March 2020 (Vol. 60, Issue 1): CREATIVITY
Can Your Ad Go Abstract without Affecting Willingness to Pay? Product-Centered versus Lifestyle Content in Luxury Brand Print Advertisements
In advertising, words matter, especially when it comes to selling products with high price tags. So how does the language of an ad affect a target audience’s willingness to pay, particularly for luxury goods? Francesco Massara (IULM Univeristy, Milan), Daniele Scarpi (University of Bologna) and Daniele Porcheddu (University of Sassari) examined print advertising for luxury brands to determine the connection between ad content and consumer commitment.
“Luxury brands possess many aspirational qualities, and lifestyle branding frequently is employed for these brands,” the authors write, citing earlier research. “They often have distinguishable physical attributes, which also makes it possible to use attribute-centered advertising. For managers, therefore, the choice between one advertising style and another becomes strategic.”
The Italian research team first “disentangled advertising style (lifestyle versus product-centered content) from the language used to convey the message.” Participants in the study viewed print ads for a Louis Vuitton bag and were trained to distinguish between advertising styles (lifestyle versus product-centered). Examples included, “Our lifestyle is a reflection of yourself,” for lifestyle positioning, and “Our high-quality products are handmade and not mass-produced,” for product-centered positioning.
Then, the study explored the participants’ construal levels—asking questions about the way they envisioned and interpreted the brand—and their willingness to pay.
The research demonstrates that “lifestyle advertising is related to high language abstractness … and that product-centered advertising is more consistent with concrete language.” But overall, advertising language and advertising content do not directly affect a consumer’s willingness to pay.
Practitioners, the authors conclude, should be cautious in pursuing a lifestyle-positioning strategy with print ads. “Jumping on the bandwagon of lifestyle advertising may not be advisable always for brands.” Lifestyle print advertising, in fact, sometimes may
- be weaker than product-centered print advertising,
- hinder the opportunity to impose a premium price, and
- curb the overall development of brand equity.
Simple adjustments, however, can shape the way consumers interpret objects and brands. Manipulating the adjective-to-noun ratio in advertising text, for example, can influence consumers’ construal levels:
- Construal levels significantly affect consumers’ willingness to pay for the advertised brand: A low construal level leads to a higher willingness to pay.
- Product-centered ads increase willingness to pay as a result of low construal levels.
- High adjective-to-noun ratios (e.g. 1:3) lead to high construal.
- Low adjective-to-noun ratios (e.g. 1:11) lead to low construal.