Good, better, best. A study on the effects of comparative language on customer engagement in social media advertising

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Customer engagement is a key brand performance indicator in the context of social media platforms like Instagram. A technique that has been studied in relation to customer engagement is comparative advertising. However, an unspecified form of comparative advertising has not been elaborately studied, despite its more common use by marketers. Theory suggests there are two different effects this comparative language could have on customer engagement. Firstly, consumers could consider the unclear basis of comparison as less credible, leading to decreased customer engagement. Secondly, the hierarchical semantics of comparative language could create a perception of power, leading to increased customer engagement. Based on the Elaboration Likelihood Model a distinction was made between these ambiguous propositions. Highly involved customers were expected to be more critical and thus more likely to deem the message as less credible, while lowly involved customers were expected to process the message based on peripheral cues, meaning they would deem the message powerful. Results indicated a different causal route than expected. Using unspecified comparative language in an Instagram advertisement only seemed to negatively affect customer engagement. Consumers who saw unspecified comparative language were more likely to consider the message less credible. This led to a decreased perceived message power, which decreased consumer engagement. If these consumers were particularly highly involved with the product category in the advertisement, credibility also directly impacted their engagement, which worsened the effect of unspecified comparative language on customer engagement. For managers these results stress the importance of credibility in advertising messages and indicate that marketers should be careful with using unspecified comparative language in their brand communication.
Faculteit der Managementwetenschappen