Are Product Attribute Beliefs the Only Mediator of Advertising Effects on Brand Attitude?
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Are Product Attribute Beliefs the Only Mediator of Advertising Effects on Brand Attitude?

Mitchell, Andrew A. and Jerry C. Olson. 1981. Are product attribute beliefs the only mediator of advertising effects on brand attitude? Journal of Marketing Research. 18(August), 318–332. Reprinted with the permission of the American Marketing Association.

Fishbein’s attitude theory posits that beliefs are the only mediators of attitude formation and change. The validity of this proposition for consumers’ beliefs about product attributes and brand attitudes was examined in the context of an advertising effects study. To manipulate product attribute beliefs and to create settings in which other mediation processes might occur, the authors exposed subjects to simple advertisements that contained either a verbal claim or visual information. Level of repetition also was varied. As expected, product attribute beliefs mediated attitude formation. However, another variable, termed attitude toward the advertisement, also mediated brand attitudes and purchase intentions. The authors discuss alternative explanations for the results and offer suggestions for future research.

Attitude, defined here as an individual’s internal evaluation of an object such as a branded product, has been an important concept in marketing research for the past 20 years. There are at least two major reasons for this long-term interest. First, attitudes often are considered relatively stable and enduring predispositions to behave. Consequently, they should be useful predictors of consumers’ behavior toward a product or service. Second, social psychology has provided several theoretical models of the attitude construct (e.g., Fishbein 1963; McGuire 1968; Rosenberg 1956; Triandis 1971; Wyer 1974). These conceptual frameworks, especially Fishbein’s, have stimulated much of the attitude research in marketing. Most of this work, however, has been descriptive and pragmatic in orientation; theoretical issues have been relatively neglected.

To increase the usefulness of the attitude construct, marketers must develop a clearer understanding of the causal determinants of attitude formation and change ( Olson and Mitchell 1975; also see Lutz 1977 Lutz and Bettman 1977). These causal influences are of critical importance because they mediate the effects of marketing decision variables such as advertising or price on consumer attitudes. Thus, a better understanding of the causal dynamics of attitude formation would not only aid marketing researchers in measuring the attitudinal impact of marketing variables, but also help managers develop more effective marketing strategy.

Attitude Theory

Fishbein (1963, 1967; Fishbein and Ajzen 1975) presented perhaps the clearest theoretical exposition of the causal basis of attitudes. According to Fishbein and Ajzen (1975, p. 222), “A person’s attitude is a function of his salient beliefs at a given point in time.” Beliefs are the subjective associations between any two discriminable concepts. Salient beliefs are those activated from memory and “considered” by the person in a given situation ( Fishbein and Ajzen 1975 Olson, Kanwar, and Muderrisoglu 1979). As these ideas are operationalized in the typical marketing research study, the attitude concept of interest is a brand and the related concepts are product attributes.

That is, marketing researchers have been mainly concerned with consumers’ beliefs about attributes of a brand. Fishbein’s now-familiar attitude model specifies the relationship between the set of salient beliefs about a concept (often termed cognitive structure) and an overall evaluation of, or attitude toward, the concept.

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[Editorial note: Throughout the text, the Greek letter “sigma” will be replaced with “E.” Therefore, the above equation would read as “Eb ie i= A o” in the text.]

Fishbein clearly intended the attitude model in equation 1to describe only the predicted relationship between measures of the theoretical constructs (e.g., see Fishbein and Ajzen 1975, p. 222–3). That is, the algebraic model provides a means of estimating the belief-attitude relationship that was formed as a result of causal mechanisms. The model itself does not “state” the causal proposition nor does it specify the causal mechanisms.

Fishbein also proposed that the attitude-belief relationship specified in equation 1holds for attitudes toward a specific behavior such as buying a product A act. However, the set of salient beliefs may not be the same as for A o. ( Fishbein and Ajzen 1975). In turn, attitude, especially A act, is...