Dissertation

Purpose of the Study
This study advanced the understanding of consumers’ attitudes toward Internet advertising and the effects of attitudes on a brand, attitudes toward a website, and behavioral intention.  The study examined consumers’ general attitudes towards online advertising using scales developed by Ducoffe (1996).  By examining how the website messages correlate with brand attitude, website attitude, and behavioral intention, the researcher hoped to gain a greater understanding of the message strategies for automobile manufacturers and dealers.  Further, by examining pre-existing attitudes towards Internet advertising before exposure to the website texts, it could be determined if one message strategy is more effective than another based on consumer attitude towards Internet advertising.

Research Questions
RQ1: Do Internet marketing messages such as symbolic and instrumental texts, on a website’s homepage, affect consumers’ attitudes toward a commercial website?
RQ2: Do attitudes about Internet advertising and Internet motives affect consumers’ attitude toward a commercial website?
Hypotheses
H1a:  Participants who report high positive attitudes towards Internet advertising (as measured by perceived informativeness, perceived entertainment, and perceived credibility) will show a preference for symbolic website texts, as measured by attitudes towards the brand, attitudes toward the website, and behavioral intention.
H2a:  Participants with negative attitudes toward Internet advertising will prefer the instrumental website text over the symbolic text, as measured by attitude toward the brand, attitude toward the website, and behavioral intention.
H3a:  Participants that report a high usage of shopping and gathering information related to commercial products will show a more positive attitudinal response, as measured by attitude toward the brand, attitude toward the website, and behavioral intention, towards instrumental website texts.
H4a:  Participants that report a high usage of shopping and gathering information related to commercial products and a high rating for positive attitudes towards Internet advertising will show the strongest preference for instrumental website texts.

Limitations of the Study
There are several limitations to the study.  There could be some sampling bias, based on the purchased Survey Monkey sample panel.  The sample that was used is from an existing research database and participants were selected randomly from the database.  Since the survey is meant to gather data from people who are online, there was not any bias against those who do not have Internet access.  Additionally, web surveys are particularly effective for researching consumers who shop on the web (Alreck & Settle, 2004), that is the target sample for this study.  However, the research might not represent the general population of high-income earners, but more likely those that shop online.  As the study used automotive example websites, the participants’ interest in automobiles could potentially affect their attitudes toward the website.  Further, for financial reasons, the number of participants had to be reduced, as outlined in the methodology section.  Each completed survey has a fixed cost with Survey Monkey.  This cost forces the sample to be less than the ideal 384 participants, providing a confidence interval of 5 at a 95% confidence level.  Given a population of over 20 million people, a sample size of 198 participants at a 95% confidence level, the study had a confidence interval of 6.96.

Delimitations of the Study
The study included high-income earners in the top quintile of household income in the United States.  This study expanded on many of the studies that focus on college student samples.  There are many justifications for student samples.  In some studies students were chosen because students are considered homogenous (Calder, Phillips, & Tybout, 1981 as cited in Hong, 2006) and early adopters of innovation (Gallagher, Parsons, & Foster, 2001 as cited in Hong, 2006).  However, Hong (2006) also cites a study by Bracket and Carr (2001) who found that college students have more negative and less positive attitudes towards advertising than other people; this could have affected the results in Hong’s study.  By limiting this study to a non-student demographic, the implications of the college student research was compared with the non-student focused sample.  The sample was drawn from a Survey Monkey database with the requirements that the participants live in the United States, earn over $100,000 a year, and are over 18 years old.  The participants don’t need to shop online to be included.  The study looked at both those who use the Internet for shopping and commercial research as well as those who don’t.

Literature Gaps and Summary
There are several gaps in the literature surrounding online consumer attitudes and motives and the effect on the website and brand.  This study combines three research areas including (a) online advertising attitude, (b) Internet motives, and (c) persuasive message strategy (symbolic versus instrumental) research.  The goal was to tie together all three areas in order to predict attitude toward a website, attitude toward a brand, and behavioral intention.

Uses and gratifications theory has been used to examine Internet motives.  Several studies (Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000; Rodgers & Thorson, 2000; Yuan, 2006) have looked at Internet motives and found correlations between motives and beliefs.  None of these studies have used non-student samples on the automobile industry.  This study further examined the correlation between Internet motives and attitudes to see if it exists for a non-student sample dealing with automobile websites.

Consumers’ attitudes toward Internet advertising can affect how they view advertising (Yuan, 2006; Ducoffe, 1996).  Advertising attitude research using Ducoffe’s (1996) model has not been used previously as a predictor of consumer attitude toward websites or attitude towards brands.  Attitude towards online advertising is important in understanding consumer needs.  This study built upon previous research to examine if the advertising attitudes established by Ducoffe (1996) predicted consumer attitudes toward websites and attitudes towards brands, as well as if advertising attitudes determined the effectiveness of instrumental and symbolic website texts.
If one can identify the psychological functions of a product as reflected in consumer attitudes, this would greatly enhance product development, market segmentation, and advertising strategies.  An ability to match persuasive appeals with the needs of a market would improve brand name identification and expand target audiences.  (Ennis & Zanna, 1993, p. 662).

To further examine persuasive message strategies, this study examined instrumental and symbolic messages.  There are only a few published articles that examine the message strategies of automobile websites.  Ennis and Zanna (1993) looked at the instrumental and symbolic messages of text used in slogans.  Hong (2006) examined consumer attitudes and the response of consumers to symbolic and instrumental texts on automobile websites, but used a student sample.  No studies were found that examined instrumental and symbolic website messages of automobile websites on a non-student sample.