Consumer Perception And Attitude Towards Provocative Advertising

Consumer Perception And Attitude Towards Provocative Advertising

Statement of Problem

This report will analyse and critically evaluate consumer perceptions and attitudes towards provocative advertising. The following specific aims are targeted:

§  Define types of provocative advertising;

§  Assess positive and negative impact of provocative advertising for company/consumers;

§  Assess effectiveness of provocative advertising in gaining consumers attention;

§  Explain how consumers perceive the risk in provocative advertising.

Review of Related Literature

Modern consumer civilization is primarily based on the open market. Advertisements and publicity empower the open market and persuade consumers. As advertising nurtured during the passage of time through different markets, many stereotypes, functions, and norms have been reintroduced into customs. When masses take these standards and integrate them into their routine, supremacy, or domination is marked. As said by Italian scholar, Antonio Gramsci, these norms or ideologies are the basis of power and reliance in symbolic environments, producing a dominating society. Today’s culture is founded on signs and theories in advertisements and what is in between the lines. The following literature review aims to describe the basic concepts related with provocative advertising and its influence on consumers.

Types of Provocative Advertising

Before types of provocative advertising are explained it is helpful to describe what advertising is, in the first place.  Advertising is the structured mass communiqué of information, usually paid and normally influential in nature, employing both verbal and nonverbal elements, about products (goods, services, and concepts) by identified sponsors through various media. The goal of advertising is to persuade masses to react in a specified way, for example to purchase a service or product or to advocate a wide range of concepts, whether economic, political, religious, or social.

An influential advertisement produces an emotional response (Gordon, 2006). Emotions are prompted by clear, powerful benefits (Toubia, 2006), fear or alarm (Rossiter et al, 2004), or desire or demand (Helstein, 2003). For example Nike, through its association of knowledge, power, and truth, publicizes and authorizes a particular notion of a female athlete in blend with ideas of emancipation. The impressions are that utilization of their product distinguishes the user as a “real” athlete and that the “real” athletes are not delimited by boundaries, but are independent.

The word provocative is defined as something which is stimulating or exciting, either in a positive or negative fashion. Generally the words “provocative advertising” points to forms of advertising that utilizes shocking or sexy images to reach this goal (Pope et al, 2004). Some examples include nudity, sexual acts, abject poverty, car collisions, and death. Shocking content in an advertisement considerably boosts attention, promotes memory, and positively influences behaviour compared to milder advertisements (Dahl et al, 2003).

Provocative advertising operates through one of three factors: uniqueness, uncertainty, and misbehaviour of a social or cultural taboo. Distinctive stimuli can have a positive influence on attention to the advertisement, while ambiguity–the degree to which an advertisement is open to different interpretations–can lead to further processing and grant the chance for an artistic experience. Much advertising nowadays works implicitly – either below or minimal levels of, awareness (Penn, 2006).

Provocative images are used in advertising as a more common practice as compared to the last two decades. Major companies including Benetton, Calvin Klein, Citroen, Peugeot, Moschino, and Esprit have used provocative imagery in various advertising campaigns (Polegato et al, 2006).  Benetton has used images of boat people, an AIDS victim, a priest kissing a nun, and a cemetery. One significant type of provocation has been the use of nudity and sex, even though the advertisement is not for sexual demands, but relates to violence, drugs, and political or racial issues.

The advertisements found in Glamour and Maxim refrain from touching on the aspect or represent any interpretation of family or education. The advertisements though, do depict a hegemony found in society which appears as the natural standard, the upper-middle class white male. Men hereby gain their power by the portrayal of females as well as themselves, as long as they fit the norm. The general theme of these advertisements do greatly impact gender discrimination and the power of dominance over women, producing a dominant discourse and recreate this commanding ego of men. We do not see representations of real masses and society in advertisements, but rather we see depictions of personnel who stand for controlling social norms and values. This has become the conventional symbol of the two sexes in our society, and advertisements incorporating the attractive woman and dominant man only represent what our society has already been presenting.

Provocation engenders different responses between the sexes (Koernig, 2006). For example, in Western cultures, males prefer female nudity and vice versa (Nevala, 2006). Women may be more suitable to think over the underlying purposes of the advertiser and add greater connotation to the images than are men, who are supposedly more inclined to the marginal effects of the visual appeal (Nelson and Paek, 2005).  Asian, Black, Indian (Asian Indian), white and multiethnic British participants show systematic distinctions in advertisement processing among various groups toward the same advertisement (Wolin et al, 2003).

Several researched have also concluded that the product type implicated in advertisements emphasizing gender discrimination or nudity has an effect on watcher reaction, and much of this is connected to congruity. For example, a female model is more suitable for body lotion than for a ratchet set.  Generally, an individual’s reported attitude to an advertisement containing meek nudity will be considerably less positive when the advertisement is for a consumer product as compared to the occasion when it is an appeal for a cause and the greater the relevance of the erotica to the grounds, the more positive will be the image that an individual holds of that cause.

Positive And Negative Impacts Of Provocative Advertising

When evaluated from the view of results, provocative advertisements are much more influential than non-provocative ones. The positive impact of provocative advertising is the raising on consumer consciousness about an issue or product, which they may not have otherwise thought about. Examples of positive provocative advertisements are those against drug use, in which the negative image of frying eggs is associated to brain damage caused by drug use. The image is pleasant (most people like fried eggs for breakfast), but in some ways violent, when you associate your brain being fried similarly. The net intended effect is to discourage drug use which is an overall positive result.

Many negative effects of provocative advertising stem from the extended logic of the viewer who determines they can only be happy, successful, or if they are like the people portrayed in the advertisement. As mentioned earlier the most successful advertisement is one in which an individual spots with the concepts and people being portrayed, so their use of the advertised product is consistent with their self image. Since the consumer identifies with the advertisement on an emotional level, provocative advertising is intimately connected to self image.  For those people who cannot identify with the advertisement, instead of concluding that the product is at fault, they begin to think that if only they could change themselves, then they would be able to identify themselves with the product, and only then will they have happiness, success or whatever other emotion is being claimed.

Research has found that implicit self-evaluations (ISEs) and explicit self-evaluations (ESEs) are differentially susceptible to influence (Brumbaugh et al, 2006). This was measured after exposure to images of beauty in magazine advertisements or to control advertisements without any body images. Female participants’ ESEs and body-images were unaffected by conceptualized images of beauty, but, exposure to such images (as compared to control advertisements) led to a decrease in the relationship between beauty and the 3 basic characteristics (self, in-group, and gender) also a drop in the amount of snack food consumed during the course of the study. These findings suggest that women may not as easily correct for, or protect against, unsuitable social contrasts and other pressures to the self on the implicit level, at least in the domain of attractiveness.

Even not-so-provocative advertising has unintended effects on materialism, parent-child conflict, and unhappiness. These were investigated using vote-counting analysis (Buijzen and Valkenburg, 2003) and the analyses yielded a modest effect size for the relation between advertising and materialism and a moderate effect size for the relation between advertising and parent-child disagreement. Though, proofs for the theorized relation between advertising and sadness were not found.

Some negative effects of provocative advertising are direct. For instance, pro-tobacco marketing and media stimulate tobacco use among youth (MacFadyen et al. 2003; Wellman et al. 2006). Exposure to pro-tobacco marketing and media increases the odds of youth holding positive attitudes toward tobacco use (odds ratio, 1.51; 95% confidence interval, 1.08-2.13) and more than doubles the odds of initiating tobacco use (odds ratio, 2.23; 95% confidence interval, 1.79-2.77). Highly appealing marketing and media are more influential at promoting use (odds ratio, 2.67; 95% confidence interval, 2.19-3.25) as long as they were on the whole, attractive, sociable and reassuring; and supported young people’s view of smoking and reinforced their smoker identities. These effects are monitored across time, in different regions, with varying study designs and measures of contact and result.

Effectiveness Of Provocative Advertising In Gaining Consumers Attention

Increasing level of advertising competition has made it increasingly thorny to draw and hold consumers’ attention and to set up strong memory sketches for the advertised brand. A usual communication scheme to penetrate this competitive clutter is to increase advertisement originality.  Originality may have detrimental effects when consumers are more considerate to the advertisement at the cost of the advertised brand and may quickly wane when the advertisement becomes known. A stochastic form of the influence that advertisement creativity and acquaintance have on consumers’ eye fascinations to the key factors of advertisements-brand, text, and images – and how the information dug out during eye fascinations supports memory for the advertised brand was devised (Pieters, et al, 2002). Infrared eye tracking was applied to collect eye fascination data from 119 consumers who paged through two general-audience magazines containing 58 full-page advertisements. Memory for the advertised brands was assessed with an indirect memory task.  Creative advertisements drew more attention to the advertised brand. More importantly however, advertisements that were both creative and known attracted the largest amount of attention to the advertised brand, which improved subsequent brand memory. In addition, new and well-known advertisements were found to promote brand memory directly.

Complexity harmfully influenced a variety of memory measures, but only for those who were less involved with the product category (Lowrey, et al, 2006). Creativity is another significant element of advertising. A set of randomly selected award-winner advertisements (Communication Arts) with a random sample of control commercials were compared (Till and Baack, 2005). The commercials were surrounded in TV programs and subjects for a naturalistic viewing experience. Studies 1 and 2 had aided and unaided brand and execution recall as dependent variables. For Study 3, brand attitude and purchase intent were the dependent variables of interest. Results pointed out that creative advertisement help unaided recall, but that creativity did not improve aided recall, purchase intention, or brand and advertisement behaviour.

The influence of provocative advertisements depends on culture, personality age of the individual, and their past experiences (Schlosser, 2003). The degree to which self-image is affected is different among different cultures. A cross-cultural examination with 750 female respondents from five European cities of the model self-image of women in terms of health and beauty revealed distinct cultural variation in model self-image in terms of healthy and beautiful beauty types (Bjerke, et al, 2006).  Persons with certain personality characteristics are likely to evaluate provocative advertisements and their products differently. Overall, extroverted subjects evaluated them in more positive ways than introverted subjects. In addition, their evaluations of the advertised brand were more positive if the portrayed product image is more congruent with their real or model self-concepts (Gurari et al, 2006).

One Example

“Feminists celebrated this week when the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) upheld complaints that billboards advertising Windsor Smith shoes breached community standards of taste. (

The billboard in question plays on the imagination to portray a woman in her underwear apparently about to engage in an act of oral sex with a fully clad man wearing said shoes.

The National Women’s Media Centre called on women offended by the billboards not to have sex with men wearing the shoes.

That comment led to a storm of media and protest, culminating in the ASB asking for the billboards to be pulled down.

This is a triumph for women and men anxious about the imagery of women in the media. Portrayal of women as sexually subservient subjects of men insidiously damage our fight for equality and equal status in the community.

But we’re concerned at the power of the ASB to enforce its decision. As this article goes to screen, Windsor Smith have agreed to comply with the request in ‘their own time’. (

In other words the company can take quite some time to take away the billboards – hundreds of which are tactically positioned across the country.

This begs the question: did Windsor Smith intentionally design the billboards to aggravate objection? The company was asked to cover some digitally enhanced and clearly exhibited cleavage after complaints about its last advertisements.

NWMC realizes the company has another equally provocative advertisement on the drawing board. Was the whole campaign designed to attract publicity and flog shoes? This could only occur under self-regulation – a regime introduced under the Howard Government where the ASB can say ‘please remove your ad’ to advertisers but has no power to enforce the decision, which makes the ASB look like a bit of a toothless tiger.

On the up side, men in my circle of friends have all been greeting me this week with the words “I’m not wearing Windsor Smith!” (

Maybe the shoes are getting a bit of a reputation as being for men who are having trouble getting introduced to available women. But stay tuned. This type of deliberately provocative advertising is a new millennium phenomenon. One silly advertisement has been removed from billboards on the grounds of taste but under our weak regulation system it will surely soon be replaced by another – perhaps even by the same company.” (

How do consumers perceive the risk in provocative advertising?

There are two main risks of provocative advertising, desensitization and distortion.  The motive behind more and more provocative information and actions are exposed in available is because it has become acknowledged and liked over time. People now enjoy and expect risky actions; and have become familiar to such attitude. Thus awareness of a problem or stimulation of people to act on something requires an out of the ordinary approach. This has a negative impact on product developers, since in order to convince the consumer to switch brands they have to put in extra work to make their product stick out. This leads directly to the second danger of advertising, distortion.  This happens because for any given category of product there is really a limited number of material combinations that can truly make something unique and different. Thus the challenge is to create an image around a product that is functionally equivalent to its competitor that distinguishes it. Normally, there is nothing to distinguish it so the advertisement relies on a play on word to give an impression of something, but never explicitly stating it, on which basis consumers respond. This can result in wasting of money, or improper use of a product. For example the recognition of long known consumer brands like Bayer Aspirin or Tylenol give the impression that these substances are totally safe, and yet they are not and must be used with caution.

Research Methodology And Data Collection

Standard methods are used in the evaluation of statistical data on advertising impacts.  Usually the core of the study consists of stimulus type (TV, radio, print) advertisement type (e.g. mildly erotic or nonerotic), product (e. g. cola, sunglasses, AIDS research, and SIDS research) and brand design. TV advertising can advance how children perceive your toy but it can’t make a limp toy into a success. Sega’s irreverent, fun and provocative advertising was the envy of the industry but kids went for Sony PlayStation. Although it was at the time a new product with a very `young’ and questionable name, the PlayStation was successfully advertised as an awesome product.

Within such a group there may be subdivisions in relation to obviousness of the pro vocation, type of product, and image of the company, gender and age.  Usually participants are shown images or movies of the advertisement and are asked a series of questions. Subjects are often obtained through random selection and a sufficient number based on the standard deviation of their responses are asked to participate. The subjects’ attitude toward the advertisement is usually assessed through a modified version of a six-item scale ranging from definitely not” and “yes, definitely.” Crucial to any study is that the provocative advertisement is provocative and whether it is perceived to be congruent with the product. One-way ANOVA is used to calculate significant differences between two groups. Levene’s test is used to test variance of all the samples.  If this assumption of homogeneity of variance is not met, the statistical test results may not be valid.  Confounding variables influencing results are usually identified by asking participants to indicate their familiarity with and favourability toward each product category and cause type before and after advertisement evaluation.


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