Examining the effects of liked and disliked television commercials on consumer brand attitudes: An application of classical conditioning principles

Peter Worthington Smith, Purdue University


Advertising plays a major role in differentiating brands. Many advertisements attempt to create positive feelings through the use of humor, music, or attractive spokespersons. Marketers hope the positive emotions (i.e., positive affect) evoked by these types of ads will transfer to the advertised brand, resulting in positive brand attitudes and an increased probability of purchase. Classical conditioning is frequently mentioned as the theoretical basis for the transfer of affect from ad to brand. Previous research on classical conditioning and advertising effects has been criticized for using artificial stimuli. One of the objectives of this dissertation was to investigate if classical conditioning principles apply to television commercials for actual brands. As prior research has shown that consumers dislike approximately a third of all television advertising, a second objective was to investigate the possibility of conditioning negative brand attitudes. Research hypotheses were guided by classical conditioning principles. The principle of latent inhibition predicts that familiarity with a stimulus will inhibit conditioning effects. Thus it was hypothesized that the conditioning effects of advertising would be inhibited for familiar brands. On the other hand, after repeated exposures to advertising for unfamiliar brands, affect elicited by ads, either positive or negative, will result in a direct affect transfer and similar attitudes toward the brand. In an experiment conducted, subjects were randomly assigned to a 2 x 2 x 3 factorial design. The factors were brand familiarity (familiar or unfamiliar), ad affect (positive or negative) and repetition (one, two, or three ad exposures). Latent inhibition and direct affect transfer hypotheses are supported by results and follow the pattern predicted by classical conditioning principles. In conclusion, results lend support for the use of conditioning principles in interpreting the effects of advertising for brands in certain product categories. For familiar brands, advertising may have no impact on previously formed brand attitudes. For unfamiliar brands, positive or negative advertising affect may directly influence brand attitude formation.




Feinberg, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Marketing|Behaviorial sciences

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