduced a line extension of products called Radox Moments.
But Sara Lee managers hesitated at introducing Radox into Europe proper. Why? Well, the name was a
problem. Many consumers the product had something to do with Raid, the bug killer. It reminded others of
something radioactive with a half-life. In short, many European consumers felt Radox was something
completely unsuitable to put on your skin.
So, Sara Lee promoted Sanex, a Spanish soap, as a "dermoprotector" or germ-killing soap. But Sanex has
problems in England where it sounds like "sanitary," which has the wrong connotations. To develop
effective international strategies, marketers must understand these basic comprehension processes and
monitor the meanings that are produced. [Source: Steve Weiner, "How Do You Say L'Eggs in French?"
Forbes, November 27, 1989, pp. 73-79.]
Example: Factors Influencing Comprehension. This example illustrates how the amount of existing knowledge
can affect consumer comprehension processes.
Have you ever proudly taken a new purchase home from the store, only to find that you can’t figure out how to
assemble it or make it work? To make matters worse, you find the instruction manual is incomprehensible. You are
not alone.
After trying in vain to assemble his home gym, one consumer gave up. Trying to follow the instruction manual is
“an experience designed to humble and humiliate anyone. It looked like praying mantis after I got through with it.”
Eventually, he paid an expert $150 to put it together. Another consumer bought a tiny electronic organizer, the size
of a calculator, that came with a 117-page instruction book containing such “helpful” hints as “If there is any hidden
secret entry between memos 4 and 5, which is hidden from view by the SECRET function, ‘memo 2’ will be stored
before ‘memo 5’ but not immediately after ‘memo 4.’”
Although high-tech products tend to be the worst offenders, even setting up a child’s car seat seems to require a
degree in physics. The instructions for one brand read, “With the Latch Plate snapped into Buckle, pinch together
the Shoulder Belt portion to the Lap Belt portion. While still pinched, disconnect the Latch Plate from Buckle.”
Many businesses don’t spend much money or time on manuals, perhaps because they think these communications
don’t make much difference in sales. But a few companies are sensitive to the aggravation created by an
incomprehensible manual. They are working to improve and simplify their communications with customers,
sometimes by hiring special writers to prepare more understandable manuals. One firm tested an old manual for a
VCR and found that no consumers could successfully hook up the VCR to the TV by following the instructions. But
after the manual was redesigned, 80 percent could do it. [Source: Lourdes Lee Valerlano, “Love the Present, Hated
the Manual!” The Wall Street Journal, December 15, 1991, p. B1.
Possible Mini-Lecture: Relationships Between Exposure, Attention, and Comprehension. You might wish to
elaborate the interrelationships between exposure, attention, and comprehension.
In one way, exposure, attention and comprehension are related "hierarchically." At a simple level, exposure is
necessary in order that a consumer can attend to a marketing stimulus, and attention is necessary for comprehension
to occur. In this sense, there is a kind of "flow" of psychological processes from exposure to attention to
comprehension. The text refers to levels of attention (focal and preconscious) and levels of comprehension (deep
versus shallow) as well as amounts of comprehension (elaborate versus non-elaborate). Some students may find it
easier to keep these distinctions in mind if you present them as a "flow chart" of exposure/attention/comprehension
Point out that a "branching model" of the various possibilities would begin at the far left with exposure
(two possible branches: Yes and No) and continuing from "Yes" to "Preconscious Attention" and "Focal
Attention," and from Focal Attention to Levels of Comprehension and then to Amount of
Comprehension. A figure showing such a model is included with the transparency masters.
After briefly reviewing the different levels, show the class an ad (a print ad) and ask them to discuss
how the information integration processes would vary along the various paths.
Once EXPOSURE occurs, attention can be either PRECONSCIOUS or FOCAL. If only
preconscious attention occurs, then at best, only a very SHALLOW LEVEL OF
COMPREHENSION can take place (very simple concrete meanings). This cognitive processing
will NOT BE ELABORATE (only a few meanings produced). Perhaps a consumer might have a
few simple recognition responses--"Oh, another ad for Anacin."
On the other hand, if exposure leads to FOCAL ATTENTION, the entire range of comprehension
processes is possible.
Comprehension processes could be SHALLOW or DEEP
COMPREHENSION (producing either very concrete or more abstract meanings). At either level,
comprehension processes could be ELABORATE or NOT ELABORATE (producing many or few
Such a scheme clearly shows how important exposure is. Nothing happens unless exposure occurs.
The scheme also points to the critical influence of the level of attention during exposure. Without
focal attention, it is unlikely that much comprehension processing, of any type or level, will occur.
If focal attention occurs, then many different types of comprehension processing can occur,
depending on how consumers' activated knowledge and involvement interact with the stimulus
itself. You might make the point that creating successful marketing strategies (that generate
attention and comprehension) is difficult. Therefore, marketers should not be surprised to find that
many of their communications have small effects overall.
Inferences in Comprehension. Many (perhaps most) of the meanings and beliefs formed during comprehension
processes are inferences. Inferences are meanings that obviously are constructed by consumers. Inferences go
beyond the literal information given in the environment. Product inferences are meanings and beliefs about the
product which are created when the marketing information interacts with consumers' activated knowledge, meanings
and beliefs. Here is an example:
American Cyanamid faced a consumer inference problem in selling a cleaner-disinfectant in Brazil. Some
marketing managers felt that consumers were most interested in the cleaning benefits of the product, while
others wanted to focus on the disinfectant ability of the product. A simple observation study of consumers'
inferences gave a clue to the appropriate marketing focus. Observation in the store revealed that buyers
nearly always opened the bottle and smelled the product. Apparently, consumers were making inferences
about the disinfecting properties of the product based on its smell. So the ad campaign emphasized how
good the house would smell after using the cleaner, and the campaign was a success. [Source: The Best
Defense Is To Know What Customer Wants and To Do It Better," Marketing News, February 1, 1985, p. 6.]
Types of Inferences. During comprehension, virtually any type of meaning can be created through inference
processes. Inferential beliefs can be about any level in a means-end chain--product attributes, as well as the
consequences, or values associated with the product. Other types of inferences might concern the type of person
who uses the product, or what type of situation is most appropriate for using the product.
A classic example is the auto maker (which one is unknown) who discovered that consumers' beliefs about
the acceleration of a car were inferences based partially on the strength of the accelerator spring. Since
"softer" accelerator springs were easier to press, consumers tended to infer that the car had better
Another example mentioned in In Search of Excellence suggests that airline passengers who notice stains on
the seat-back trays might infer that the engine maintenance has not been thorough. Similarly, dirty floors in
restaurants or grocery stores might mean that the kitchen or back storage rooms are unsanitary.
Ask students to describe some of their favorite inferences and the cues that they use to make them.
Inferential Cues. Consumers often use tangible product attributes as cues in making inferences about abstract
attributes (quality, durability, stylishness) and/or benefits (psychosocial and value consequences).
For instance, some consumers make inferences about the cleaning power of a laundry detergent based on
the color of the granules--blue and white are known to connote cleanliness. Or, consumers could form
inferences about product quality from cues provided by physical characteristics of the package (color,
shape, or material). For instance, products packaged in gold or silver foil imply quality to most consumers.
For example, Hershey sells a candy piece called “Nuggets” which are wrapped in gold foil, which may be a
cue to "quality."
Marketers of perfumes and colognes know that tangible attributes of the bottle (especially its shape,
material, color) are cues that affect consumers' inferences about attributes and benefits of the product. Even
the brand name of a product can serve as a cue to consumers for drawing inferences (see Highlight 5.3).
Comprehension, Inferences and Marketing Strategies. Marketers may design their strategies to take advantage of
consumers' propensity to construct inferences during comprehension processing.
Ask students to come up with examples of marketing strategies based on consumers' inference-making
For instance, some British companies place the phrase, "Purveyors to Her Majesty the Queen," on
their product labels and in their ads. What inferences might this create (e.g., about quality,
traditions, or conservative styling)?
Some companies have entered into agreements with rock groups to serve as a corporate sponsor of
the singer's concert tour (beverage companies such as Anheuser-Bush sponsor the country music
star Tim McGraw). Other companies sponsor sports events (Coors beer sponsors many
motorcycle and bicycle races; Volvo sponsors tennis tournaments). Yet other companies sponsor
charitable events, social causes and various relief efforts (Coca-Cola and other companies
sponsored "Hands-Across America"). What inferences might consumers draw from such
Bring in one or two print ads that have strong visual cues and ask students what inferences they (or other
consumers) might form.
For instance, consumers' inferences may be influenced by attractive models in clothing ads, colors
and shapes in cologne ads, social situations portrayed in beer ads.
Some ads contain strong symbolic stimuli that seem intended to create inferences about the
company or the product (the Merrill Lynch bull; the Marlboro cowboy; the Energizer Bunny,
Michael Jordan for Hanes).
Ask students to discuss how other marketing strategies besides advertising can affect consumer
For instance, some companies set prices higher than their competition to influence consumers'
inferences about the high quality or status or uniqueness of the product (Chivas Regal scotch,
Porsche, Rolex wathces).
Packaging shapes, colors, and materials can influence consumers' inferences (consider cologne
bottles). L'eggs' pantyhose in the egg shaped container is a classic example. The typeface and
style used in the brand name logo can influence consumers' inferences about the product. Some
logos are old-fashioned and conservative; others connote a modern impression. (See the minilecture below for an example.)
Even the brand name can help create inferences about the product. Ask students to think of examples.
Consider Head and Shoulders dandruff shampoo; Easy-Off oven cleaner, Infinity automobiles;
Haagen-Dazs ice cream; Lite beer by Miller.
As another example, ask students to consider why some companies use celebrity spokespersons. Do the
celebrities merely attract attention to the ads, or might they induce consumers to draw inferences about
the product or company? (The meanings of celebrities also are discussed in Chapter 13 on Culture.)
What inferential effects does/did Bill Cosby have for Jello? What effects did Brittany Spears have
for Pepsi? What about Tiger Woods for Nike or Buick?
Inferences and Means-End Chains. Consumers acquire some of their knowledge about means-end associations
when they use the product and learn what consequences actually occur. However, many beliefs about the
connections between attributes and consequences, or the links between consequences and values, are based on
inferences consumers make, not direct experience.
Ask students to bring in an ad or promotion strategy that seems to lead consumers to form inferences.
Or, bring in a couple of your own ads as examples.
In the text we describe the possible inferences derived from Kellogg's ad campaign linking fiber to
cancer prevention. Cereal ads or other food products often seem to stimulate consumers'
inferences. But, actually, most ads invite inferences. Some ads might generate inferences linking
product use with making friends, or sexual success, or feeling good about yourself.
Example of Negative Inferences: In League with the Devil? This "old"-but-still-interesting example describes a
serious problem for Procter & Gamble involving negative inferences about the company.
"Thank you for calling Procter & Gamble concerning the malicious and completely false stories about our
company's trademark," begins the recording. This toll-free message was just one of the ways in which P&G
tried to quash a persistent rumor alleging that its man-in-the-moon logo is satanic, and that the company is
somehow involved in devil worship. According to P&G the stars in the symbol represent the original 13
colonies, and the quarter moon with the human face was simply a popular image of the late 1800s.
The giant (P&G's 2000 sales were $40 billion!) Cincinnati-based manufacturer of dozens of products from
Jif peanut butter to Crest toothpaste to Tide detergent had been bedeviled (pun intended) by this rumor
since 1982. The rumors created a wave of 15,000 telephone calls from uneasy consumers in July of that
year. Initially P&G took a get tough stance by filing lawsuits against persons distributing the information
and by enlisting prominent clergy to declare the rumors false. The rumors died down, but resurfaced again
in late 1984 and early 1985.
In April 1985, Procter & Gamble finally decided that the 103-year-old logo had become more of a headache
than it was worth. Frustrated by an inexplicable resurgence of the rumors on the east coast, P&G
announced that it would start removing the trademark from all its packages within a year. The trademark
will be retained as a symbol on corporate stationery and on buildings. The change is not likely to cause a
comprehension problem for consumers. Although P&G was quite attached to its long-time symbol,
marketing research showed that most consumers never noticed it (low attention).
This unusual example illustrates the power of consumers' knowledge, meanings, and beliefs. Even though
only a few consumers seemed to believe this bizarre rumor, they created enough controversy to affect a
giant company. [Source: "The Man in the Moon Disappears," Time, May 6, 1985, p. 63; Joe Kay (1985),
"Procter & Gamble Drops Logo to Dispel Rumors of Satanism," Centre Daily Times, April 25, p. B-3.]
Possible Mini-Lecture: Automatic Attention and Comprehension Processes. It has become widely recognized in
cognitive psychology and in consumer behavior that "most of the memory and attention factors that affect our
judgments are simply unavailable to consciousness."1 That is, "Most of what we do goes on unconsciously. . . It is
the exception, not the rule, when thinking is conscious."2 This means that many interpretation processes require little
or no cognitive capacity, conscious awareness, or control.
Actually, cognitive processes must become more automatic over time. If they did not, people would expend all their
limited cognitive capacity, time, and effort on a few tasks that would never become easier. Fortunately, though, as
we learn new knowledge about our environments and become familiar using it, that knowledge tends to be activated
and used in cognitive processes in increasingly automatic ways. Thus, much of learning is the development of
increasingly automatic cognitive processes. Interestingly, consumers may be aware of the outcomes of the cognitive
processes--that is, the meanings that are constructed by the cognitive processes--but they usually are not aware of the
cognitive operations that took place.
Automaticity has the obvious advantage of keeping our limited cognitive capacity free for other cognitive processing
tasks that are not well learned and, therefore, require conscious effort and control. But, in some circumstances,
automaticity has disadvantages in that our lack of control sometimes leads to inappropriate meanings
(misinterpretations or jumping to conclusions). Finally, note that distinguishing between completely automatic or
totally controlled processes is not possible. In fact, most consumer cognitive processing tasks--such as judging
which sweater looks best, deciding where to go out to eat, or choosing between two brands of jeans--involve
complex interactions of both automatic and controlled processes.
This automatic/controlled distinction has important implications for marketing managers. Since most attention is
automatic, marketing strategies can influence attention directly by manipulating cues and stimuli in the environment.
In a sense, marketing managers can "make" consumers think about what ever they want by presenting them with
stimuli that automatically activate representations and accompanying affective and cognitive responses.
Measuring consumers' rapid, unconscious, automatic attention processes can be tricky. Asking direct questions is a
problem, since most consumers are not aware of their automatic reactions. Some researchers use eye cameras that
can record what things are attracting attention by recording where a person is looking (what stimuli are attracting
In sum, a great deal of cognitive processing can occur even though consumers respond rapidly, with little apparent
effort and little awareness that anything has happened. In fact, most cognitive processes are so familiar and welllearned that they occur automatically, without any conscious awareness. Interestingly, the very automaticity of these
processes (and the corresponding lack of control by consumers) gives the marketer some degree of power over
consumers' cognitive processes.
Lecture Material for Class: Implications for Developing and Evaluating Marketing Strategies
John G. Lynch, Jr. and Thomas K. Srull (1982), "Memory and Attention Factors in Consumer Choice: Concepts and Research Methods,"
Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (September), 18-37.
Roy Lachman, Janet L. Lachman and Earl C. Butterfield (1979), Cognitive Psychology and Information Processing: An Introduction,
Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, p. 207.
This chapter discussed the exposure, attention and comprehension processes by which consumers acquire knowledge
about marketing information in their environments. Designing and implementing successful marketing strategies of
any type--whether price, product, promotion or distribution--requires that marketers consider each of these
information processing stages. Basically, the marketer must address three questions.
1. How can I maximize exposure of the marketing information to my target segment of consumers?
2. How can I capture the attention of my target segment of consumers?
3. At what level and amount of comprehension do I want my target segment of consumers to process my
Considering these exposure, attention, and comprehension issues has relevance for developing marketing strategies
in the following areas.
Product Labeling. Consumers are exposed to an extensive amount of information on the labels attached to most
consumer products--tags, stickers, and panels printed on the package. The effectiveness of label information
depends on whether consumers pay attention to this information and whether they understand it.
For instance, research typically finds that most consumers pay relatively little attention to the nutrition information
provided on many processed food products even though they claim to be interested.3 Some consumer segments,
however, do attend to nutrition label information. Consumers with special health problems or families with small
children tend to have higher intrinsic self-relevance for nutrition issues and greater involvement (more motivated) to
attend to and comprehend nutrition information.4
Information Labels. Other types of information are presented on product labels. Refrigerators and air conditioners
have energy-efficiency ratings on stickers; new cars have labels with the EPA estimated highway mileage; gasoline
pumps have octane rating labels. Ingredient labels identify the specific composition of processed foods and drug
products. Despite the huge amount of information on product labels, however, most evidence indicates that much of
this information does not have a major effect on consumers' behaviors. 5 We know that product labels must be seen,
attended to, and comprehended before they can affect consumers' behaviors.
Although research suggests that most consumers are aware of product label information, they do not pay much
attention to it until they become sufficiently involved with the product and/or the type of information. For example,
consumers are not likely to be concerned about the energy efficiency ratings on an air conditioner label unless they
are about to buy one (the situational self-relevance of the pending purchase creates sufficient involvement). Despite
their interest, however, if these situationally-involved consumers lack appropriate knowledge, meanings and beliefs,
they still may not be able to accurately comprehend the information.6
Warning Labels. Some product labels contain warnings to alert and inform consumers of potential dangers and risks.
Warning labels are found on such products as cigarettes, lawn mowers, antacids, and soft drinks sweetened with
saccharin. Most research seems to indicate that warning messages have relatively little effect on the broad
population. However, once again, persons for whom the danger/risk is especially salient (and who therefore have
higher intrinsic self-relevance and greater involvement) are somewhat more likely to pay attention and comprehend
the warning. However, over a prolonged period of exposure, consumers seem to get used to warning labels and
Jacob Jacoby, Robert W. Chestnut and William Silberman (1977), "Consumer Use and Comprehension of Nutrition Information," Journal of
Consumer Research, 4 (September), 119-128.
Joyce A. Vermeersch and Helene Swenerton (1980), "Interpretations of Nutrition Claims in Food Advertisements by Low-Income Consumers,"
Journal of Nutrition Education, 12 (1), 19-25.
For example, see Dennis L. McNeill and William L. Wilkie (1979), "Public Policy and Consumer Information: Impact of the New Energy
Labels," Journal of Consumer Research, 6 (June), 1-11.
For example, see Jacob Jacoby, Robert W. Chestnut and William Silberman (1977), "Consumer Use and Comprehension of Nutrition
Information," Journal of Consumer Research, 4(September), 119-128.
seldom attend to or comprehend them anymore. Because warnings seem to wear out over time, it has been suggested
that warning labels be rotated on a regular basis, to keep the message novel. 7
Pricing Strategies. Although price may seem like a simple marketing stimulus, consumers may construct a variety of
different meanings when comprehending a particular price ($4.95), a price change (an increase of 2 cents per gallon
in the cost of gasoline), or a specific pricing strategy (a $1250 rebate on all Chevrolets). In addition, consumers may
draw inferences about the reasons for these price strategies, and these interpretations might affect their behavior. For
instance, if consumers interpret a rebate program as intended to sell a poor-quality product that nobody would buy at
full price, they will be much less likely to buy the product. Consumer’s reactions to pricing strategies are discussed
in more detail in Chapter 19.
Like all meanings, consumers' interpretations of price are highly sensitive to context. A $10 meal might seem
unreasonably expensive in a fast-food hamburger restaurant, but might be seen as a bargain in a trendy cafe.
Distribution Strategies. The type of store where a product is sold and the network of store meanings and images can
provide powerful contextual cues, which influence consumers' inferences and the meanings they construct for
products sold in those stores. For some consumers, the same brand of jeans purchased in Saks or Macy's may have a
more positive set of meanings than if sold in Kmart or Target. That is, the store cues affect consumers'
comprehension of the brand meanings.
Advertising Strategies. More research has focused on the consumers' comprehension of meanings conveyed through
advertising, especially TV and print, than on the other elements of marketing strategy. This is probably because of
the huge sums of money involved in advertising. Advertisers have tried many advertising strategies--including
humor, slice-of-life, and emotional appeals.
When developing advertising strategies, marketers should consider the third issue--"What level and amount of
attention and comprehension do we want consumers to engage in during exposure to this ad?"
To be successful, certain advertising strategies require that consumers comprehend the ads at deep and elaborate
levels. Such intensive comprehension processing would be most advantageous for ads that promote highly involving
products. Consider the typical strategies followed by Saab, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz in their print advertising.
Many of these ads contain a great deal of product information describing technical attributes and functional
consequences of the cars. To fully comprehend this information, consumers must have fairly sophisticated
knowledge about automobiles and a sufficiently high level of involvement to engage in deep, elaborate, and effortful
comprehension processes.
For other advertising strategies, however, marketers may not want consumers to process ads at a deep, elaborate
level. Sometimes, a minimal, sensory-level of processing is desired. Consider the typical advertising for cologne,
soft drinks, or cigarettes. Often these ads contain virtually no written information beyond a brief slogan such as
"Come to Marlboro Country" or "Coke is it!" Comprehension of such ads does not produce rational means-end
chains of associated attributes and higher-ordered consequences. In fact, many of these ads seldom mention product
attributes. Apparently, marketers hope consumers will engage in relatively shallow, nonelaborate comprehension
processes. Some of these ads are just "reminders" to activate the brand name and keep its activation potential high.
The outcome might be brand name recognition and perhaps one or two vague, but positive, meanings.
In yet other advertising strategies, clothing marketers like Benetton, Calvin Klein, and Guess have created
intentionally ambiguous ads. Consider the introductory ad campaign for Infinity automobiles (late 1989/early 1990)
that showed rocks, haystacks, ocean waves, but no car. When these ads are attended to and comprehended, the
symbolic meanings constructed may vary widely from consumer to consumer. However, such strategies may be
effective as long as consumers' interpretations are generally favorable to the brand.
Public Policy Implications. The concepts regarding attention to and comprehension of marketing information also
have implications for public policymakers. Over the past 20 years, governmental policymakers, especially at the
Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration, have become quite active in developing
Raymond E. Schucker, Raymond C. Stokes, Michael L. Stewart and Douglas P. Henderson (1983), "The Impact of the Saccharin Warning
Label on Sales of Diet Soft Drinks in Supermarkets," Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 2, 46-57.
strategies for providing relevant information to consumers and/or requiring marketers to disclose certain information.
If these public policy information programs are to be effective, public policy strategists must also determine how to
maximize exposure, capture attention, and generate appropriate level of comprehension. 8
Possible Mini-Lecture: Consumer Characteristics that Influence Comprehension Processes.
Cognitive Processing Abilities. Consumers' cognitive skills and abilities affect their comprehension processes.
Consumers vary widely in their intelligence and creativity and in their self-confidence to be able to accurately
process information.9 These factors can affect the depth and elaboration of marketing information.
Mood and Emotional Factors. Consumers' moods and emotions during comprehension processes affect their
interpretations of marketing information. Activation of an emotion or mood tends to spread to other memory
representations with which it is connected.10 Thus, when in a good mood, consumers are more likely to attend to
positive, upbeat information and to comprehend positive meanings. Conversely, consumers in a negative mood are
more likely to attend to negative information and to form negative knowledge and beliefs. Therefore, marketers try
to create emotions or moods that are consistent with the overall meanings they want consumers to acquire. For
example, life insurance salespeople attempt to create a serious, somber mood conducive for getting consumers to
think about the financial consequences of dying. In contrast, the typical marketing strategies for products like soft
drinks, beer, cigarettes and sportswear attempt to generate a positive, upbeat mood, since the desired meanings of
these products are highly related to having fun, enjoyment, and happy social situations.
Current Goals. Motivation to process information is influenced by the consumers' current goals. For example, a
consumer who is considering buying a new stereo system has a greater motivation to attend to and comprehend the
information in a brochure describing a new Sony compact disk player than someone who is not "in the market." The
additional effort exerted in their comprehension processes tends to produce deeper, more abstract, and more
elaborate meanings for the marketing information.
Possible Lecture Material: Environmental Characteristics that Influence Comprehension Processes
Information Format. One of the most studied aspects of the marketing environment is the impact of information
format on consumer information processing.11 Format refers to the content and organization of the information in
the environment. The format of marketing information has been found to have a substantial impact on consumers'
Opportunity to Process. Attention and comprehension processes are highly influenced by the environment's impact
on consumers' opportunity to process the information. One of the most important differences between print
(magazines and newspapers) and broadcast (radio and TV) media is the opportunity they give consumers to process
information. In print, consumers control the length of time they are exposed--they can spend as much time as they
wish reading an advertisement. They have more control over the focus and the rate of processing during
James R. Bettman (1975), "Issues in Designing Consumer Information Environments," Journal of Consumer Research, 2 (December), 169177; Michael B. Mazis and Richard Staelin (1982), "Using Information-Processing Principles in Public Policy-making," Journal of Public
Policy & Marketing, 1, 3-14.
Elizabeth C. Hirschman (1980), "Innovativeness, Novelty Seeking, and Consumer Creativity," Journal of Consumer Research, 7 (December),
283-295; James M. Munch and John L. Swasy (198), "An Examination of Information Processing Traits: General Social Confidence and
Information Processing Confidence," in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 8, ed. Kent B. Monroe, Ann Arbor, MI: Association for
Consumer Research, 349-354; Peter Wright (1975), "Factors Affecting Cognitive Resistance to Advertising," Journal of Consumer Research, 2
(June), 1-9.
Gordon H. Bower (1981), "Mood and Memory," American Psychologist, 36 (February), 129-148.
James R. Bettman and Pradeep Kakkar (1977), "Effects of Information Presentation Format on Consumer Information Acquisition Strategies,"
Journal of Consumer Research, 3, 233-240.
Valarie A. Zeithaml (1982), "Consumer Response to In-Store Price Information Environments," Journal of Consumer Research, 8 (March),
In contrast, consumers have no control over exposure time to broadcast media. The rate of information transmission
is determined by the marketer, who can develop fast- or slow-paced ads. Consumers' focus of attention is thus more
stimulus driven--cues in the ad will activate relevant knowledge structures as the ad proceeds. If too much
information is presented too fast, or if inappropriate knowledge structures are activated, the consumer simply won't
be able to comprehend the information.
Contextual Influences. Besides the direct effects discussed above, the environment in the exposure situation also
provides an overall context, which influences the types of meanings produced by comprehension processes.
Contextual cues in the environment affect attention and comprehension processes by activating context-specific
memory representations that can spread through the memory network to related concepts. These contextual
meanings can influence comprehension processes and the encoded meanings of the marketing stimuli. Sometimes,
contextual cues activate an overall meaning or theme that influences more specific comprehension processing. For
instance, the anchor stores in a mall (those placed at the ends) provide an overall context--a kind of blanket image-for the entire mall and the other stores in it. Malls anchored by Sears and Penney's have a completely different
context (and a different image, flavor, feeling) than malls with anchor stores like Nieman-Marcus, Saks, or
As another example, consider the broad context provided by the general state of the economy. Price reductions and
rebates are interpreted by consumers within the context of their immediate economic circumstances. Such marketing
strategies are likely to be seen as more attractive in the context of hard times. As a final example, a TV program
provides a context that can influence the way consumers respond to ads that are embedded in it. Strange
juxtapositions (like placing a humorous, frivolous commercial within a serious news program) might produce
inappropriate meanings. Consumers' attention to and comprehension of a particular ad is also influenced by the
context provided by the other ads in a pod (the cluster of ads shown during a TV commercial break). 13
Miscellaneous Factors. Many environmental characteristics are not controllable by marketers, yet they have
powerful effects on consumer information processing and overt behavior. For instance, the amount of crowding or
noise in a store can distract consumers from attending to and comprehending product information in store displays.
As another example, the weather affects consumers' involvement/motivation and opportunity to process information.
Although rain, wind, and cold may not stop letter carriers, these factors can have big effects on consumers' shopping
behaviors. One explanation is that daily changes in the weather activate certain knowledge from memory that affects
attention and comprehension processing. The ubiquitous street vendors in New York City know very well that
umbrellas sell best when it is raining. The weather also affects the salience of certain products--it is difficult to sell
snow skis in summer and water skis in winter.
1. Describe the differences between accidental and intentional exposure to marketing information. Identify a
product for which each type of exposure is most common and discuss implications for developing effective
marketing strategies.
Most exposures to marketing information are accidental or non-intentional. We can think of accidental
exposure as random, but the possible exposures are strongly influenced by the consumer's environment.
Virtually any product which is widely promoted by mass advertising can provide good examples of
accidental exposure. Placing ads on billboards and bus placards are strategies to generate accidental
Intentional exposure is the result of some purposive search action on the part of the consumer. Most
specialty and shopping goods benefit from intentional exposure. Consumers engage in purposive search for
information when they are sufficiently motivated to do so. Brochures in salesrooms are usually picked up
intentionally by consumers. Some exposures to ads in specialty magazines (fitness, stereo, tennis, running,
Peter H. Webb (1979), "Consumer Initial Processing in a Difficult Media Environment," Journal of Consumer Research, 6 (December), 225236.
skiing) are intentional, as some people purposefully look through the magazine with the intent of examining
the ads, perhaps because they are considering a purchase in that domain.
Managers need to understand which types of exposures are most likely for their products and target markets.
Then they need to develop promotion and distribution strategies to facilitate intentional exposure, maximize
accidental exposure, and maintain exposure.
Give an example of automatic attention and contrast it with an example of controlled attention.
implications does this distinction have for marketing strategy?
Automatic attention implies a preconscious selection of information in the environment. An example would
be people's tendency to notice other cars that are like their own brand. Initial stages of attention and
comprehension processes tend to be preconscious. The other extreme of attention is called focal attention.
Here, information in the environment is consciously selected for analysis. Information in the environment
that is highly relevant to existing goals and values (hungry or thirsty) will tend to receive focal attention.
The two are contrasted in Exhibit 5.2 in the text.
A way to begin the discussion is to ask students to think of billboards to which some people might pay focal
attention, while others do not. Ask them for reasons why focal attention occurs.
These varying levels of attention have many marketing implications. These are organized in terms of
intrinsic and situational self-relevance in the text. Students need to recognize that preconscious attention is
a precondition to more controlled focal attention.
3. Media Dynamics has estimated that “the average adult in the U.S. (in 1993) was exposed to nearly 250
advertisements per day,” not including the myriad other messages on signs and billboards (others have
proposed far higher estimates of over 1,000 ads per day). This exposure is important, but not as important as
the number of choices that consumers have to make in a day. Products and brands that help simplify the
decision process should be viewed favorably. Discuss how the interpretation processes of exposure, attention,
and comprehension can influence consumers’ purchase decisions.
The question addresses three of the basic concepts introduced in this chapter, that of exposure, attention,
and comprehension. Exposure can be thought of as accidental or intentional. Most marketing messages are
subject to accidental exposure. We can think of accidental exposure as random, but the possible exposures
are strongly influenced by the consumer’s environment. Intentional exposure is the result of some
purposive search action on the part of the consumer. Most specialty and shopping goods benefit from
intentional exposure. Managers need to understand which types of exposures are most likely for their
products and target markets.
Attention, too, can be categorized as automatic or controlled. Automatic attention implies a preconscious
selection of information in the environment. An example would be people’s tendencies to notice other cars
similar to their own. The initial stages of attention and comprehension tend to be preconscious. The other
extreme of attention is called focal attention. Here information in the environment is consciously selected
for analysis. Information in the environment that is highly relevant to existing goals will tend to receive
focal attention.
Finally, comprehension can be thought of as being automatic or controlled. When the environment is
familiar, most consumers probably have enough knowledge to accomplish the task at hand and thus use
automatic comprehension processes. In contrast, comprehending the more complete and complex array of
information (for example, in a store that one has not been before) requires more controlled, and relatively
elaborate levels of comprehension.
Encouraging automatic processing will be good if our product offering is favored, if associative networks
contain favorable and correct information, and the response of the consumer is consistent with strategy
objectives. Different attention getting devices and different kinds of information will be needed to
encourage controlled, deep and elaborate comprehension processes if we want to change the consumer's
response by changing cognitive structures.
4. Discuss the different types of knowledge and meanings that "shallow” and “deep" comprehension processes
create. Can you relate these differences to different segments of consumers for the same product?
Shallow comprehension processes produce meanings about more concrete and tangible attributes while
deep comprehension processes yield meanings about more abstract, less tangible, more subjective, and
more symbolic concepts. From a means-end chain perspective, shallow processes may focus more on
product attributes, while deeper processes focus more on the psychosocial consequences and value states
achieved by product use.
Consumers who engage in deeper comprehension processes tend to be more involved and have more
detailed knowledge about the product category. In contrast, consumers who engage in more shallow
comprehension processes tend to be less involved and/or have relatively little detailed knowledge about the
product category.
Marketing strategies (promotion, retailing, sales promotions, and perhaps also product design) need to be
appropriate for one's customer segments. Selling cameras, for instance, to consumers with little product
knowledge requires simple product information that can be understood. Selling computer equipment to
highly knowledgeable and involved consumers requires complex and sophisticated information that they
want and can understand.
Review the differences in the knowledge and meanings that are produced by more and less elaborate
comprehension processes. When should marketing activities encourage or discourage elaboration of knowledge
and meaning?
This review question should lead students too much the same conclusions as in Question 4 above. More
elaborate comprehension processes produce a greater number of interrelated meanings, in contrast to less
elaborate comprehension processes.
The issue of appropriate marketing action is less clear. It is necessary to go back to the major means-end
chains for the target segment to decide if more knowledge, more meanings, and more complex associative
networks are likely to lead the consumer to the desirable market behavior. Once appropriate levels of
comprehension processing are reached that produce the appropriate meanings and lead to the "right"
behavioral response, the next step might be to maintain that knowledge and work toward developing
automatic responses to marketing information and routine or habitual purchasing behavior.
Highlight 5.3 describes the Good Housekeeping seal.
Visit the company web site at and read more about the seal and the Good Housekeeping Institute, which does
product testing. Consider two market segments: (1) young married women in their 20s and early 30s, with
young children, and (2) older married women in their forties and early fifties, with teenage children. Do you
think these consumers will attend to the seal in product advertisements? What level of attention do you think is
likely? What types of comprehension do you think consumers would have of the seal? Do you think that the
seal enhances the value of a product for these two types of consumers?
The Good Housekeeping seal is intended to be a resource to consumers who are shopping for household
goods and are unsure of the quality of the products they are purchasing, how to compare across brands.
This exercise illustrates the differences between expert and novice consumers and the differences in their
knowledge levels. Younger married women with relatively less experience in shopping for household
goods might find this resource to be a useful guide. It provides a substitute for knowledge and experience.
Thus, for this segment, the seal would be perceived as a good heuristic.
For older women, that is those who have some more years of experience and consequently more knowledge,
this seal might be relatively less useful. Even so, since the products that are examined by the institute cover
a wide range, consumers less knowledgeable about a particular category might find it useful. If the seal is
in fact seen as a mark of superior quality, then it may enhance the credibility of the product.
7. List some factors that could affect the inferences formed during comprehension of ads for packaged foods and
for medical services. Give examples of marketing strategies you would recommend to influence the inferences
that consumers form.
This review question should generate a stimulating class discussion, in part because inferences are
ubiquitous and inherently interesting.
Students should give examples that relate to consumers' knowledge in memory. Consumers with greater
experience in a domain should have richer, more complex knowledge structures which enable them to
generate more inferences. Consumers who have elaborate schemas can use these knowledge structures to
"fill in the blanks" when given incomplete information about a new product, for instance. Conversely,
novice consumers are limited in the inferences they can form. Involvement also influences inferences: more
involved consumers are more motivated to process information and generate inferences.
In some cases, students will be uncertain (or will disagree) about what is explicit and what is "obviously
intended or meant" in a message and what is "implicit." Using familiar symbols, repetitive phrases, and
building on related associations in consumers' memories are some intentional ways to influence inferences.
Most will probably come to the realization that virtually every aspect of an ad message (or any marketing
strategy) can lead consumers to form inferences about the product and other concepts. For instance, the
clothing and physical characteristics of the models in the ad, physical locations, use of terminology, type
face used, and type of treatment may all lead to inferences about medical services.
This exercise will give you a chance to discuss the implications (both positive and negative) of commonly
drawn inferences. It will be obvious that inferences can either facilitate or impede the success of the
marketing strategy. Students should also recognize that if results are dependent on appropriate inferences
being drawn by the target segment, the strategy should be pretested to verify that the desired response will
be achieved.
8. Consider an example of a marketing strategy that you think might result in some consumer miscomprehension.
Describe why this miscomprehension occurs. What could marketers (or public policymakers) do to reduce the
chances of miscomprehension?
This is a fairly difficult question, which may take some class time to cover adequately. Perhaps a graduate
class might generate more thoughtful responses. Basically the question assumes that at least preconscious
attention is achieved and that then something goes wrong to produce an inaccurate comprehension of the
information. Students should be able to find examples (usually they will be ads) that encourage possible
Of course, virtually any marketing strategy can be miscomprehended. In general, the more complex the
information provided through the strategy, the greater the chances for miscomprehension. Another factor
concerns how variable the target consumers are in terms of their existing knowledge. If consumers are quite
different, then there is a greater potential for miscomprehension.
Broadly speaking, there are two possible reasons for miscomprehension. The marketer may intentionally
try to deceive consumers by presenting false or misleading information that stimulates consumers to form
false inferential beliefs. Or, the miscomprehension may be due to consumers activating inappropriate
knowledge structures that lead to false inferences.
Students should recognize that marketers need to understand the existing knowledge and associative
networks of the recipient group so that inappropriate knowledge structures are not triggered or activated by
the marketing strategy. Students who dig back through the chapter carefully may come up with additional
explanations, which relate to an example they have selected. You could introduce extra information on
FTC guidelines or media standards for advertising deception if desired.
Discuss how interpretation processes (attention and comprehension) affect consumers’ ability to recall
marketing information. Illustrate your points with marketing examples.
Although attention and comprehension often occur almost simultaneously, it is useful to present these
concepts linearly. Clearly, attention is required for comprehension to occur. Attention requires that
consumers select some information while ignoring other information and is enhanced when consumer
arousal is high. The text discusses three factors that influence attention by influencing consumer arousal –
affective states, involvement, and environmental prominence. Bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble,
provide a rich context, as they try to create an environment that enhances attention. For example, music,
lighting, smells from the coffer bar, overstuffed furniture, etc, encourage positive affective states, which
facilitates attention.
Once consumers attend to marketing information they move to comprehension, or making sense of the
information. The text discusses four variations in comprehension (see Exhibit 5.3), including automatic
processing, level, elaboration, and memorability. Memorability is most relevant to recall and is impacted
by level and elaboration. Thus, marketing strategies that stimulate consumers to engage in deeper, more
elaborate comprehension processes enhance recall.
10. Identify a recent brand extension and discuss how exposure, attention, and comprehension processes can
influence the effectiveness of that brand extension.
This is a difficult question that will challenge students to apply concepts about exposure, attention and
comprehension processes to an actual marketing example. Consumers’ reactions to brand extensions
involve all the interpretation processes, including inferences.
Students should be able to identify a current brand extension and creatively think about the interpretation
process. They should cover the following points.
First, they should consider how consumers are likely to be exposed to information about the new product.
Attention processes will be influenced by the environment in which exposure occurs, as well as consumers’
level of involvement with the brand/product. Comprehension will be influenced by involvement as well as
consumers’ product knowledge about the previous brand and the product category. This knowledge will
drive inferences about the brand extension.