Current Issue Summary
Sept 2020 (Vol. 60, Issue 3):
How Do Generational Differences Drive Response to Social-Issue Ads? The Effect of Value Orientations across Generations in the U.S.
In pursuit of understanding consumers’ unique needs and desires, marketers have been able to deeply engage with consumers. Research on generational differences has identified important segmentation strategies which support such engagement.
But only a few studies have examined how different age groups’ value systems affect the perception of an advertising message, such as a social-issue ad. New research on how generational differences drive consumers’ response to corporate social responsibility (CSR) ads, by Yoon-Joo Lee (Washington State University) and Eric Haley (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), drew from generational cohort theory. That theory “proposes that each generation (millennials vs. Generation X versus baby boomers) holds unique value systems that govern their thoughts and behaviors.” Applied to the context of advertising, cohort theory “suggests that each generation may process advertisement messages differently on the basis of their unique needs and motives,” the authors write.
Participants in the study, ranging from 21 to 60 years of age, viewed ads for a fictitious oil company advocating for energy conservation and a fictitious pharmaceutical company encouraging support for cancer research. Measures included attitudes toward the CSR ad and toward the product, purchase intention, willingness to visit the advertisers’ websites, and perceptions of an advertiser’s motive as genuine. Self-value orientations also were measured with a seven-point scale in which participants could report whether they agreed or disagreed with 16 statements. The scale referred to “horizontal and vertical distinctions” in values pertaining to individualism and collectivism.
The authors found that:
- People can be motivated by a concern for appearances, demonstrating an egoistic-enhancement motivation in supporting CSR initiatives.
- Younger consumers, such as millennials, perceived that their status could be increased through the CSR-supporting advertisers’ product consumption, regardless of their value orientations.
- Although millennials “did not support CSR initiatives motivated by a vertical collectivistic orientation, such as fulfilling duties,” consumers from Gen X and baby boomers did.
- Baby boomers did not “use a horizontal individualism value (e.g. freedom and uniqueness) in evaluating advertisers’ motives in supporting social causes,” whereas millennials and Gen X consumers did.
- In reaching out to younger consumers, advertisers may want to use advertising appeals emphasizing values of uniqueness or equality.
- “The CSR initiatives could create programs whereby millennials can contribute to social issues by using their unique talents and skills or by sharing their own ideas in the form of cloud sourcing.”