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For better or for worse -- Optimists and pessimists are influenced by different ad messages

University of Chicago Press Journals

When it comes to financial matters, people tend to fall into two categories: prevention-focused (risk-averse) or promotion-focused (gain-oriented). A study in the June issue of the Journal of Consumer Research tests comparative ads that are positively framed ("Brand X is better than Brand Y") and negatively framed ("Brand Y is worse than Brand X"), and analyzes how their effects might differ depending on your initial mindset.

Shailendra Pratap Jain (Indiana University), Charles Lindsey (SUNY Buffalo), Nidhi Agrawal (Northwestern University), and Durairaj Maheswaran (NYU) found that financial outlook - which can shift after a traumatic event, such as stock market losses -was also reflected in how people viewed advertising. Prevention- focused consumers responded most favorably to messages emphasizing safety and loss-avoidance while promotion-focused consumers were drawn to ads promoting achievement and gain-seeking.

'This research shows that the effectiveness of positively and negatively framed direct comparative ads depends on differences among consumers (i.e., whether they are prevention or promotion focused). Thus, it underscores some consumer and message considerations that managers need to take into account in executing comparative advertising strategies," the authors write.

Interestingly, prevention-focused people also had a stronger preference for consistency. They tended to favor the brand being advertised over the brand to which it was compared. Prevention-focused people also looked at the comparison brand first, while promotion-focused people evaluated the advertised brand.

"We find that focus differentially influences which brand is evaluated first, which comparative frame is effect in driving evaluations, and whether a higher/lower rating of the initially evaluated brand influences the rating of the subsequently evaluated brand," the authors conclude.

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Shailendra Pratap Jain, Charles Lindsey, Nidhi Agrawal, and Durairaj Maheswaran. "For Better or For Worse" Valenced Comparative Frames and Regulatory Focus," Journal of Consumer Research: June 2007.

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