10 June 2020

Research pick: Advertising sensitive products - "Internet advertising of offensive products: the effects of cartoons on adult consumer attitudes"

Internet advertising is big business. Indeed, there are several world-famous brands that have billions of users that have a simple function, such as web search or social networking on which multi-billion dollar advertising revenues hinge. Now, there are legitimate and worthy products that some people might consider “offensive” or to perhaps be more precise associated with a sensitive or taboo subject in some way, such as personal hygiene and health products. So, how do corporate marketing departments advertise such products without upsetting the wider community?

Writing in the InternationalJournal of Internet Marketing and Advertising, a team from Thailand and the USA has considered this issue. Pakakorn Rakrachakarn and Thittapong Daengrasmisopon of the Stamford International University, Bangkok, and George Moschis of Georgia State University and Mahidol University, Bangkok, discuss the level of negative response to advertising of such products.

The team has tested a standard, 4 × 4 factorial design online advertisement to see how internet users respond. The advertisements came in two forms – ones that used a conventional photographic form and the other that used a drawing, cartoon, instead.

“The findings indicate that for the main effects of online banner advertising designs, cartoon advertisements (drawings) have a less favourable effect on attitude toward the brand when it is non-cartoon (photographs), regardless of product type (offensive or non-offensive),” the team reports. They add that there is no interaction effect between advertisement design and product types on consumer response, even though cartoon advertisements used in sensitive product advertising gave a less favourable attitude toward the product than non-cartoon advertisements.

The main conclusion seems to be that these kinds of products can generate negative responses when compared with more everyday products, that much is perhaps obvious. However, the use of cartoons instead of photographs in advertising controversial and sensitive products has an even more detrimental effect on perception. Marketing executives should, the team suggests, take their findings into account in designing future campaigns for putatively taboo products.

Rakrachakarn, P., Moschis, G.P. and Daengrasmisopon, T. (2020) ‘Internet advertising of offensive products: the effects of cartoons on adult consumer attitudes’, Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp.152–167.

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