February 12, 2009


What you see can affect what you get, both while enjoying the purchase and afterward. Ads touting emotional enticements rather than tangible benefits can dramatically shape customers' perceptions of value when experiencing the product.  And the ads have staying power. 

That's what marketing researchers found in a study published recently by the Journal of Retailing . The study, "Using Transformational Appeals to Enhance the Retail Experience," is the first field investigation, and one of the few empirical examinations, of so-called transformational appeals. 

The authors are Dr. Julie Baker , associate professor of marketing, Dr. Susan Kleiser , associate professor of professional practice, and Dr. Eric Yorkston , assistant professor of marketing, all with the  Neeley School of Business at TCU in Fort Worth, and Dr. Gillian Naylor of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

"Sometimes the influence of ads is fleeting. But since the effects of the resort video in our study were still detectable sometime later, this suggests transformational ads have a longer-term influence than other types of ads," Dr. Baker says. "This is powerful knowledge for managers when they're deciding how to spend their advertising dollars."

Transformational appeals create an alluring aura, whereas informational appeals offer solid facts regarding benefits and features. Transformational ads focus on how buyers will feel during the experience, and thus are best employed when benefits are intangible and relatively ambiguous, such as with luxury items.

The authors refer to the slogan "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" as one example of the concept.

Transformational appeals are a well-known concept in marketing. Prior to this study, however, little evidence had been gathered on their effectiveness or lack thereof.

"Earlier research seemed to imply that transformational ads were likely to work well in nearly all situations, but we found that they work best on customers who have not previously had the particular experience being marketed," says Dr. Baker. "The reason is that customers with prior exposure to the purchased item already have well-formed opinions and expectations.  Newcomers are more open to being influenced by the advertisement."

Dr. Baker and her colleagues gathered and analyzed evidence from a real-world setting - a renowned health-and-fitness resort - and a laboratory environment using a luxury chocolate.

For the resort, the study used a promotional video containing transformational appeals that the resort mails to all guests upon booking. The video portrays people relaxing in lovely surroundings, improving their fitness, and being pampered.

The researchers surveyed 825 guests two weeks before their stay to gather data on demographics, which guests had viewed the appeal, and which had visited the resort in the past. A more detailed survey was mailed a week after their visit. (Only data from those who responded to both surveys and provided sufficient information was included, resulting in a sample of 200 guests.)

The post-visit survey asked guests their opinions of several of the resort's benefits, which were grouped into three categories: hedonic (involving pleasure and stimulation), symbolic (indicating upper-class status), and functional (meeting practical needs).

Guests who had watched the video enjoyed the hedonic and symbolic benefits more than those who had not seen the video.  This effect was more pronounced for first-timers than for repeat guests. Little variation was noted between viewers' and non-viewers' ratings of functional benefits, which was expected since functional benefits are not based on emotion.

Additionally, since the post-visit resort survey was completed several days after the guests had returned home, the transformational effect was shown to be lasting.  That's good news for businesses hoping for repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals.

"The major impact of a transformational ad happens during the consumer's experience of the product or service. The ad's message kicks in during the experience and transforms the experience, an effect called delayed persuasion," explains Dr. Baker. "Seeing the transformational ad beforehand heightened the resort experience for the guests."

The researchers also conducted a lab experiment involving a luxury chocolate, to corroborate the resort findings as well as compare the influence of a transformational ad versus an informational ad.

As before, participants rated the hedonic, symbolic, and functional benefits. The results confirmed that people who enter an experience without pre-set expectations are more affected by transformational ads.  This experiment also confirmed that transformational ads have a greater effect on hedonic and symbolic enjoyment than do informational ads.


Elaine Cole
PR Manager
Neeley School of Business at TCU