Abstract: This research study is designed to describe the differences between "hard-sell" and "soft-sell" approaches as creative strategies in advertising, although a concrete definition is not yet widely accepted for either term. An analysis of these two creative strategies along with other types of advertising appeals have been compared and contrasted, and presented to consumers of different cultures from various nationalities to determine which appeals work better with certain target markets. The cultures in the United States and in Eastern nations may have significant cultural differences; however, all have target markets that are acceptant of modern trends, that lead to some cultural similarities, respond similarly to advertising appeals in certain instances. The research paper focuses on the following research questions.
How do the cultures in the United States and in Eastern cultures differ concerning advertising appeals?
How are target markets in different countries acceptant of modern trends in advertising?
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How do males and females react to different hard-sell and soft-sell (warmth, humor and eroticism) advertising appeals?
The research paper proposes the AD Hard-Soft conceptual framework which focuses on attitudes toward the ad, brand and purchase intentions through the usage of hard-sell and soft-sell advertising appeals. The paper uses qualitative research wherein different ads with varying advertising appeals were utilized and their findings are recorded. The differences between hard-sell and soft-sell are highlighted through this research.
Keywords: Hard sell, soft sell, advertising appeals, individual appeals, argument-based appeals.
Researchers have focused on different types of advertising appeals: soft-sell, hard-sell, veneration of elderly and traditional, status, nature, youth, individual, product-merit, manipulation, modern, western versus eastern, and others. With soft-sell appeals, human emotions are played upon to relay a favorable image to a consumer, rather than specific product benefits. Hard-sell appeals are used to stress what the product and service can contribute, the benefits, and sometimes the brand.
In some advertising appeals, the elderly are sought for advice and suggestions because they are considered to have wisdom. Status appeals bank on the fact that one would like to be seen with a favorable image in the eyes of others. Nature appeals stress the unity that man and nature should possess, how they interact and should work together. If central ideas are connected with advertising appeals that are used to develop global consumer culture and positioning, then it may be considered as a modernized contemporary appeal. When an appeal exerts the fact that a product, service, or simply a brand makes it unique then it may be an independent and/or individual appeal. Contemporary and modern themes or ideas are a sign of youth-like appeal, while product-merit (a type of hard-sell) appeal illustrates product's features and benefits, and hence appeal to a more mature target market.
In this research study, hard-sell and soft-approaches are compared and contrasted. The soft-sell approach is more suitable when it is based on image-oriented content that does not emphasize specific reasons to buy but rather conveys general association with the brand (Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor, 2010 a). This is why Japan, China, India, and other Eastern nations favorably use soft-sell approaches that will not offend consumers by using a direct aggressive approach. It is culturally offensive and even disrespectful to directly approach consumers with the benefits and features of a product or service without first luring them in with a favorable image, perhaps through sensitivity of emotions which are culturally significant and relevant. In contrast, the hard-sell approach is based on distinct and explicit content that emphasizes product advantages, performance (Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor, 2010 b) and the factual information may be mixed easily with soft-sell by way of imagery and animation.
In contrast to the many definitions that have been provided for hard-sell and soft-sell in the advertising literature, there is no common definition or specific device that can be used to measure either type of appeal. According to most scholars, hard-sell refers to advertisement that relates to the direct benefits that a consumer receives from the product, whereas soft-sell plays on a consumer's feelings in a more indirect manner. When studying the prominent advertising strategies and seeing which appeal is most effective to a target market, culture appears to be the main determinant. In Western cultures, hard-sell appeals are frequently used in advertisements, and soft-sell approaches are more common in advertisements targeting Eastern audiences.
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According to research, it can be implied that brand awareness tends to be higher in general for brands that are either "visible/soft sell" or "emergers" (new to the market) when referring to ad awareness (Batra, Lehmann, Burke, and Jae, 1995). This means that soft-sell advertising appeals are more efficient to promote brand awareness because it appeals to one's emotions and the image of the brand stays in the top of the consumer's mind. Top of the mind awareness is created through making emotional feelings memorable, and brand awareness becomes a direct resultant of this strategy. This further proves that advertising impacts branding in a positive manner. However, "â€¦purchase intentions are significantly higher when the ad copy is not soft sell (oriented toward image, emotion, or humor), but instead focuses on product benefits" (Batra, Lehmann, Burke, and Jae, 1995). Some hard-sell approaches include "repetition/familiarization, comparison, habit starting by trials/simulations, rational reasoning and special incentives" (Okazaki and Alonso, 2003) while soft-sell approaches include human emotions, characters, celebrity endorsement, curiosity, arousal, emotional/psychological appeals, entertainment, imagery, animation, rotoscoping, and symbolic/visual metaphors.
Hard-sell, as stated earlier, explains the product benefits and entices the customer to make a purchase that will meet their needs, expectations, and desires. The research goal is to compare and contrast the effectiveness of hard-sell and soft-sell approaches vis-à-vis different cultures.
This research addresses the following questions.
Why is soft-sell appeal more effective for brand awareness, while hard-sell is more effective to persuade a consumer to make an immediate purchase;
Why culture is the reason advertising appeals must differ to be effective in target markets of various geographic locations; and
How modern trends are influencing people of different cultures to be more acceptant of advertising appeals that would otherwise be rejected.
The research proposes the AD Hard-Soft conceptual framework highlighting the attitudes toward the advertising, brand and purchase intentions with the usage of hard-sell and soft-sell advertising appeals.
Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor (2010 b) notes that the hard-sell and soft-sell advertising concepts have been researched and provided with definitions since 1911. Through intensive research, reviews, and discussions they "proposed that three fundamental dimensions underlie soft-sell and hard-sell appeals: feeling vs. thinking, implicit versus explicit, and image versus fact" (Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor, 2010 b). Soft-sell approaches that displayed images, beautiful pictures and scenery, and other indirect methods were less annoying and aggressive.
Chu, Gerstner, and Hess, 1995) concluded that hard-sell approaches had a better chance of surviving in a more competitive environment, consumers are negatively affected, and sellers gain more from making their products better (to make features more appealing than competitors). In fact, telemarketers are taught not to use hard-sell approaches at all, but to simply use a script that detects interested consumers (Jolson, 1986). Soft-sell approaches may be more effective when selling products that provide pleasure, whereas technological and functional products and services sell best with a hard-sell approach that can promote the features and benefits. However, simply using a hard-sell approach may fail if good customer service and satisfaction is not provided for the consumer (Marr and Prendergast, 1990).
To further distinguish between hard-sell and soft-sell, "â€¦.three primary dimensions of soft-sell appeals: feeling (creative, instinctive, imaginative, and abstract), implicitness (insinuation, appealing, subjective, and expressive), image (entertaining, interpretive, playful, and impression based)" were provided by Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor (2010 b). On the other hand, Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor (2010 a) stated that hard-sell appeals consist of three dimensions: thinking (rational, logical, analytic, factual, and concrete), explicitness (precise, explanation, convincing, persuasion, and instructive), and fact (educational, descriptive, realistic, informative, and evidence-based).
Figures 1a and 1b describe the models for hard sell and soft sell, as proposed by Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor (2010 b). Figure 1a shows how "feeling", "implicitness", and "image" are three ad-measurements that are characteristics of the soft-sell appeal. Similarly, Figure 1b provides three terms - "thinking", "explicitness", and "fact", to help gestate the ad-measurements for the hard-sell appeal. The measurements of the hard sell appeal in Figure 1b appear to almost contrast the measurements of the soft-sell appeal in Figure 1a.
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Bülbül and Menon (2010) provided distinctions of how hard-sell appeals are more concrete and they may generate behavioral responses instantly. Their research suggested that hard-sell advertisements influence the consumer to make a decision immediately, but loyalty will not be established as it would through the feelings that are generated through soft-sell advertisements that produce emotions.
Chandy, Tellis, Macinnis, and Thaivanich (2001) provide a framework for determining why certain appeals work better in different markets and cultures. Chinese commercials use more soft-sell approaches because it is not polite to be direct in the Chinese culture (Lin, 2001).
In order to appeal to the target market, a company must appeal to something that the audience can relate to: respect, nature, feelings, emotions, art, and/or something that appeals to one's desires and cultural values. That is why more Eastern advertising agencies use cartoons and effects that stimulate the minds of children or the adults perhaps as an indirect method. Even the Japanese websites of multinational corporations use more creative tactics, to avoid the hard-sell approach which may offend the audience (Johansson, 1994).
Most modern, Western nations use more hard-sell approaches, with the exception of Britain. Britain uses soft-sell approach widely and effectively due to the presence of multi-cultural diverse population, differences in the social-cultural contexts, advertising industry environment variances, and differences in philosophy and execution that may be controlled by government and political structure (Nevett, 1992).
Figure 1a: Measuring Soft-Sell Appeals (Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor, 2010)
Figure 1b: Measuring Hard-Sell Appeals (Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor, 2010 b)
Brand and Ad Attitudes
Mitchell and Olson (1981) highlighted the major influence of the attitude towards the ad (Aad) by demonstrating that the effect of visual and emotional elements on the attitude towards the brand (Ab) is mediated by Aad. This theory assumes a direct link between Aad and Ab and implies that a positive attitude towards the ad is directly carried over to a positive attitude towards the brand. Research has concluded that ad evaluations were debilitated by negative affect and stimulated by positive affect (Goldberg and Gorn 1987; Mitchell 1986; Russo, Shah, and Park 1994; Scrull 1983).
Figure 2 illustrates the Dual Mediation Hypothesis Model. This model has received most support as a means of representing the interrelationships between Aad, brand and ad cognitions, Ab and PI (MacKenzie and Lutz, 1989; Brown and Stayman 1992).
Figure 2: Dual Mediation Hypothesis Model
Figure 2 (Dual Mediation Hypothesis Model) supports models of Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor (2010) in a way that there is no direct correlation between the dimensions and the advertising appeals, but they can be used as ad-measurements and consequences. Common feelings and other characteristics may be apparent in certain types of appeals, but there has been no proof of how brand and ad attitudes, purchase intention, purchase initiators, and other factors are directly correlated as a result of certain ads displaying specific appeals.
Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor (2010) provided with the models of hard-sell and soft-sell advertising appeals. Dual Mediation Hypothesis Model elaborated on the relationships between ad and brand cognitions, and ad and brand attitudes, leading to purchase intentions. We create a new conceptual model called AD Hard-Soft Framework illustrating the hard-sell and soft-sell advertising appeals and their consequences on building ad and brand attitudes and purchase intentions. The model is created from the goals and objectives of a firm, which may actually determine which appeal is used, along with the cultural context of the firm / company.
The AD Hard-Soft model in Figure 3 illustrates the cause and effect relationship between the advertising appeals (hard-sell and soft-sell), attitudes (towards the advertisement and brand), and subsequently to purchase intentions.
Attitude Towards the Ad
Attitude Towards the Brand
Figure 3: AD Hard-Soft Conceptual Framework and Drivers of Hard-Sell and Soft-Sell Appeals
Figure 3 illustrates our conceptual framework - "AD Hard-Soft" model depicting the drivers of hard-sell and soft-sell appeals and their consequences. We conceptualize a direct relationship of hard sell and soft sell advertising appeals with attitude towards the advertisement, attitude towards the brand; which further affect the purchase intentions. Figure 3 shows four drivers for hard sell advertising appeal - thinking, explicitness, informational/rational reasoning and fact; and four drivers for soft sell advertising appeal - feeling, implicitness, inherent drama and image. These drivers lead to the attitude towards the ad, brand and purchase intentions.
We conducted a focus group research where a sample size of 70 undergraduate students at a Historically Black College University (HBCU) was selected for the purpose of the research study, out of which 45 were women. The group was divided into 2 focus groups of 35 students each. The study was confined to alcoholic ads. There are several reasons for choosing this category - all subjects were old enough to drink legally and responsibly. Four Volumes of 5 magazines (Vanity Fair, Time, Cosmopolitan, Essence, and People) were screened - the result was an initial set of 33 ads in three categories.
First Qualitative Stage - 33 ads / stimuli were presented to a jury of 15 students in order to judge the degree of humor, warmth, eroticism of each stimulus. The results of this qualitative stage were ordered category ranking of 33 stimuli - frequency counts were conducted and finally, 8 stimuli were selected - 2 stimuli with the highest number of assignments to the "humorous" category, 2 warm, 2 erotic, and 2 non-emotional/neutral hard-sell stimuli. The hard sell neutral stimulus was defined as the one often assigned as "not humorous", "not erotic", and "not warm"). These 8 stimuli are presented as Appendix I at the end of this paper.
Second Qualitative Stage - These 8 stimuli were then presented to the two focus groups of 35 students each, in random order for each student. Randomization was used to avoid systematic measurement errors as a result of respondent wear-out. Since the population at a HBCU is homogenous with similar socio-demographic characteristics; only gender was included as a classification question. Thereafter, the findings were recorded for these focus groups and generalized for males versus females.
After conducting the research, we obtain the following results. Women feel more cheerful then men when warm and soft sell ads are conveyed and the opposite is true for erotic stimuli - men feel more cheerful than women when exposed to erotic ads. Soft Sell emotional appeals of warmth, humor and eroticism lead to more positive feelings than the non-emotional hard sell appeals.
Brand interest, and positive emotion and impression about the brand and an ad, leads to positive purchase intention. Soft sell strategies make ads more interesting and likeable leading to positive intentions to buy, while hard-sell strategies ignite more likeability but do not strike interest in the target audience.
The research study revisits the concepts of advertising appeals, especially hard-sell and soft-sell appeals, and explains how there is not one widely accepted definition for an appeal. However, the fundamental dimensions to measure these appeals are widely accepted, as depicted in Figure 1a and 1b. Our proposed AD Hard-Soft conceptual model may be accepted with new dimensions of information/ rational reasoning dimension, inherent drama, and image, with theory and reasonable explanations. The information/rational reasoning dimension has been added because it is needed to explain the functional aspect of the hard-sell approach. Without information and reasoning, the functional perspective of the hard-sell approach is non-existent in an advertising strategy. Likewise, the inherent drama dimension has been added to the soft-sell model because emotions, feelings, and the other dimensions that measure a soft-sell appeal do not exist if the advertising strategy cannot emphasize the benefits of purchasing a product or service.
Our research findings are significant with respect to the use of warmth, humor and eroticism as soft-sell appeals and neutral stimulus as hard sell appeal. The limitations of the study are that only print ads were used and analyzed, students alone were included and existing products' ads were used. It may be argued that for new brands and new products, emotional soft-sell advertising appeals may be less suited and informational hard-sell appeals will work better.
Future research may focus on the new added dimensions of hard-sell and soft-sell advertising appeal drivers. Empirical research needs to be used for testing the conceptual model. Hard-sell and soft-sell advertising appeals must be explored further in the context of brand and ad-attitudes and purchase intentions.