The Consumer Perceptions of Advertising Appeals

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The research focuses on consumer advertising appeals on a cross-cultural global spectrum. It is imperative for advertising agencies to understand that each culture is not only different on a global cultural spectrum but also unique in different sub-cultures. The perceptions of advertising appeals are ever changing and this research study discusses the different appeals used to target consumers across the global cultural spectrum. 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 study 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?

How modern trends are influencing people of different cultures to be more acceptant of advertising appeals that would otherwise be rejected?

How do males and females react to different hard-sell and soft-sell (warmth, humor and eroticism) advertising appeals?

The research paper helps to understand the impact of consumer perceptions of advertising appeals on a global cultural spectrum.


As globalization continues to develop at a fast pace, many consumers are being able to view advertisements of products from regions they could not view a few years ago. The diminishing of national boundaries has increased more than ever the selection of products and brand names from which customers can choose (Kalliny & Gentry, 2007). Global cultural spectrum is the understanding that across the entire world, we are all the same but differ in many aspects of life other than gender and ethnicity. Because of the vast global cultural spectrum, it is imperative for advertisers to understand many different cultures and know that different advertising appeals will have an impact differently in each region.

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.

Literature Review

Hard sell refers to a more direct approach to selling which in contrast soft-sell approaches are more subtle and indirect (Okazaki, Mueller, & Taylor, 2010 a). To distinguish between hard-sell and soft-sell, "….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 a). 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 soft-sell and hard-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.

Figure 1a: Measuring Soft-Sell Appeals Figure 1b: Measuring Hard-Sell Appeals

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.

In Japanese advertising, hard sell is used in its rarest form. A minimal number of all Japanese advertisements surveyed contained comparative or competitive statements which emphasized the brand's superiority over other products. The comparative appeals were "softened" in that competitors were not named by brand; the advertisement simply ask the consumer to "please compare" (Mueller, 1987). This shows that the Japanese culture and many Asian countries do not try to deface or belittle another company's brand. This compared to American advertisement is very different because American advertising is more aggressive, direct and competitive where competitors' names, brands, logos and trademarks are displayed clearly to the consumer for making the right choice / decision.

In many Middle Eastern Countries, often referred to as the Arab world where the primary religion is Islam, a greater rejection of hard sell form of advertising appeal is observed. Because hard sell often requires many comparisons and a strong competitive state, this form is less prevalent in many Middle Eastern countries (Kalliny & Gentry, 2007). In the Middle-East, where religion plays a greater cultural sentiment, times of the day when the advertisements are relayed to the general public through television commercials, are very significant and are dependent on the religious needs of the people.

On the other hand, American advertising uses competitive and aggressive form of hard-sell advertising. Often, when companies are rivals they compare their similar products and deface the other organization by using their logo or a phrase that may be symbolic to that organization. Figure 2 shows a form of competitive advertising. Figure 2 illustrates Apple advertising where Mac is shown as a human character, who is more interesting, entertaining, and enjoyable than the attributes given to the PC character. Although the images use a soft-sell approach, the competitive nature of such advertisements makes it hard-sell.

In British commercials, a soft sell approach is used more than in American Commercials. According to research conducted by Ogilvy & Mather, it was concluded that British commercials are seen as less informative, but this does not seem to be a source of boredom or irritation, as might be expected; on the contrary, significantly more respondents are bored with American commercials where the information content is higher (Nevett, 1992).

Sex-Appeals are yet another form of advertising that is very popular in certain regions of the world but are frowned upon in many others. Many of these appeals include nudity or any sexual explicitness of a man or a woman (Putrevu, 2008). When dealing with sexual appeals, possessing knowledge of vast global cultural spectrum is significant because views of sexual appeals differ greatly and can cause a strong revolt if it is found offensive culturally. Figures 3 and 4 are both Levi's advertisements using different methods to appeal to different crowds. Figure 3 is an advertisement where everyone is fully clothed and there is a simple tagline. Figure 4 uses more of a sexual appeal by using a topless male actor and a female feeling on his genital area.

mac-vs-pc1.jpglevis_ready_to_work_011.jpglevis sex appeals.jpg

Figure 2: Competitive Advertising Figure 3: Non-Sexual Appeal Figure 4: Sexual Appeal

Research Methodology

We conducted a focus group research where a sample size of 30 undergraduate students at a Historically Black College University (HBCU) was selected for the purpose of the research study, out of which 20 were women. The group was divided into 2 focus groups of 15 students each. The study was confined to laptops / desktops ads. 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 10 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"). The ads are given as Appendix-I.

Second Qualitative Stage - These 8 stimuli were then presented to the two focus groups of 15 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.

Research Findings and Conclusion

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.

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.

In a global economy today where advertisers must be able to market many different consumers' worldwide, understanding different appeals and having a strong global cultural spectrum is imperative. Hard-sell and soft-sell advertising appeals must be explored further in the context of brand and ad-attitudes and purchase intentions.