The persuasive impact of autobiographical memories ads: schema-triggered affect or episodic self-referencing?

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Virginia Tech


Marketers frequently use autobiographical memories ads to induce persuasion. However, the few existing studies of autobiographical memories ads have produced inconsistent results regarding their persuasive impact. Moreover, there is little empirical support for the presumed process by which autobiographical memories ads work (i.e., episodic self-referencing). Similar to previous studies, the current study found scant evidence of episodic self-referencing. This study recharacterized self-referencing using the more general term "self-focus". In addition, this study suggested that a schema-based process can better explain the persuasive process in autobiographical memories ads rather than priming a specific episode from one's life.

To test these competing explanations (episodic self-referencing vs. schema-based), an experiment was conducted that exposed participants to a Florida vacation package ad either for a spring (schema-consistent) or a Thanksgiving (schema-inconsistent) break. The ad either made no explicit reference to the self (product-focus-ad) or made a reference to a past break experience (self- focus-ad). There were three different versions of the self-focus-ad. Participants in the Self-focus-ad condition simply viewed the ad. Participants in the Self-focus-ad Pre-essay condition wrote an essay on a past break experience prior to viewing the ad. Participants in the Self-focus-ad Post-essay wrote the essay after viewing the ad. The presentation order of two primary dependent measures (product evaluation and cognitive response) was also manipulated. Participants provided product evaluation ratings on the Florida college vacation package. The cognitive response measure was a thought listing task on the advertised product. A computer presented all stimuli and recorded participants' responses.

In general, the results support a schema-based process rather than episodic self-referencing in explaining the persuasive impact of autobiographical memories ads when the product evaluation measure preceded the cognitive response measure. A consistent schema-match produced a higher product evaluation than an inconsistent schema-match. Additionally, increasing self-focus after viewing the ad forced participants to contrast their past experience with the ad, resulting in a lower product evaluation. The results suggest that the persuasive mechanism underlying autobiographical memories ads can be better characterized by self-focus and self-relevance rather than by self-referencing of a past event. Implications for persuasion and advertising are discussed.