The Effects of Advertisement Variation and Need for Cognition on Attitudes toward Products

Stephen C. Nettelhorst, Robert J. Youmans


Consumers are often exposed to advertisement variations—several similar advertisements about the same product or service over time. This study tested whether participants’ initial attitudes about a product changed as cosmetic or substantive features of the advertisement were modified, and whether or not the effect of these modifications depended on participants’ need for cognition, which is the intrinsic motivation to process information. Three hundred nineteen undergraduate students answered questions designed to measure their need for cognition, viewed an initial advertisement for a fictitious electric automobile, and then rated the product. Two days later, the same participants viewed a different version of the advertisement for the automobile in which either cosmetic or substantive features had been changed, and then rated the product again. The results of the study revealed that attitude changes about the automobile were greatest when participants with low need for cognition were exposed to advertisements with cosmetic variations. The results suggest that changing initial public attitudes about an ongoing series of advertisements, public service announcements, or other media might be made most effective by making changes to those features that correspond to the intended audience’s estimated need for cognition.

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