Cole, G. (2014), "Executive summary of “Can vague brand slogans promote desirable consumer responses?”", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 23 No. 4/5. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPBM-07-2014-0668Download as .RIS
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Executive summary of “Can vague brand slogans promote desirable consumer responses?”
Article Type: Executive summary and implications for managers and executives From: Journal of Product & Brand Management, Volume 23, Issue 4/5
This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives a rapid appreciation of the content of the article. Those with a particular interest in the topic covered may then read the article in toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of the research undertaken and its results to get the full benefit of the material present.
Slogans have been an inherent part of advertising for a considerable time. They help to aid recall of advertisements and create favorable impressions of specific qualities of the advertised brand. When effective, slogans inspire word-of-mouth among readers and become ingrained into the culture of their era.
Research has previously identified “memorability, substance, novelty and/or appropriateness/usefulness” as the most influential facets of easily remembered slogans. Use of rhyme, alliteration and other poetic devices are routinely used to aid recollection and memorability.
The conventional use of slogans has generally been to reinforce precise claims and emphasize qualities which enable the advertised brand to stand out from others. More recently, however, studies have cast doubt on how much specific messages aid recall. Suggestions that consumers most influenced may already be equipped with pertinent knowledge or be motivated in appropriate ways have been forwarded. Some reports claim that “vivid information” generates “illusory” rather than genuine effects.
Scholars have also begun to investigate whether “purposely vague” brand slogans might actually be able to induce a desired reaction from consumers. The question for marketers is to identify the dimensions of vagueness which are likeliest to trigger this response. The crucial nature of this is compounded by the fact that advertising absorbs huge resources and decisions should be founded on insight rather than mere hunch.
In an advertising context, vagueness might be interpreted as content and/or structure of sentences and phrases not being patently clear, explicit or informative. Recipient confusion that arises might be down to the unconventional nature of slogan forms rather than any deliberate violation of accepted “semantic standards”. Intentionally using definition fragments or unclear predicate meanings are also features of vagueness, different scholars assert. The resulting ambiguity means that whether or not statements are “true or false” cannot be determined. What essentially occurs is that the brain fills in the gaps between the surface and deep structures so that the statements become “logically acceptable” to the individual concerned.
Previous work has seen the development of a “theoretical tool” able to identify vagueness in verbal content. This tool can be adapted as a framework for detecting of different levels of vagueness in brand slogans. The so-called “meta-model” consists of three dimensions, each of which incorporates several sub-dimensions:
Deletion: This is defined as people selecting parts of an experience they understand better or are most comfortable with and overlooking other parts. Sub-dimensions of deletion are simple deletion, comparative deletion and unspecified nouns or verbs.
Generalization: This reflects the use of certain aspects of elements to represent the whole experience. Universal quantifiers, modal operators and nominalization are the sub-dimensions here.
Distortion: Changes made prior to or after an experience and regarded as “mindful shifts” is the essence of this dimension. Fantasy is cited as an example of distortion which includes mind reading, cause–effect, complex equivalence and presuppositions as its sub-dimensions.
In a preliminary study, Strutton & Roswinanto set out to amass a portfolio of slogans associated with consumer brands. Various sources were used, and a total of 1,441 brands were examined for evidence of vagueness within print slogans used. All dimensions and sub-dimensions of the construct formed part of the coding process.
The most common vagueness dimension was deletion, followed by distortion, and then generalization. These indications held constant, regardless of product or market type and continent of brand origin. Slogans ranged from 1 to 16 words in length, with 5 and 6 being the most deployed word counts. Earlier research had claimed that people are generally able to process a maximum number of seven pieces of information simultaneously. Correlation was evident between vagueness and the number or words in a slogan and message clarity diminished as each word was added.
Advertising aims to maximize information relevance to both target audiences and the masses. It is purported that vagueness can help achieve this goal provided slogans are “optimally vague”. The premise is that the receiver’s brain would search for information needed to complete the message. However, the slogan needs to be relevant enough to prompt this search, given the evidence that human communication is driven by desires to expend minimal effort to achieve maximum effect.
Word count is closely linked with relevance, and the authors consider the impact on brand cognition, brand attitudes, advertising persuasiveness and purchase intention of short slogans and precise slogans with longer messages.
Need for cognition (NFC) among consumers has been examined in previous studies. The key difference is that consumers high in NFC require more information than those rating low. Academics point out that NFC impacts on such as information processing and message persuasiveness. Strength of information is important to high NFC individuals, whereas those low in NFC tend to seek more peripheral cues. This suggests that vagueness might impact more on the latter consumer type.
These issues were explored in two online surveys involving similar student samples. In the first, subjects answered questions to identify their NFC level and were subsequently exposed to slogans either high or low in vagueness as determined by the number of sub-dimensions evident in each case. The second study exposed participants to one of four slogan types based on high or low vagueness levels and short or long in terms of word count. After viewing the slogan, they were asked to record thoughts, attitudes to brand and advertising and perceptions of slogan persuasiveness. In both surveys, potentially distracting features, such as images, were removed.
Key indications from these studies include:
interaction between NFC and vagueness was not significant;
NFC considerably aids brand recall;
short vague slogans positively influence brand cognition, brand attitudes and advertising persuasiveness. The same outcome is evident when precise slogans are longer with regard to word count; and
contrary to expectation, slogan length and vagueness showed no impact on purchase intention.
Further analysis prompted the suggestion that this unanticipated finding might be due to a mediating effect of attitude toward the brand on the relationship between vagueness and purchase intention. The authors propose that vague brand slogans might be effective in situations when brand attitudes are known to be favorable.
Reflecting on these studies, Strutton & Roswinanto detail how the three dimensions of vagueness and their sub-dimensions can be utilized in order to create slogans capable of achieving desired communication and marketing objectives.
They feel that practitioners should utilize short, vague slogans to target highly involved consumers familiar with both brand and product category. Such a strategy might also be effective to inform consumers about brand extensions. On the contrary, longer and more precise slogan types are seen as better suited in lesser-known contexts or where a need exists to convey more detailed information to recipients. One example would be pharmaceutical advertisements where the company is ethically bound to inform the public of likely benefits and potential risks associated with the product.
Conducting similar research with different populations and samples is advised. Studies could also explore the significance of images and other cues omitted here, as their absence might have lessened the perceived realism of the slogans. Another idea is to ascertain further antecedents and consequences of vagueness.
To read the full article enter 10.1108/JPBM-02-2014-0507 into your search engine.
(A précis of the article “Can vague brand slogans promote desirable consumer responses?”. Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)