Product categorization and consumers' prior knowledge: implications for comparative advertising

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Over the years, marketing researchers have conducted several investigations measuring the effectiveness of comparative advertising. The results of the investigations in this stream of research have been equivocal. While the results of some of the studies show comparative advertising inferior to noncomparative advertising, the results of some other studies show the opposite. A few other investigations show no difference between the effects of comparative and noncomparative advertising.

After explaining the phenomenon of comparative advertising, its conceptualization is examined critically. Using the principles of categorization, the phenomenon of comparative advertising is reconceptualized.

Next, the research proceeds to examine the effects of some of the dimensions of comparative advertising identified in its conceptualization. Specifically, this research analyzes the effects of explicitness of comparisons and specificity of cues in advertisements on consumers with differing levels of product familiarity. In a laboratory environment, the subjects’ responses to the advertisements are collected for informativeness of the advertisement, extreme brand evaluations, confidence in evaluations and purchase intention.

The results show that high as well as low familiarity consumers find the explicit comparative advertisements more informative than the noncomparative advertisements. High familiarity consumers’ affective brand evaluation is more extreme and their purchase intention is greater with the explicit comparative advertisement than the noncomparative advertising. Further, the attribute cues about the sponsored brand in an advertisement are more effective than the general cues in raising the perceived informativeness of advertisements and their purchase intention more than the general information. Finally, the conceptual, substantive and methodological implications of the results are discussed and the directions for future research are identified.