How luxury brands can boost perceived differentiation


Luxury brands that use less abstract and more concrete forms of print advertising may see a higher willingness to pay among consumers, according to a paper in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Francesco Massara (Università IULM), Daniele Scarpi (University of Bologna) and Daniele Porcheddu (University of Sassari) discussed this subject in their paper, “Can your advertisement go abstract without affecting willingness to pay? Product-centered versus lifestyle content in luxury brand print advertisements.

Looking at print ads for luxury brands, they assessed the links between product-based and lifestyle messaging, the impact of abstract and concrete language, and how consumers’ interpretation of a brand shapes willingness to pay.

And the study showed that “lifestyle advertising is more consistent with abstract language and that product-centered advertising is more consistent with concrete language.

“The advertising style per se does not trigger construal levels but rather the language used in the advertisement,” the scholars added.

Drilling down into this topic, the authors explained that “construal” is determined by the perceived “distance” between an individual and an object they are evaluating.

Objects at a great “distance” are seen as more abstract, or having a high level of construal, meaning consumers pay less attention to concrete features, perceive less variety and underestimate product differentiation.

By comparison, “closer” objects are seen as more concrete, meaning there is lower construal. That leads to stronger perceived differentiation – and, the JAR paper argued, a greater willingness to pay.

The paper’s first study featured 300 respondents who were trained to distinguish between product- and lifestyle-centered ads and asked to classify ten pre-tested sentences to see which of those approaches they reflected.

An in-field study used real ads for luxury brands in categories like clothing, accessories, cars and watches, to test if lifestyle- and product-centric ads were perceived to be different in terms of concrete and abstract language.

Next came a pretest with 30 respondents and another study with 170 contributors, who evaluated 35 ads – of which 18 were lifestyle ads, and 17 product-centered.

In a third study, a sample of 200 participants was split in half, with 100 members seeing 18 lifestyle ads from the field study, and the other 100 viewing the 17 product-centered ads.

And the overall results, the academics proposed, helped explain some “contradictory findings” in previous research on advertising and willingness to pay by adding construal into the analytical mix.

“The authors have shown … that the link between advertising style and WTP consistently can be explained when construal level is accounted for, and they have offered a new and more solid explanation of the phenomenon,” they said.

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