The Effect of Regulatory Depletion on Attitude Certainty

Echo Wen Wan, Derek D. Rucker, Zakary L. Tormala, and Joshua J. Clarkson
Journal of Marketing Research (JMR)
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Executive Summary
Consumers often need to exert substantial psychological resources to manage work-related stress, control impulsive spending, and handle financial anxiety. Therefore, consumers are often in a state of regulatory depletion when they are exposed to advertising messages. Prior research has suggested that such depletion might impair consumers’ ability to generate counterarguments against the advertised message and make them easy to persuade. However, in situations in which consumers have a high motivation to process advertising messages, they process the ad message equally, exhibiting apparently similar responses to advertising whether depleted or not. In this research, the authors propose that in contrast to the conclusions of prior studies, in conditions in which advertising produces equally favorable attitudes and degrees of information processing, depletion has important but previously hidden effects on the degree of certainty or confidence that consumers place in their attitudes.

The authors examine their proposition in three experiments in which research participants first entered a depleted or nondepleted state, then carefully processed an advertisement. Participants’ depletion involved their expenditure of resources on controlling their attention and thoughts. The advertised products they read about were a cracker snack and toothpaste. Participants provided their attitude and attitude certainty toward the advertised product and indicated their purchase decision.

The results revealed a surprising and previously hidden effect of depletion. Because of their motivation to attend to the advertising message, depleted consumers arrived at the same attitudes toward the advertised product as did nondepleted consumers. However, depleted consumers were more certain about their attitudes than were nondepleted consumers. The enhanced certainty in their attitude translated into greater purchases of products toward which they had positive attitudes. Moreover, the authors reveal that the attitude certainty effect results from a perception of greater message processing among depleted consumers. That is, depletion leads consumers to feel that they have had processed an advertisement more thoroughly, which increases the certainty they have about their attitudes. In addition, changing consumers’ belief about the relationship between depletion and information processing moderated the effect of depletion on attitude certainty.

This research extends literature on consumer self-regulation and advertising by revealing an interesting effect of regulatory depletion—a seemingly common state among modern consumers. Specifically, a state of depletion increases attitude certainty, an important indicator of advertising effectiveness, in addition to commonly used measures such as advertising memory and attitudes. Measuring attitude certainty can provide an additional layer of insight into consumer behavior in this domain. The results can serve as a springboard for marketing practice. For example, marketers with highly involving or engaging messages might benefit from targeting consumers at times when they are likely to be depleted (e.g., in the evening, after work). At such times, if consumers are motivated to process a strong message by its high relevance or interest, they are likely to be more certain of their favorable attitudes and thus more inclined to act in accordance with those attitudes (e.g., purchase).

Echo Wen Wan is Assistant Professor of Marketing in the School of Business at the University of Hong Kong. She received her PhD in Marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Her research interests focus on consumer decision making, self-control, consumer well-being, and public policy. Her research has appeared in journals such as Journal of Consumer Research and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Derek D. Rucker is Associate Professor of Marketing and holds the Richard M. Clewett Professorship in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He received his PhD in Psychology from The Ohio State University. Dr. Rucker studies consumer certainty, power, and emotion and has published his work in journals such as Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Consumer Research, and Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Zakary L. Tormala is Associate Professor of Marketing in Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. He received his PhD in Psychology from The Ohio State University, and he conducts research on attitudes and persuasion, with a particular emphasis on understanding the antecedents and consequences of attitude certainty. He has published articles in leading journals in marketing and psychology, including Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Journal of Consumer Psychology, among others.

Joshua J. Clarkson is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Marketing, Warrington College of Business, at University of Florida. His research interests focus broadly on attitude maintenance and change, attitude strength, and self-regulation. His work has appeared in various outlets, including Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Journal of Marketing Research, Volume 47, Number 3, June 2010
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Author Bio:

Echo Wen Wan, Derek D. Rucker, Zakary L. Tormala, and Joshua J. Clarkson
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