Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who developed a hierarchy of needs that divided human needs into different levels (Maslow, 1943). Needs are a biological and psychological motivation that drive impulses and actions. People need to satisfy their basic needs to move further up the hierarchy (Maslow, 1943). According to Hawkins (2010), Maslow’s hierarchy is based on four premises, including:
• All humans acquire a similar set of motives through genetic endowment and social interaction.
• Some motives are more basic or critical than others.
• The more basic motives need to be satisfied to a minimum level before other motives are activated.
• As the basic motives become satisfied, more advanced motives appear.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been applied to a variety of fields ranging from education, to show how to construct questions that require students to strive toward deeper concepts, to the field of marketing and advertising. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs helps explain what motivates people to respond to advertising and marketing messages. Hawkins and Mothersbaugh (2010) stated “Needs play a strong role in determining what is relevant or interesting to consumers” (p. 370). It has also been used in advertising and marketing design to help craft messages that might best serve needs.
Other researchers have built upon Maslow’s research and looked at the levels of the hierarchy and expanded those broad classifications into specific motives. McGuire developed 16 motives and implications for each motive (McGuire, 1976). Attribution theory is an area of research that delves further into this idea. Attribution theory looks at how a “set of motives deals with our need to determine who or what causes the things that happen to us” (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010, p. 363).
Attitude Function Theory
The basis of attitude function theory is that consumers’ attitudes are determinants of their behavioral intention. The overall attitude toward an object predicts behavioral intentions and behavior in a general way (Yuan, 2006). For example, if someone has a negative attitude toward television commercials, it can be predicted that person will try to avoid commercials (Yuan, 2006). Through the use of persuasive communication, a company tries to influence consumer behavior through messages (The Society of the Study of Artificial Intelligence and the Simulation of Behavior, 2009).
Need for attribution is relevant to understand consumer reactions to promotional messages (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010). As stated by Hawkins and Mothersbaugh (2010), “Because consumers do not passively receive messages but rather attribute ‘selling’ motives and tactics to ads and the advice of sales personnel, they do not believe or they discount sales messages” (p. 363). To overcome this there are a variety of marketing methods from carefully crafting marketing messages, to using a recognizable and credible spokesperson. There are several motives for Internet usage, identified later.
Elaboration Likelihood Model
There are two basic routes in persuasive communication including central and peripheral (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). When people are exposed to persuasive messages they choose the manner to process the message (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). In the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), the central route is presumed to produce judgments that are based on the extensive and critical elaboration of advertising messages (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Elaboration is the extent to which a person thinks about messages (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). The peripheral route results in judgments based from inferences (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). When consumers use peripheral elaboration to process messages of advertisements, they will associate terminologies with a high level of technology and professionalism and pay more attention to the advertisements (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986).
Other researchers have examined message design to look at what types of messages might be designed for persuasive communication. Consumers spend more time examining the contents of advertisements that contain terminologies, scientific and technological functions, and features of products (Chuang, Tsai, Cheng, & Sun, 2009). This is very similar to the basis of an instrumental message. Advertisements that contain terminologies take advantage of the peripheral route of message processing that makes the advertisements persuasive (Chuang, et al., 2009). Chuang, et al., (2009) found that the use of terminologies positively increases advertisement attitude. Terminologies do not cause increased attitudes toward advertisements and brands in the case of low consumer product knowledge (Chuang, et al., 2009). Based on the findings of Chuang, et al. (2009), it is expected that instrumental messages will show more positive attitudes than symbolic messages in the proposed study.
Uses and Gratifications
The uses and gratifications perspective is rooted in communication research. The theory is that communication needs interact with social and psychological factors to produce motives for media use (Katz et al., 1973; Rosengren, 1974). People use media for a variety of reasons and choose these media strategically. When gratifications exceed gratifications sought it will lead to recurrent use of the medium and consumption (Quan-Haase & Young, 2011). Uses and gratifications research in recent years has been applied to Internet usage.
Cho, Zuniga, Rojas, and Shah (2003) conducted a study on the relationship between the Internet and uses and gratifications within a digital divide framework. The study was conducted using data from the Pew Internet and American life study in 2000. The study had a probability sample of 43,224 adults. They divided the sample into four demographic groups including:
• Low SES (socioeconomic status) – Young: High school education, $30-40,000 median income, median age of 27
• Low SES – Old: High school education, $40-50,000 median income, median age of 47
• High SES – Young: College education, $50-75,000 median income, median age of 29
• High SES – Old: College education, $75-100,000 median income, median age of 46
The High SES – Young group is characterized as using the Internet for the purpose of surveillance and consumption. Low SES – Young ranked highest for interactive uses of the Internet. The researchers stated that when compared with the other three groups, High SES – Young are “particularly efficient in using the Internet to satisfy the needs that they were seeking to fulfill” (Cho et al., 2003, p. 57).
Safford and Gonier (2004) conducted a study to empirically determine dimensions of consumer Internet use and usage gratifications among customers. The two-stage research design first completed an exploratory list of terms that characterize typical uses and sought gratification and the second stage used factor analysis to group those descriptive terms. The first stage was a questionnaire on Hotwired.com and the second stage was a sample gathered from America Online. The researchers found that gratifications fall into three categories: process gratifications, content gratifications, and social gratifications.
Debatin, Lovejoy, Horn, and Hughes (2009) conducted a study that looked at the attitudes and behaviors of Facebook users. The study was administered to 119 college undergraduates online. Eight participants from the survey were also given in-depth interviews. Over one-third of participants used Facebook daily. Twenty-nine percent reported that Facebook was always open or active when they were online. Eighty-three percent reported that they used Facebook to interact with friends and other people. The in-depth interviews revealed that the main reason for Facebook use was to stay in contact with friends. Interview participants agreed that Facebook was often used to fuel gossip and rumors.
Uses and Gratifications of the Internet
There are a variety of uses and gratifications sought from the Internet. The Internet serves as an outlet for a variety of motives. Some motives of the Internet include gathering commercial information, gathering non-commercial information, communication, entertainment, killing time, and shopping (Yuan, 2006). How motives correlate to website attitudes by examining high and low commercial usage participants, were investigated in this study.
In a study by Kwon (2003), needs were classified into four categories including (a) affective needs (entertainment activities), (b) personal integrative needs (desire for self-esteem and status), (c) social integrative needs (people want to be part of a group), and (d) escapist needs (relaxation, passing time). The study showed a positive association between web use motives and gratifications obtained (Kwon, 2003).
One study analyzed entertainment and informational motives and the effects on website brands. Consumers seeking information on the Internet have a higher regard than those seeking only entertainment, for websites that successfully combine information and entertainment in a more balanced way (Jose-Cabezudo, Gutierrez-Cillan, & Gutierrez-Arranz, 2008). For information seekers, only the perceived informative value has a positive impact on attitudes toward the brand and intentions to purchase (Jose-Cabezudo et al., 2008). In the case of excitement seekers, the informative channel of advertising loses most of its relative significance in favor of the emotional channel (Jose-Cabezudo, et al., 2008).
Two basic types of advertising messages are instrumental and symbolic. These are the two persuasive message types examined in this proposed study. Instrumental function focuses on “features and attributes of the target object and its utility in providing better functioning in the environment” (Ennis & Zanna, 2000, p. 396). This might be features like gas mileage, reliability, and other utilitarian beliefs. Symbolic beliefs “connect the stimulus object to other psychological constructs” (Ennis & Zanna, 2000, p. 396). Automobiles are distinguished by function (Ennis & Zanna, 2000). Symbolic function oriented texts are more likely to have an appeal to car buyers (Ennis & Zanna, 2000).
• Benefits associated with a car
• Utilitarian qualities
• Social image
• Social status
• Inner self expression
• Luxury and sports.
In a study with an analysis of 160 corporate websites, it was found that message strategies were more likely to be informational than transformational (Hwang, McMillan, & Lee, 2003). Informational strategies provide factual production information about a brand (Hwang, McMillan, & Lee, 2003). Transformational strategies seek to associate “the experience of using a brand with a set of psychological characteristics of consumers and constructs a shared meaning of using a brand among consumers” (Hwang, McMillan, & Lee, 2003, p. 12).
Automobile Industry and Function
Ennis and Zanna (1993) examined the psychological functions of attitudes toward automobiles. The first part of the study tested if subcompact and family cars would meet primarily utilitarian purposes and sport and luxury models would show greater multifunctional need related to instrumental and symbolic function. They found that instrumental utilitarian factors contributed more to subcompact and family cars, t(59)=5.79, p<.001 and symbolic factors contributed more to luxury and sport cars, t(59)=9.43, p<.001 (Ennis & Zanna, 1993). The second part of the study created two advertising message types including instrumental and symbolic, to describe a fictitious car. Ennis and Zanna (1993) found that instrumental messages caused participants to think of the fictional car as unifunctional, and symbolic messages caused the participants to think of the fictional car as multifunctional.
Measuring Consumer Attitudes
There are many variables used to understand consumer attitudes towards advertising and websites. Many times research of online advertising is performed aggregately (Ducoffe, 1996) but in a study of pop-up advertising versus paid search engine placement, it was shown that people’s responses to online advertising differ across formats (Yuan, 2006). In this proposed study, both general attitudes towards Internet advertising and specific attitudes towards a website were gathered.