This research aims to analyze whether the self-regulatory focus, a consumer variable, moderates the impact of incongruity on consumer evaluations. A congruity or typicality arises when a product (e.g. champagne) is consistently consumed in certain occasions or is used in conjunction with other specific products. This typicality may remind people of the product with regard to specific contexts but may limit the product’s overall versatility. In line with the moderate incongruity effect, there may be an opportunity to extend a product usage to situations associated with moderate incongruity or atypicality.
Study 1 is a 2 (self-regulatory focus: promotion/prevention) × 3 (atypicality of product usage context: typical/moderately atypical/highly atypical) between-subject experimental design. Study 2 replicated Study 1 with a sample of different age, three different champagne usage contexts and a manipulation of self-regulatory focus. Study 3 is a 2 (self-regulatory focus: promotion/prevention) × 3 (atypicality of product usage context: typical/moderately atypical/highly atypical) × 2 (product replicates: red wine/pearl jewelry) mixed design with self-regulatory focus and atypicality as between-subjects factors and product replicates as a within-subject variable.
Promotion-focus consumers’ product evaluations for the moderate incongruity or atypicality are higher than those for congruity and extreme incongruity. The relationship takes an inverted-U shape. Prevention-focus consumers’ product evaluations decrease monotonically as congruity decreases. Moreover, compared with prevention-focus individuals, promotion-focus ones evaluate moderate incongruity more favorably.
There are some limitations to this research. First, it only investigates the moderate incongruity effect with regard to product use occasions and complementary products. To increase the external validity of self-regulatory focus as a moderator of incongruity-evaluation relationships, it remains to future research to extend the research setting to products which have been tightly bonded to specific users, locations, seasons or times. Second, although the experimental designs are similar to previous ones, the scenarios are nevertheless imaginary. Therefore, participants’ involvement levels in all manipulated situations, as well as the quality of their answers, remain unknown.
First, brand managers should target only promotion-focus customers to obtain the moderate incongruity effect, but should maintain a consistent marketing strategy for prevention-focus customers. Second, because both promotion- and prevention-focus individuals have unfavorable evaluations of extreme incongruity, drastic changes in marketing strategies should be avoided. Third, people from a Western (Eastern) culture exhibit more promotion (prevention) focus orientation. Therefore, the type of culture can serve as an indicator of regulatory orientation. Fourth, a gain-framed appeal is recommended for realizing the moderate incongruity effect from promotion-focus consumers. Finally, promotion-focus (vs prevention-focus) consumers will welcome a moderately nonalignable than alignable product upgrade.
Most prior research on goal orientation has found that promotion-focus (vs. prevention-focus) individuals are more inclined to adopt new products, but both types of people are unlikely to purchase new products when the associated risks become salient, while the research related to schema incongruity has suggested that the moderate incongruity effect may not exist when consumers perceive high risks. By combining both schema congruity and self-regulatory focus theories, this research provides a more precise picture of how and why a person’s goal orientation influences the relative salience of risks and benefits with an increase in incongruity.
Chang, S.-S., Chang, C.-C., Chien, Y.-L. and Chang, J.-H. (2014), "Having champagne without celebration? The impact of self-regulatory focus on moderate incongruity effect", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 48 No. 11/12, pp. 1939-1961. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-07-2012-0388
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