When asked why he liked a particular advertisement, a 63-year- old retired military man confidently replied, "Elves make good cookies." He had chosen an ad featuring the Keebler Elves as his favorite. The Keebler Elves are spokes-characters for Keebler brand food products and just a few of the hundreds of spokes-characters that fill magazine pages and television time. The spokes-characters at its most basic, is defined as a fictional persona employed to sell a product or service. Although research suggests that advertisements employing spokes-characters have a greater ability to change consumers brand preferences than other ads (Ogilvy and Raphaelson. 1982), there has been no systematic inquiry into the factors that contribute to popular and effective spokes-character advertising.
Although many factors can play a part in advertising effectiveness (Hollis, 1995), this paper examines the dimensions underlying spokes-character likability. This study uses a qualitative method to explore consumer perceptions of spokes-characters in an attempt to answer the broad question: What makes spokes-characters likable? The results of this inquiry provide a blueprint for creating likable spokes-character advertising.
Spokes-Characters and Liking
Liking can be defined as a global positive response toward an object or idea that has underlying cognitive and affective components (Walker and Dubitsky, 1994). There are two reasons why advertising likability translates into advertising effectiveness: (a) when consumers like an advertisement, they will be more likely to pay attention to it and learn its message, and (b) when consumers like an ad they may transfer those positive feelings to the brand (Walker and Dubitsky, 1994). In fact, recent applied studies have suggested that liking of an ad may be one of the best indicators of advertising effectiveness (Brown and Stayman, 1992).
Although several studies have listed the attributes that generally make ads likable (Aaker and Stayman, 1990; Biel and Bridgwater, 1990), current research indicates that ad likability may be associated with different attributes for different types of ads (Walker and Dubitsky, 1994). Thus, the attributes which make spokes-character advertising likable may be different from the attributes that make other advertising likable. Explication of the dimensions underlying spokes-character likability can provide guidance for advertisers who wish to create spokes-characters for--or orchestrate their use within--advertising campaigns.
In-depth interviews were used in this study to explore consumers' responses to spokes-character advertising. Recently, there has been a call for the use of more qualitative methods in advertising research to promote understanding of consumer experiences (Mick and Buhl, 1992). In-depth interviews are useful in exploring the cognitive processes that individuals invoke in their marketplace decisions (Rust, 1993).
Seven male and nine female respondents participated in these interviews. The 16 respondents ranged in age from 38 to 76. Older respondents were recruited to enable exploration of topics such as the relationships that consumers build with spokes-characters and brands over time. The majority of respondents were white, with some college education, and were employed in a variety of occupations including small business, office work, the ministry, and homemaking. A description of the interviews and the coding procedures are...
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