Impact of Incidental Aesthetics on Consumer Evaluations

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Virginia Tech

This doctoral dissertation investigates the impact of incidental aesthetics on consumer perceptions. The author refers to incidental aesthetics in two dimensions. One is in the aesthetic properties of product context that is not directly related to its functional performance. And second is in the aesthetic attributes found in unexpected sources defined as ordinary objects, places, and people. Drawing on theories from aesthetics, psychology, and consumer behavior, this dissertation examines in two manuscripts how and why incidental aesthetics influence consumer evaluations. The first paper, 'Welded Together: How Responses to Incidental, Nondiagnostic Sensory Context (Mis)Guide Simultaneous Product Evaluations,' studies how evaluations of incidental aesthetics from a sensory experience with nondiagnostic product contextual cues are merged with the evaluations of the target product. The second paper, 'Consumer Attentiveness to Beauty in the Ordinary,' examines an understudied dimension of beauty. The construct of attentiveness to beauty in the ordinary is defined as the degree to which individuals mindfully identify and formulate an aesthetic judgment of common visual elements and integrate this mindset into their daily experiences. The authors develop a four-item Attentiveness to Beauty in the Ordinary Scale to measure the construct. Using a mixed-methods approach, combining a series of laboratory experiments and field studies from a diverse sample of consumers (Npaper1 = 49,435; Npaper2 = 2,051), the authors show in the first paper that unappealing (appealing) incidental sensory experiences lead to lower (higher) product evaluations, including perceived quality and purchase intention. The effect emerges when the incidental evaluation pertains to a dimension closely related to the product dimension being evaluated. In the second paper, the findings provide evidence of validity and reliability of the Attentiveness to Beauty in the Ordinary Scale, situate the scale in a network of related constructs such as appreciation of beauty, engagement with beauty, dispositional awe, voluntary simplicity, materialism, mindfulness, and subjective happiness, and demonstrate the predictive value of the scale for consumer perceptions and behavior. Specifically, people high (vs. low) in ordinary beauty attentiveness are less discriminating in aesthetic evaluations of ordinary elements, find higher product quality in naturally-aesthetic packaging, are less persuaded by endorsers' attractiveness, and are more likely to buy imperfect produce. This dissertation contributes to the literature on aesthetics and sensory marketing by revealing that aesthetic experiences that are not intentionally designed or not expected but naturally occur in consumption environments have a significant impact on consumer evaluations. The results have practical implications for marketers and designers, who can leverage the power of incidental aesthetics in marketing strategies to enhance product perceptions.

sensory marketing, incidental context, nondiagnostic, product evaluations, aesthetics, beauty attentiveness, everyday aesthetics, voluntary simplicity, mindfulness, subjective happiness