- Textbooks to teach advertising with: A review of The Psychology of Advertising, 2 ndedition(Fennis & Stroebe, 2016) and Advertising: Critical Approaches(Wharton, 2015)
As Bob M. Fennis and Wolfgang Stroebe note in their preface, there seems to be a dearth in textbooks on advertising research, especially when it comes to the psychology of advertising. A comprehensive critical perspective, Chris Wharton’s aim, is arguably even rarer. Yet the fact that both books can be written as textbookstestifies to the reason of this scarcity: Advertising research is (by necessity!) so inter- and multidisciplinary that any attempt to write an umbrella introduction will fall short. I emphasise that these are textbooks because they both aim to introduce a novice audience to the breadth of their respective domains, elaborating on baseline theory as they proceed and dipping into ‘parent disciplines’ when necessary. One can easily imagine either book being the ‘spring plank’ reading in introductory courses in their respective foci, though neither suggests ‘further readings’ at the end of their chapters (this choice is, admittedly, much easier critiqued than realised). Either way, both proved helpful in putting quite a few ducks in a row even for the (only slightly) more experienced (and to very differing degrees of experience of each, admittedly) reader.
Before I delve into the actual review, I have to confess that I had an agenda before starting: I had hoped the books would, together, point the way to an (at least partially) integrated course on advertising, one that is both knowledgeable of state-of-the-art psychological inquiry and ‘critical’ in the cultural studies sense of the word. Yet that synergy remains somewhat elusive and certainly invites interested teachers to ponder its potentials—a project for another day.
Fennis and Stroebe’s second edition of their Psychology of Advertisingis a comprehensive overview of not only the latest research insights in the eponymous field (cross-cutting consumer psychology, social psychology, and cognitive psychology), but also makes a point out of discussing the theoretical backdrop from which these studies have sprung and the ways in which the predictions were tested. The authors suggest that this information should enable the reader not only to determine the validity of the outcomes, but also to consider how context may matter a lot in the way these results are interpreted. In light of the ongoing debate on the (seemingly poor) reproducibility of psychological research, this attention greatly benefits the novice student. Finally, and thankfully, this collation of research is thorough and very readable. To the lay person with a vested interest (such as myself), the book is accessible, informative, and helpful.
‘Setting the stage,’ chapter 1, offers a very brief overview of advertising research (though this is probably better served by indeed matching readings with a chapter or two from Wharton’s book), but most illuminatingly includes a generalised discussion of the type of research typically conducted in the field. Though it may elicit numerous objections from culturally oriented readers (e.g., the close reading of the infamous “We’re only No.2” Avis campaign comes across as force-fitted to exemplify the power of the ‘two-sided advertisement,’ and socio-cultural approaches to persuasion are overlooked wholesale), it is nevertheless useful in its clear exposition of the rest of the book’s genealogy. Following an implied progression in dissecting consumer psychology, we then proceed in chapter 2 by separating out information processing into four stages that are relevant to the advertising context and which will echo with the diverse viewing modes Wharton expounds below: preattentive processing; focal attention; comprehension; and elaborative reasoning. Advertisers can call on different features to understand how each moment might affect the eventual reception on the brand. We think of: hedonic fluency (in preattentive processing);, salience, vividness, novelty, and categorisation (drawing focal attention); the relationship between repeatability and believability (as related to comprehension); and finally self-schematas and metacognition (in elaboration). Yet, of course the moment of ‘processing’, whether intentional or incidental...