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Volume 4(1/2): 5990 Copyright 2004 SAGE DOI: 10.



Explaining the special case of incongruity in advertising: Combining classic theoretical approaches
Eun-Ju Lee
California State University, USA

David W. Schumann
The University of Tennessee, USA

Abstract. In order to assess the effectiveness of an advertisement employing incongruity, it would be most helpful to determine when and how incongruity is likely to be processed by consumers and the nature of the response it is likely to evoke. By combining the tenets of two classic processing theories, Petty and Cacioppos Elaboration Likelihood Model (1981, 1986) and Mandlers Schema Incongruity Theory (1982), this article develops an integrative framework for better understanding viewer responses to incongruity. Key Words incongruity advertising theory elaboration likelihood model schema incongruity theory

Knowing that attention is a scarce resource, advertisers involved in designing persuasive marketing communication have long been intensely interested in creative ways of capturing audience attention. One means by which advertising may capture attention is through the use of incongruity. Indeed, creative advertising strategy employing incongruity is frequently observed in advertising practice. But what is the relative effectiveness of incongruity as employed in advertising? To examine this question, one needs to first define incongruity as it relates to advertising. For our purposes, congruity (incongruity) in advertising is a match (or mismatch) between a stimulus element (e.g. product, brand, endorser, music, or any execution element in an ad) and the existing schema that one holds about


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the advertising stimulus. A schema is a knowledge structure or the semantic network structure regarding an object (Bobrow and Norman, 1975), which serves as a frame of reference in forming judgments (Mandler, 1982). Schema incongruity may occur when the representation of an object does not match the configuration of the activated schema (Fiske, 1982; Mandler, 1982; Sujan, 1985). The level or intensity of incongruity is determined by the degree of match (or mismatch) between the representation (e.g. attributes) of an object (e.g. product) and the related schema (e.g. Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989; Peracchio and Tybout, 1996; Stayman et al., 1992; Sujan, 1985).1 In order to assess the effectiveness of an advertisement employing incongruity, it is important to determine when and how incongruity is processed by consumers and the nature of the response it is likely to evoke. This article integrates the tenets of two classic processing theories, Petty and Cacioppos Elaboration Likelihood Model (1981, 1986) and Mandlers Schema Incongruity Processing Theory (1982), in an effort to better understand viewer response to incongruity.

Incongruity in advertising and consumer behavior studies

A thorough review of studies examining incongruity in the advertising and consumer behavior literatures reveals mixed results for memory and attitude outcomes. For example, one stream of research has found that congruent messages generate more favorable responses than incongruent ones (e.g. Kahle and Homer, 1985; Kamins, 1990; Kamins and Gupta, 1994; Misra and Beatty, 1990; Sengupta et al., 1997). Several experiments have demonstrated that information congruent with an expectation was recalled more frequently and rapidly (Barsalou, 1982; Nedungadi and Hutchinson, 1985), it was recognized better (Hastie and Kumar, 1979), and it was retained for a longer time (Sengupta et al., 1997) when compared with incongruent information. This evidence of superior congruity effect could be the case where existing schemata (and attitudes) serve as an anchor to decide which is acceptable (unacceptable) as predicted by social judgment theory (Sherif et al., 1965). According to social judgment theory, people will reject new/incongruent information that lies outside of the latitude of acceptance. However, evidence also shows that incongruity has the potential to create tension (Heider, 1958), leading to a more detailed processing. Tension is a type of arousal (Latour and Rotfeld, 1997; Latour and Tanner, 2003; Thayer, 1978, 1986), a potential psychophysiological response to incongruent stimuli leading to more deliberate processing of input information. The topic of how incongruity triggers a psychological process intended to reduce this tension has been of interest to researchers since the early days of modern cognitive psychology (Heider, 1958; Miller et al., 1960; Osgood and Tannenbaum, 1955). It is suggested that tension aroused by incongruity has the potential to trigger a human need or desire to relieve the tension through some form of resolution (Festinger, 1957; Heider, 1958; Mandler, 1982). Thus, many studies also report that incongruity draws greater attention than congruity and has the potential for a positive evaluation.


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

Empirical evidence suggests that individuals presented with incongruity are more likely to engage in detailed processing than they are with congruity and may even respond positively to the incongruity, hence an incongruity effect (e.g. Baker and Petty, 1994; Goodstein, 1993; Hastie and Kumar, 1979; Houston et al., 1987; Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989; OSullivan and Durso, 1984; Srull, 1981; Srull et al., 1985; Sujan, 1985; Sujan et al., 1986). These differences in previous studies may be resolved through theoretical examination of both when an advertising stimulus containing incongruity is likely to receive full (or scanty) attention leading to detailed (or peripheral) processing, and how ad incongruity is successfully (or unsuccessfully) resolved. To date, these two questions have not been studied in an integrative fashion in advertising and consumer behavior research. By combining the tenets of two classic processing theories, Petty and Cacioppos Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) (1981, 1986) and Mandlers Schema Incongruity Theory (1982), this article prescribes a framework for better understanding the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of incongruity when it is employed in advertising. The Elaboration Likelihood Model is useful because it provides an explanation and prediction for when different processing strategies are employed when one is exposed to a communication. It accounts for both depth of processing and relevant moderating influences. The inclusion of the ELM in our integrated model thus answers: when incongruity will likely be elaborated upon; when cues in the advertising environment are likely to be influential; and/or when incongruity will likely be ignored altogether. The conceptual contribution of Mandlers incongruity processing model is its focus on the actual nature of the processing and the resolution process. By including Mandlers notion of schema processing, the integrated model proposed here can delineate how incongruity is: assimilated (i.e. included within an existing directly related schema); resolved using alternative schema (included in an existing indirectly related schema); or successfully or unsuccessfully accommodated (able [unable] to build new schema), leading to certain attitudinal and memory outcomes. The contribution that comes from integrating these two classic models is considerable. As noted above, the integration of these theories responds to two important questions: when incongruity is likely to be processed and how incongruity is processed and resolved. While the ELM describes central processing in general, it does not offer a specific explanation of how information is processed (e.g. assimilated, accommodated). While the incongruity processing model provides specific explanations of how incongruity is resolved, it assumes central processing. The ELM posits that there may be instances where incongruity is not processed centrally; instead, peripheral processing of the advertising may occur,


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or it may be ignored altogether. The integrated model attempts to provide a comprehensive accounting of all the different processing possibilities.

Two classic approaches

Schema incongruity processing theory
Mandler (1982) proposed an insightful theory of incongruity that posited specific types of internal processes operating in response to differing levels of incongruity. His work draws upon schema theory and the classical notions of assimilation and accommodation by Piaget (1981). Mandler (1982) suggests that individual processing of incongruity will be guided by ones schema (see Figure 1), schema serving as a frame of reference (Osgood and Tannenbaum, 1955). Thus, the fit (or lack thereof) with the activated schemas (i.e. level of incongruity) is likely to determine what internal process individuals will employ (assimilation or accommodation) when they are faced with incongruity. Also, attitudes and evaluations are formed through the resolution of (or inability to resolve) incongruity; how successful individuals are, in resolving an incongruity within their cognitive schema network will likely determine their affective responses.

The Elaboration Likelihood Model

Over two decades ago, Petty and Cacioppo introduced their Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion in the social psychology discipline (1981, 1986). Since that time, significant research has been generated in the advertising and consumer behavior disciplines adopting the ELM as an explanatory framework (e.g. Haugtvedt et al., 1994; Petty et al., 1983; Schumann et al., 1991). The ELM suggests that there are two routes to persuasion that reflect the end points of a continuum of elaboration likelihood. The central route reflects a careful and effortful processing of issue-relevant information that conveys the merits of an issue, object or person. This high level of elaboration occurs in those who are both motivated and able to do so. The peripheral route posits that persuasion could still take place in the absence of effortful scrutiny of issue-relevant information because simple cues in the persuasion environment could influence ones attitude. Relative to attitudes formed or altered through central processing, those formed or altered through peripheral processing are thought to be relatively temporary and susceptible to counterarguments (Petty and Cacioppo, 1981, Haugtvedt et al., 1994). In advertising, potential peripheral cues might include such ad features as the characteristics of the source of the message, the creative non-message elements depicted in the graphics used in the ads, the cosmetic variation of these graphic elements, and certain types of action and voices in the case of commercials (e.g. Schumann et al., 1990). Petty and Cacioppo (1986) refer to a set of postulates in their presentation of the ELM. Two of these postulates are especially pertinent to our discussion of


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

Level of incongruity Congruity slight alternative schema assimilation successful unsuccessful Incongruity severe accomodation

value affect intensity



POS ++

POS or NEG +++


Figure 1 Mandlers theory of incongruity (1982: 22)

processing incongruity. First, a variable can impact persuasion via different processes to lead to different levels of elaboration likelihood (Petty et al., 1997). Therefore, a communication containing something perceived to be incongruous can be processed either centrally or peripherally. Second, a persuasive variable can play multiple roles in the processing of a communication. As Petty et al. infer, incongruity as a persuasion variable can act as a peripheral cue . . . or bias processing . . . or influence the amount of message processing that occurs (1997: 624).

Combining theories
To better explain and predict when and how incongruity effects are likely to be processed as they occur in advertising, we propose an integrative conceptual framework that adopts the notion of elaboration likelihood and the employment of schemata (see Figure 2). Processing incongruity is cognitively effortful for many individuals, and their motivation and ability will likely determine the level of their mental investment. Furthermore, we will identify several variables that are believed to moderate when an investment in processing incongruity is most likely to occur and lead to successful (or unsuccessful) resolution. Finally, drawing


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Advertising employing incongruity

Moderating influences
SITUATIONAL FACTORS Perceived risk Personal relevance Processing time Mood INDIVIDUAL FACTORS Optimal stimulus level Novelty- and sensation-seeking Rigidity and dogmatism Tolerance for ambiguity Prior knowledge Need for cognition Creativity SOURCE AND MESSAGE FACTORS Source credibility Resolution messages or hints Motivation to process the incongruity


Peripheral processing (Assimilation possible) yes


Ability to process the incongruity

Ignore or reject the incongruity No



Successful resolution Assimilation Alternative schema Positive and negative thoughts Successful accomodation Positive and negative thoughts

Unsuccessful resolution Unsuccessful accomodation Negative thoughts

Positive thoughts

CENTRAL ATTITUDE CHANGE Figure 2 An integrated model of processing incongruity


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

on Mandlers schema incongruity theory (1982), we attempt to depict types of resolution strategies for incongruity relating to various changes in schema structures. We believe that both cognitive and affective (reflected in attitude formation and persuasion) consequences are influenced by the internal processing strategies individuals adopt in an attempt to resolve varying levels of incongruity.

Elaboration likelihood of incongruity: three paths

We conceptualize that processing incongruity can vary from minimal (ignoring incongruity) processing, relatively low effort (peripheral) processing, to relatively high effort (central) processing. Each will be discussed in turn. Ignoring or rejecting incongruity There is a general consensus that when people lack motivation, they tend to process information in a simplified way in order to minimize cognitive effort (Alba and Hutchinson, 1987; Markus, 1977), resulting from limited processing capacity (Bobrow and Norman, 1975). Cacioppo and Petty (1985) suggest that given the cognitive limitation in attention and information processing, it is reasonable to assume that people spend their cognitive resources sparingly. Studies have found that people often ignore certain information based on the lack of fit with their existing schema (Peracchio and Tybout, 1996; Yoon, 1997). Bobrow and Norman (1975) suggest that when individuals select which information they attend to and process realizing their cognitive limitations existing schema can guide the selection procedure. That is, they tend to make quick judgments when an item is congruent with their expectation (Fiske, 1982; Peracchio and Tybout, 1996) or typical of a generic category (Cherniak, 1984). Here, individuals may base their judgments simply on schema congruity/ incongruity, or familiarity as readily accessible schemas. Individuals may see no point in investing their scarce cognitive resources in processing irrelevant information and simply ignore or reject the incongruity outright. Another reason why some individuals may not approach incongruent information is because incongruity causes disturbances in ones cognitive system. Festingers (1957) cognitive dissonance theory suggests that disturbances (dissonance) that occur between cognitive elements of information causes tension, and individuals may very well avoid information that increases such disturbance instead of engaging in deeper cognition. Peripheral processing of incongruity In some cases, message recipients may not have the motivation and/or the ability to process persuasive communication in an extensive way. The communication produces a (temporary) judgment, but the motivation to hold correct judgments is not important enough to lead to extensive processing of the messages. When individuals process, they may selectively attend to cues within the message environment. Often, contextual cues that are easily understood yet not directly related to the main issue, are employed in the formation of an attitude. For example, message recipients are usually able to distinguish source attractive-


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ness quite easily, even at low levels of involvement. Individuals may generate simple inferences from these cues on which they base their attitudes (Fiske and Neuberg, 1990; Meyers-Levy and Malaviya, 1999). These affective-based judgments reflect the favorable or unfavorable feelings associated with the cues that are generated during the message exposure (Meyers-Levy and Malaviya, 1999). Incongruity may also serve as a distraction from processing extensively. Thus ability to process is hampered and will likely result in peripheral processing. Individuals distracted by incongruent elements in an ad may likely be led to attend to peripheral cues such as celebrity sources, background images, and other execution elements. As noted by Petty and Cacioppo (1986), attitudes formed via the peripheral route are rather temporary. Central processing of incongruity When individuals are fully motivated to process incongruity, they will invest substantial processing effort and will be more likely to examine the information presented in the ad in a systematic manner (Eagly and Chaiken, 1993). Lazarus and Folkman (1984) note that if some information is thought to have personal relevance, it becomes hot information that guides the subsequent cognition of that information (see also Petty et al.s notion of involvement [Petty and Cacioppo, 1986; Petty et al., 1983]). It is suggested that people assess the relevance of conditions, such as the importance of the processing of that particular information, in achieving their personal goals before engaging in elaborate processing (Lazarus, 1991). If the information is appraised to be relevant to personal goals, individuals will allocate their cognitive resources to processing that information (Kahneman, 1973). Individuals processing centrally are likely to adopt some systematic strategy when there is a need to make accurate judgments. In so doing, individuals spend substantial cognitive resources to find crucial information and carefully process the information to make correct judgments (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986). Occasions of central processing, therefore, include the case when individuals realize that their initial judgments were incomplete and/or incorrect. A judgment correction process will occur in such cases to alleviate biased prior inferences (Meyers-Levy and Malaviya, 1999). Again, the resources needed to engage in judgment correction processing are sizable, and individuals will not attempt to correct their initial judgments unless they are highly motivated.

Processing strategies for incongruity

As noted in Figure 2, when an individual has the ability and motivation to process the incongruity found in an advertisement, then due to the likely tension caused by the incongruity, the individual will typically seek some form of resolution. Mandler (1982) contends this takes place through cognitive involvement of existing and/or constructed schema. The notion of schema, borrowed from cognitive psychology, is pertinent to understanding cognitive processing of incongruity. Conceptualized as an association network of knowledge and expectations in memory, a schema also provides


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

processing strategies that contain procedural definitions of its potential functions and operations (Bobrow and Norman, 1975: 138). The expectancy system of a schema, including organization and interconnections of relevant information, is thought to guide the process of resolving incongruity. By first identifying the level of incongruity, and then determining the difficulty (or ease) of resolution, incongruities can often be resolved within the existing cognitive structure (Mandler, 1982). More specifically, Mandler (1982, 1993) has suggested four types of processing strategies dealing with varying levels of incongruity: assimilation, alternative schema, successful accommodation, and unsuccessful accommodation (please refer to Figures 1 and 2). Assimilation Assimilation refers to the placement of the incongruent information into existing schema. Assimilation of incongruity is likely to occur with a relatively weak level of incongruity that can be easily incorporated into the existing schema. In the brand literature, Sujan and Bettman (1989) note that consumers can easily assimilate weak to moderate incongruity between a generic product category and brand attributes, with minimal cognitive effort. MeyersLevy and Tybout (1989) provide an appropriate example. When consumers are told that they have been given a new drink that has moderate fruit concentration and yet tastes very similar to some soft drinks they are already familiar with, consumers might think, Oh, it is really just another soft drink. In this case, there would be little naturally occurring curiosity that would result in further consumer thought (Mandler, 1982; Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989; Stayman et al., 1992). When applied to brand positioning, slight incongruity of an advertised brand with the generic product schema could produce a weak product differentiation (Sujan and Bettman, 1989) that may not be perceived as innovative, but as slightly new or improved. The advertised brand shares enough consistent attributes with the generic schema to be assimilated into the existing schema (Sujan and Bettman, 1989). Although classified as a possible strategy under central processing in Figure 2, assimilation may also employ fewer cognitive resources than other processing strategies (e.g. accommodation) and could receive less elaboration, thus combining lower levels of message elaboration with attention to peripheral cues (Meyers-Levy and Malaviya, 1999). Alternative schema Alternative schema refers to an analogical reasoning that efficiently utilizes other schemas in resolving incongruities. The process of alternative schema utilizes analogies in perceiving similarities between the existing schema and an incongruent representation (Vosniadou and Ortony, 1989). Both assimilation and alternative schema are examples of self-directed learning using analogies (Gregan-Paxton and John, 1997). In employing analogies to resolve incongruity, information from the existing schema can be recalled and transferred in a new way as a result of a productive thinking process (Guilford, 1965). Forming new connections and/or putting the incongruent representation under an alternative schema, or transferring prior knowledge to resolve incongruity, does not always involve drastic changes in current schema structures. Instead, it


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uses other existing schemas to resolve current incongruity. For example, individuals who encounter a fruit-juice-tasting drink and are told that what they have is a soft drink, may think, It is not really a soft drink, it is more of a fruit juice (Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989). Similarly, when one is told that s/he is given a typewriter, but the device has features more similar to a computer, s/he may think, This product is not a typewriter it is more like a computer (Ozanne et al., 1992). Assimilation and alternative schema processing strategies make heavy use of existing schemas and individual knowledge, in facilitating judgments. Thus, it is important to note that there is built-in potential for bias within this processing which can lead to incorrect judgment as one seeks a speedy resolution of tension caused by the incongruity. Accommodation When confronted with severe incongruity, individuals may have to engage in an effortful cognitive process to be able to reinterpret incongruent information or reorganize current schema structure (Tesser and Leone, 1977). If one cannot use analogy or transfer prior knowledge from existing schema to the target incongruity as in assimilation or alternative schema, a new schema is required. Specifically, in response to severe incongruities, one might restructure his/her knowledge schema or build a new associative link between existing schemas that were not previously connected. This process of creating a new schema that will enable successful accommodation typically demands much more cognitive effort and skillful operation of cognitive resources. One means of building a new sub-node within existing schema, subtyping, can be found in the consumer information processing literature. Subtyping refers to the process of filtering out incongruity and encoding it as a special case, resulting in subcategories within a schema (Taylor and Crocker, 1981). In brand positioning, a strongly differentiated brand can result in a subtyped position (Sujan and Bettman, 1989), one that is close to the generic category but spatially discernible in the perceptual map. As distinguished from simple assimilation and alternative schema (Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989; Ozanne et al., 1992), the thought samples of subtyping reveal that individuals perceive some difficulty in fitting incongruent information into existing schemas. They will typically build a new node into the existing schemas to accommodate that particular incongruity. For example, one could categorize incongruity under existing schema yet add new elements such as It is a soft drink, but one that does not have the usual preservatives (Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989) or This product is a word-processing typewriter (Ozanne et al., 1992). Finally, when the severity of incongruity is too intense to be assimilated into existing schemas, one may realize that s/he needs an entirely new schema that may deny existing schemas, in order to accommodate and possibly resolve such severe incongruities (Mandler, 1982). Accommodating extremely severe incongruity takes enormous effort, both cognitively and emotionally, and requires much greater skill in operating psychological resources. Hence, it is possible that in cases of severe incongruities, one may fail to resolve the severe incongruity even after one has attempted to make substantial changes to ones current schema struc-


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

tures. Reconciling the extremely severe incongruity into existing schemas within ones total cognitive system may simply be beyond ones ability.

Moderating influences
As noted in Figure 2, the proposed model identifies the motivation and the ability to process incongruity as key determinants of the extent to which individuals will invest their processing effort (Cacioppo and Petty, 1985) and the likelihood that incongruity can be successfully resolved. Alba and Hutchinson (1987) suggest that elaboration likelihood of incongruity is contingent on certain underlying factors and note that only under some conditions will schema-incongruent information be processed in a systematic fashion. From a comprehensive review of all the relevant literature, the proposed model identifies a select set of important potential moderating variables that interact with the motivation and/or the ability to determine the likelihood of processing the incongruity. These potential moderators are categorized by situational factors, individual difference characteristics, and source and message factors.

Situational factors
Cognitive processes are often context-dependent and the contents of processing reflect situational influences (Mandler, 1993). Atkinson (1964) and Burnkrant (1976) recognize that the tendency to process particular information will be dependent upon the other factors active in a particular situation. We identify situational influences that may affect the motivation and/or ability to process incongruity as perceived risk, personal relevance, processing time and mood. Perceived risk (tension arousal) Campbell and Goodstein (2001) reexamined the moderate incongruity effect posited by Mandler (1982) and the moderating influence of perceived risk. Consumers perceptions of risk guide their product evaluation. Heightened risk perception is likely to produce risk aversion and reliance on well-known brands (Erdem, 1998). Individuals, when perceiving high risk, tend to inhibit exploratory tendencies and prefer choosing the norm and familiar options over novelty and unfamiliar options (Campbell and Goodstein, 2001). The three experiments conducted by Campbell and Goodstein (2001) demonstrated that the positive effect of the moderate incongruity did not appear when there was risk associated with product selection. When respondents perceived high risk associated with a purchase, they preferred the congruent (and familiar) option to the moderately incongruent choice, thereby demonstrating the moderating effect of consumer perceived risk on product evaluations and attitude. Thayers multidimensional arousal (activation) theory (1978, 1986) proposes two types of arousal: tension and energy. High-risk incongruity can generate tension arousal. Tension arousal reflects feeling clutched-up, fearful and jittery


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instead of being still, calm and restful in response to an ad stimulus. While heightened tension may generally increase ones motivation to process information at hand, if the tension created by high-risk incongruity is unbearably high, one may try to avoid/ignore the input and preserve inner balance. Personal relevance (energetic arousal) Involvement has been spotlighted as an important moderator of the type and amount of information processing in response to advertising stimuli. High involvement messages convey greater personal relevance and connections (Petty et al., 1983). When messages are personally relevant, it becomes hot information (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984), and individuals may likely experience some energetic arousal. Energy arousal is reflected in feeling vigorous, full of pep and energetic, instead of being sleepy, tired and drowsy (Thayer, 1986). Energetic arousal resulting from personal relevance will likely facilitate individuals motivation to process and resolve incongruity. On the other hand, individuals are less likely to invest their cognitive resources to process incongruity that has little personal relevance. Processing time Srull and his colleagues (Srull, 1981; Srull et al., 1985) found that unless subjects were given enough time to think about incongruity, resolution of incongruity did not occur. It is reasonable that individuals will not be motivated to process incongruity if they do not have enough time to process the information. In brand information processing, exposure time significantly affects consumers attention to brand information in an ad (MacInnis et al., 1991). The shorter exposure time, the less attention is likely to be paid to a discrepant message (i.e. incongruity) (Houston et al., 1987). For example, when exposure time was reduced from 15 seconds to 10 seconds in the Houston et al. study (1987), superior memory effects for incongruity were substantially diminished as a result of limited attention and processing investment. These results suggest that time, as a form of processing opportunity, will have a considerable impact on any decision to invest processing effort. Furthermore, when individuals are not given sufficient processing time, they tend to use peripheral cues such as source expertise in forming their attitudes (Ratneshwar and Chaiken, 1991). Speck et al. (1988) demonstrated that respondents indicated increased extensive processing under the incongruity condition (i.e. when the source and their role cue were incongruent). Higher recall was observed only when respondents were allowed enough processing time. Mood Research has indicated that mood influences the nature, course and quality of cognitive activities. The manner in which information is encoded, stored and retrieved from memory and the depth of processing is thought to be influenced by mood (Batra and Stayman, 1990; Bower, 1981; Isen, 1990; Petty et al., 1993). For example, previous research has indicated that happiness reduces deliberate, careful processing of information (Asuncion and Lam, 1995; Mackie et al., 1992; Schwarz and Bless, 1991), whereas sadness increases careful, systematic processing (Mackie et al., 1992). Isen and Daubmans (1984) findings indicate


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

that subjects with positive affect tended to be flexible in applying analogies and making necessary adjustment in schemas. On the other hand, extreme affect (positive or negative) is thought to interfere with any extensive information processing, because it consumes resources that may be necessary for subsequent cognition (Asuncion and Lam, 1995). Asuncion and Lams (1995) findings suggest that a neutral mood is better for memory of incongruent information than a happy or sad mood. Moreover, Johnson and Tversky (1983) demonstrate that even relatively mild affective states could substantially limit cognitive processing. The Affect Infusion Model (AIM) proposed by Forgas (1995a) explains how affect infuses cognition and behavior. This model offers several types of processing ranging from relatively mindless effort (where affect is posited to play little or no role) to more extensive processing (both heuristic and substantial) effort where affect is expected to play a much more significant role. Both heuristic and substantive processes allow the possibility of affect infusion either directly (e.g. using a mood-related heuristic) or indirectly through affect priming (e.g. selective retention of mood-congruent information (Wegener et al., 1994). In accordance with AIM, evidence indicated that mood had a significantly greater influence on judgment for the atypical pattern requiring more extensive processing (Forgas, 1995b). Thus, in processing incongruity, mood will likely affect the way in which incongruity will be processed and also will play a role in the likelihood of success with which incongruity will be resolved. The directionality of these effects is not clear at this time and will require more empirical work.

Individual characteristics
Individual characteristics, mostly personality and cognitive characteristics, are identified as potential moderating influences on the motivation to process incongruity in the model. Specifically, we propose that optimal stimulus level, variety seeking, novelty-seeking, dogmatism and rigidity, tolerance for ambiguity, prior knowledge, need for cognition, and creativity might affect the motivation and/or the ability to process incongruity. Optimal stimulus level Each individual has a preferred level of stimulation, termed optimum stimulus level (Raju, 1980). Optimal stimulus level (OSL) deals with an individuals general response to the surrounding objects that contain some levels of sensory arousal. When the actual stimulus level is lower than an individuals OSL, s/he is likely to be bored; if the actual stimulus level notably exceeds the OSL, s/he is overwhelmed. In extreme cases, s/he may fall asleep out of boredom or panic due to overexcitement (Mowen, 1998). Information that is incongruent with an existing schema is likely to provide high sensory stimulation (Mowen, 1998) and energy arousal (Thayer, 1978, 1986) because it often contains novelty, discrepancy and contradictions with conventional knowledge. Therefore, if an individual has a high optimum stimulus level, s/he is more likely to attend to and process incongruity that can increase stimulation, whereas individuals with


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a low optimum stimulus level may likely avoid such incongruity to decrease stimulation. Novelty and sensation seeking Novelty seeking is a tendency driven by some internal drive to seek out new information (Hirschman, 1980). Interestingly, one aspect of novelty seeking is pursuing information potentially incongruent with an existing schema. Mandlers (1982, 1995) definition of incongruity suggests that novelty can be considered as a case of incongruity, because incongruent information is not represented by ones schema. Similarly, sensation seeking is a motivation to seek out novel and complex sensations and experiences (Zuckerman, 1979). It has been empirically shown that sensation seeking has a positive effect on acceptance of novel information. For example, Zuckerman (1988) found that high sensation seekers were receptive to novel stimuli whereas low sensation seekers tend to reject novelty. Incongruent messages tend to be high in sensation value and therefore will more likely attract high sensation seekers than low sensation seekers. On the other hand, low sensation seekers prefer congruent messages, because congruity is low in sensation value (Lorch et al., 1994). In the persuasion context, Donohew et al. (1991) empirically demonstrated that messages high in sensation value were more effective with high sensation seekers, while messages low in sensation value were more effective with low sensation seekers. Therefore, incongruent information will be better received by individuals with high novelty- and sensation-seeking tendencies and these individuals are the ones who are more likely to be motivated to process (and attend to) incongruity than low novelty or sensation seekers. Rigidity and dogmatism Rigidity and dogmatic thinking refer to resistance to potential change of ones belief system. Highly dogmatic individuals have difficulty in receiving and integrating new information that may result in changes in their belief system (Rokeach et al., 1960). Rigidity is conceptually close to dogmatism (Peracchio and Tybout, 1996), and is defined as a tendency to avoid trying new things (Raju, 1980). Rigid individuals tend to have low motivation for change (Rokeach et al., 1960). Rigidity is negatively related to acceptance of new ideas that may be incongruent with conventional ways of thinking. Incongruity has a potential to disrupt the stable belief system of highly dogmatic or rigid individuals and thus, highly dogmatic individuals, motivated to preserve the current system, are not likely to process (or even attend to) an input information that is incongruent with their belief system. It is also possible that highly dogmatic or rigid individuals will often reject incongruent information simply based on heuristics (Chandrasekaran and Kirs, 1986), one of which is schema congruity (Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989). Therefore, highly dogmatic and rigid individuals are less favorable to incongruent information than less dogmatic people. Highly dogmatic and rigid individuals are also less receptive to new and unfamiliar stimuli that are incongruent with their expectation (e.g. new types of music) (Jacoby, 1971). Tolerance for ambiguity Tolerance for ambiguity is defined by Budner (1962) as


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

the tendency to perceive ambiguous or inconsistent situations as desirable. Ambiguity, as perceived in situations where the available information may seem incongruent and unfamiliar (Camerer and Weber, 1992), can be threatening for individuals who have a low tolerance for ambiguity. In the information-search literature, it is suggested that individuals more tolerant of ambiguity should search for more information and should process, rather than reject as intolerant individuals might, incongruent information (Bettman and Zins, 1977). Individuals most tolerant of ambiguity can deal with most difficult and complex problems (Schaninger and Sciglimaglia, 1981) such as severe incongruities. Therefore, severe incongruities will likely motivate those individuals with high tolerance for ambiguity to deliberately process and solve the difficult problems more than individuals with low tolerance for ambiguity. Prior knowledge Knowledge structures can be defined as elaborate or nonelaborate, depending on the amount of information and the complexity of interconnections within and between schemas (Hirschman, 1980). Proficiency at problem solving and efficient use of cognitive resources is a characteristic of an elaborate knowledge structure (Alba and Hutchinson, 1987). Individuals with an elaborate knowledge structure are flexible in identifying analogies and applying categories (Peracchio and Tybout, 1996; Tesser and Cowan, 1977). Alba and Hutchinson (1987) suggest that schemas of experts who have an elaborate knowledge structure adopt fewer schema-based heuristics (e.g. stereotypes) in forming judgments. Thus, when faced with incongruent information, individuals with an elaborate knowledge, compared to novices, are expected to be more motivated toward detailed processing (Sujan, 1985), more able to utilize incongruent information and recall it (Fiske et al., 1983), and less likely to be guided by schemabased heuristics (Peracchio and Tybout, 1996). Yoon (1997) discovered that individuals with fewer processing capabilities were stimulated to engage in elaboration only when the incongruity of the message was relatively severe. Although incongruity appears to stimulate elaborate processing, it should be noticed that elaborate processing is likely to occur only when incongruity is relatively extreme (Hastie, 1980; Meyers-Levy and Maheswaran, 1991; Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989; Peracchio and Tybout, 1996). Meyers-Levy and Maheswaran (1991) note that incongruity cues that are only modestly different fail to elicit detailed processing because the minor aberration in the stimuli tends to be viewed as an irrelevant distraction. We believe this tendency of ignoring incongruity will be more pronounced in novices than in experts. It appears that individuals with an elaborate knowledge structure and individuals with a nonelaborate knowledge structure have different threshold levels at which detailed processing is triggered. Individuals with high knowledge and a well-developed schema are sensitive to subtle incongruity and appear to be more able to detect even the slightest deviations than do novices. As a result, high knowledge individuals will initiate detailed processing at lower levels of incongruity than individuals with a poorly developed schema. On the other hand, individuals perception of incongruity may vary depending


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on the prior knowledge that enables them to process and resolve incongruity properly. High prior knowledge individuals will recognize the commonality between seemingly incongruent information by discovering the structural similarities and may perceive the level of incongruity less severely than individuals with low prior knowledge (e.g. Gregan-Paxton and John, 1997). Fiske et al. (1983) report that in political cognition, experts who have high political sophistication use information incongruent with the prior knowledge more flexibly and effectively than novices. Specifically, political experts inferred and recalled incongruities to a greater extent than did novices. Similarly, in processing incongruity, it is expected that high prior knowledge and well-developed schema will facilitate processing of incongruent information. Need for cognition Previous research has provided evidence that some individuals are innately more attuned to process the relevance and merits of issues (objects or people) than others. Indeed, some individuals find thinking enjoyable. Individuals high in their need for cognition are more likely to engage in deep cognitive processing compared to individuals who do not find thinking enjoyable. In the processing of advertising, those low in need of cognition are more likely to attend (either consciously or subconsciously) to readily available peripheral cues. A scale to determine those in each camp, the Need for Cognition (NC) Scale, was developed by ELM (Elaboration Likelihood Model) researchers (Cacioppo and Petty, 1982). Because individuals high in need of cognition are motivated to process information via the central route, it is expected that they will process incongruity in the same manner. Individuals low in need of cognition generally do not engage in deep processing unless required; however, incongruity, in its successful operation, can help motivate these individuals to pay attention and process incongruity in a more deliberate manner. Creativity Creativity is defined as the generation of novel mental content . . . generally within the context of problem solving (Guilford, 1965). Creativity in problem solving is a case of schema operation because it involves originating a new solution to the problem by either reconstructing and reinterpreting internal knowledge from the existing schemas, or by acquiring new information from the environment and combining it with existing knowledge within schemas (Hirschman, 1980). In the consumer usage context, creativity includes originating new product uses. Creative consumers are ready to adopt new products or often invent new ways of using products (Ridgway and Price, 1994). Because creativity involves the skillful operation of the existing schemas (e.g. rearranging relevant elements into a new configuration suitable for solving new problems [Hirschman, 1980]), if an individual has creativity, s/he is more likely to be skilled in such processing strategies that involve making changes in the current schema structure. Therefore, individuals with creativity will be successful in processing incongruity, by being adept in operating and rearranging the elements in schemas or creating a new schema, than will non-creative individuals.


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

Source and message factors

Petty and Cacioppo (1986) note the importance of source and message factors in persuasion effectiveness. We discuss how source credibility and level of incongruity may influence elaboration likelihood and how the presence of a resolution message may enhance the probability of successful resolution of incongruity. Source credibility Credible information sources are believed to deliver information that can be trusted. Individuals often rely on credible sources for trustworthy information (Wilton and Myers, 1986). Trustworthiness, defined as the apparent honesty and integrity of information (McGinnies and Ward, 1980: 467) is an important component of credibility. In persuasion, Bochner and Insko (1966) observed that a highly credible source was more effective than a moderately credible source especially when advocacy was highly discrepant (i.e. severe incongruity). If a trustworthy source advocates a message that is incongruent with ones expectation, individuals may engage in an attributional processing to discover why the credible source endorses such a message rather than simply reject the message (Heider, 1958). Therefore, source credibility will likely motivate individuals to invest in processing incongruity. Resolution message or hint Processing and resolving incongruity requires ability to use existing schemas and transfer knowledge to fill a gap in logic. A resolution message or a hint can help an individuals resolution processing by suggesting a possible connection between a seemingly unrelated stimulus and the existing schema. In a similar vein, Gick and Holyoak (1983) found that knowledge transfer between schemas could be improved with hints or resolution messages. When individuals transfer knowledge to solve similar problems, presence of a resolution message may not be meaningful (Gick and Holyoak, 1986). However, knowledge transfer to a dissimilar problem that has a significant gap in logic (resulting in severe incongruity with an existing schema) can be greatly facilitated by hints of resolution or actual resolution messages (Spencer and Weisberg, 1986). We predict that presence of hint or resolution message will enhance the likelihood of successful resolution accommodation of severe incongruities as it can make incongruity appear to be more congruent by providing the reconciliatory connection between existing schema and incongruent information. As a result, the incongruent information will appear more congruent after the processing of some form of resolution.

Toward a better understanding of incongruity resolution: strategies and outcomes

Generally, research indicates that incongruent information catches attention (Lynch and Srull, 1982), is processed more extensively (Baker and Petty, 1994), and subsequently is recalled better than expected information (Srull, 1981; Srull


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et al., 1985). However, the proposed model identifies the fallacy of assuming an invariably positive effect of incongruity on memory and attitude. Incongruity has varied effects on cognitive and affective responses depending on the types of processing adopted by individuals given a specific situation.

Incongruity and attitude

According to the ELM, changes in attitude are thought to be mediated by the types of thoughts generated when exposed to persuasive communication (e.g. Petty and Cacioppo, 1981). That is, if positive (negative) thoughts are dominant during the message processing, a positive (negative) attitude change is more likely (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986). The types and valence of thoughts are, in fact, determined by the processing strategies. Tesser and Leone (1977) indicate that attitude can be altered as a result of change within a schema. Thus, since processing strategies of incongruity are heavily based on schematic operations, to better understand attitudinal changes it is necessary to consider the specific type of processing strategy (i.e. assimilation, alternative schema, successful and unsuccessful accommodation; see Figure 1). Arguably, some processing strategies (e.g. accommodation) that involve substantial changes in ones schema structure demand more cognitive resources and skills than other processing strategies (e.g. assimilation) and hence are less likely to lead to successful resolution of incongruities. The resultant attitude outcomes of incongruity processing may vary depending on the types of internal process individuals engage in to resolve incongruity. In the next subsections, we turn our attention to how various strategies of processing incongruity may result in different memory and attitude consequences. That is, attitude change is posited to be a function of the specific type of processing strategy aimed at resolving incongruity. Assimilation and alternative schema Mandler notes that when individuals can solve incongruity and achieve schema congruity rather easily through assimilation or using alternative schemas, the affective responses to incongruity would be moderately positive since congruity is the preferred state of world for most individuals (1982: 22). Matching congruent (or only slightly incongruent) input information with an existing schema and placing the information under the activating schema is relatively effortless. Realizing that one can easily solve a problem can produce positive feelings toward the slight incongruity (see Figure 2). An empirical study (Goodstein, 1993) illustrates that subjects indicate more positive affective responses to congruent (typical) ads than incongruent (atypical) ones. However, in countering Mandlers prediction, Ortony (1991) states that not all cases of successful assimilation to an active schema lead to affectively positive reactions. In fact, achieving perfect schema fit does not always lead to positive affective state. For example, the affect attached to a prior category schema now subject to the integration of an incongruity input may be transferred to the incoming element. Suppose a consumer who thinks that Brand X cereal tastes very


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

bad has just found that brand X launched a new product Y. If she tries the new product Y, only to find that it tastes as bad as the original brand, she easily assimilates Y into the existing schema of brand X. According to Ortony (1991), her affective response toward Y will be determined, in part, by the negative prior affect attached to the brand X schema, resulting in prior category affect transfer (Fiske, 1982) a negative case. Furthermore, Tesser and Leone (1977) suggested that the thought processing of incongruity tends to result in the polarization of attitudes. Polarization of attitude refers to a reinforcement of the original attitude (in both positive and negative directions) when incongruity is interpreted in such a way that reinforces prior category affect (Tesser and Leone, 1977: 341). In a similar vein, transfer theory (Novick, 1988) argues that transfer in analogical reasoning can be both positive and negative. Therefore, when individuals use assimilation or alternative schemas for congruent or only slightly incongruent information, affective responses will likely depend on the prior affect positive and negative attached to the activated schema into which incongruity is being assimilated. Successful accommodation Accommodation is generally applied to severe incongruity (see Figure 2). Processing strategies for severe incongruity (e.g. successful accommodation) involve reinterpreting the non-fitting elements. Spiro (1980: 86) indicates that a reconciliatory-restructuring process takes place when individuals are accommodating incongruent information based on Bartletts (1932) reconstruction hypothesis. The reconstruction process in successful accommodation, especially an accommodation using information from existing schemas, tends to be adaptive in nature in the direction of producing reconciliation of the incongruent elements (Heider, 1958; Spiro, 1980). In resolving severe incongruity, individuals often will reinterpret the incongruity in their own ways or restructure their schema to accommodate. Individuals may try to accommodate the incongruity by rendering it more congruent within their existing schemas (Osgood and Tannenbaum, 1955). As individuals have reinterpreted the original information, self-produced thoughts need not be consistent with the original message (Petty et al., 1981). Cognitive response theory notes that such self-generated thoughts (positive and negative) could be the critical determinants of attitudes. The drive for accommodating severe incongruity is the tendency to resolve the tension and imbalance caused by incongruity. The affective responses to severe incongruity that were successfully accommodated will likely be positive since individuals have succeeded in reducing tension caused by the incongruity (see Figure 2). Thus, although individuals may initially perceive severe incongruity as negative, once they can successfully accommodate it and resolve tension caused by the incongruity, their attitudes toward the incongruity will likely be altered in a positive direction. Unsuccessful accommodation Festingers (1957) cognitive dissonance theory provides a prediction that individuals may tend to avoid and dismiss severely incongruent information that will not be accommodated under their current


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schema structure rather than struggle with it. While successful accommodation will likely generate positive feeling toward incongruities, individuals may hold negative attitudes toward incongruity that is unsuccessfully accommodated because they are unable to reduce tension and they fail to restore a sense of cognitive balance that was interrupted by severe incongruities. Due to this failure to resolve tension, the intensity of affect under these conditions will be relatively strong and in the negative direction (see Figure 2), even after struggling to accommodate severe incongruities (Mandler, 1982). Therefore, intense negative affect will likely result from unsuccessful accommodation.

Incongruity and memory

Goodsteins (1993) findings revealed that incongruent (atypical) TV ads may induce subjects to pay greater attention, demonstrated by significantly longer viewing time than congruent (typical) ads. Fiske et al. (1983) also found that people pay more attention to unpredicted, unexpected occurrences and as a consequence, tend to be motivated to learn more about them, which results in deeper cognition (Fiske et al., 1983). What impact does attention have on memory? The amount of attention paid to an object has been empirically shown to be positively associated with how intensely the information is encoded into memory (Bower, 1992). Schema theory also postulates that information that matches well with the existing schema tends to be encoded effortlessly. On the other hand, if there is not a good match between information and existing schema, the encoding process becomes more difficult and requires more extensive processing (Srull, 1981). The more attention (Hastie, 1980) and longer retention in short-term memory (Srull, 1981) in encoding incongruity is thought to lead people to process and elaborate on incongruent information to a greater depth than congruent information (Hastie, 1980, 1981). Since encoding of incongruity demands greater cognitive investment than encoding of congruity (Hastie, 1980), individuals tend to remember incongruity better than congruity. In regard to changes in connections within schemas during the processing of incongruity, individuals try to relate incongruity to other concepts and themes in an effort to place and resolve incongruity within their existing schemas. Therefore, as suggested by Hastie (1981), the average number of associative paths produced when processing incongruity is substantially greater than the number produced when processing congruity. As the number of associative paths is positively related to the probability of retrieving a particular item, a more secure position of incongruity in a schema will result in greater memory for incongruity. Empirical results support Hasties contention. Incongruity between the stimulus and category expectation was shown to motivate people to process the stimulus in greater detail (Fiske and Taylor, 1991; Goodstein, 1993). Severe incongruity generates tension resulting from the disruption to the current schema structure. If the threat of interruption cannot be eliminated by successfully accommodating it into the schema structure, it is likely that such incongruities will create a sense of incompleteness, hence leading to a Zeigarnik


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

type effect (Zeigarnik, 1935), a phenomenon of superior memory for unfinished, incomplete tasks that invoke some tension. Interestingly, Moore and Hutchinson (1985) suggest that severely incongruent and thus disliked commercials often can be more effective than neutral ones, especially in terms of memory. In the case where negative affect caused by severe incongruities in an ad becomes familiar to audience through high processing opportunity of enhanced attention to and elaboration upon incongruities, such incongruities can actually diminish counterarguing and become more persuasive than regular ads (Aaker et al., 1986). However, most findings supporting superior memory effect were obtained in generally high motivation environments where incongruent information receives central processing. Therefore, the superior memory effect of incongruity suggested by Hastie and Kumar (1979) and Srull and his colleagues (Srull, 1981; Srull et al., 1985; Srull and Wyer, 1989) will not occur if one simply ignores or rejects incongruity. In such cases, that particular incongruity will not receive sufficient processing effort to allow for a secure position in ones schema. Similarly, Alba and Hutchinson (1987) suggest that incongruity enhances memory only when sufficient processing opportunities are provided and when individual attempts are made to consciously resolve incongruity and relieve tension. Moreover, because memory has a tendency to become abstract and schema-driven over time, memory for incongruity may decay over time (Alba and Hutchinson, 1987). There are many empirical studies that report that the probability of recalling incongruity decreases as time passes (Hastie and Kumar, 1979; Schmidt and Sherman, 1984; Smith and Graesser, 1981; Wyer and Srull, 1989). For example, Sengupta et al. (1997) found that subjects demonstrated inferior delayed memory for incongruity. Although encoding of incongruity requires intense use of cognitive resources that may lead to higher immediate recall as discussed previously, retrieval of memory after some time is facilitated especially for the key congruent elements that have a secure position in ones schema (Fiske et al., 1983). Incongruent information that has not been securely encoded in memory, therefore, is more susceptible to decay over time and in such cases, delayed recall for such incongruity will be poor.

Contributions to advertising theory and suggestions for future research

The first and foremost contribution of this article is the development of an integrative model of incongruity processing by combining tenets of the ELM and Schema Incongruity theory. This model can better explain the effectiveness of incongruity employed in advertising by predicting when and how incongruity is processed and resolved. Based on ELM, our model identifies two obstacles for processing incongruity employed in advertising: motivation and ability. These interact with a number of moderating factors. Based on Mandlers theory, incongruity found in advertising will be more likely to be effective when it is not only


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attended and processed, but also assimilated or accommodated successfully. Incongruent cues that are ignored, avoided, or processed but not resolved successfully, will not be likely to shift attitude in a positive direction. The second contribution of the proposed model to advertising theory is that it delineates the different routes through which incongruity can be processed and resolved, and it offers a conceptual road map of how various situational, individual characteristics and message/source factors can moderate the route through which incongruity will be processed. Future research needs to test the moderating influences of these factors and how they affect the attention, processing and resolution strategies applied to incongruent messages. Consideration of the present state of theory development in this area reveals a number of possible avenues for future study. First, one interesting issue to consider is whether incongruity can further be decomposed to dimensions such as cognition/affect and positive/negative (valence). As contributors to the cognitive psychology paradigm, schema incongruity theory and the ELM shed light on schema operation and cognitive processing in a response to information incongruity. What are the potential affective responses to ad incongruity beyond a reporting of attitude, and how will they affect cognitive processing of incongruity? For example, an emotional stress may occur upon perceiving a severe incongruity, whereas a weak incongruity may trigger a minor conflict only at the cognitive level. It is possible that the affective and cognitive dimensions of incongruity responses may be uniquely identified. Future research should delineate differences in these dimensions and explain how different types of incongruity (e.g. irrelevance, unexpectedness, contradiction, mismatch and humor) may likely evoke various combinations of affective and cognitive responses. Second, Mandlers model equates a specific level of incongruity with a corresponding resolution-seeking schema operation. He proposed that resolving severe incongruity with alternative schema would generate only a positive affect. In our model, affect transfer from existing schema could be positive or negative depending on the valence of affective node connected to existing schema. The final outcome of accommodating severe incongruity has yet to be determined. Due to the effortful and difficult nature of such processing, the probability for one to succeed in accommodating severe incongruity found in advertising is not always guaranteed. Third, what determines ones perception of the levels of incongruity found in advertising? Perceiving levels of incongruity could be a subjective process. Individuals may be likely to have idiosyncratic schema structures based on their life-long learning experiences as a consumer. Perhaps the flexibility (or lack thereof) of ones schema network structure may guide perception of different levels of incongruity. Thus, even if individuals are given the same incongruent advertising cue, their perceptions and responses can differ widely. Any challenge to schemas that are tightly defined and relatively isolated from other schemas, such as religious norms, prejudice and stereotypes, will be viewed as severe incongruity. If certain beliefs or attitudes were more strongly/strictly held in Person As existing schema than in Person Bs, Person A will perceive a greater incongruity and it will


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

be more difficult for Person A to resolve such incongruity. Future research should help us understand how characteristics of existing schemas, such as flexibility and connectivity, affect perception of different levels of incongruity employed in advertising. Finally, while many studies measured quantitative outcomes such as memory and attitude as a response to incongruity, few studies have measured the actual process of resolving the incongruity presented in advertising. Protocol analysis methodology capturing thought processes as they happen could illustrate how individuals cope with cognitive and/or affective tension (arousal) and come to a resolution using various assimilation and accommodation strategies. Such qualitative approach to the incongruity resolution strategies will deepen our knowledge and enable a better prediction of the effectiveness of incongruity employed in advertising. After all, incongruity resolved successfully and in the positive direction will deliver the most desired outcome of persuasion: a firm and persistent, positive attitude shift.

Implications for application

The proposed combination of theoretical perspectives may have strategic importance to practitioners and academics who are interested in understanding the role of incongruity in creating effective messages. By understanding incongruity effects in advertising, light can be shed on how to better create a message that will be well remembered and well received by a target audience.

Brand advertising
The part of the model that addresses the resolution of incongruity identifies two possible ways of harnessing incongruity effects in brand advertising. First, marketers and advertisers can develop an ad that contains an optimal level of incongruity (e.g. slight incongruity) (Mandler, 1982; Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989; Peracchio and Tybout, 1996; Stayman et al., 1992) as a means of eliciting favorable attitudes toward the ad and the product. The model presented in Figure 2 posits that slight incongruity with the generic product or ad schema is likely to result in a more positive evaluation (Mandler, 1982) than congruity or extreme incongruity (Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989) with that schema. Therefore, when the level of incongruity is operationalized appropriately in the creation and execution of an advertisement, it can generate positive evaluations for both the ad and the product. Alternatively, marketers and advertisers may aim primarily at enhancing memory by harnessing the Zeigarnik effect or the von Restorff effect (Lynch and Srull, 1982; Wallace, 1963), where positive affect may or may not accompany the superior memory effect. For instance, in 1989, Nissans unusual ad campaign for Infiniti presented only rocks and trees without any insinuation of a car. This type of advertising creates incongruity since the presence of only rocks and


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trees in the total absence of an automobile was not expected or predicted by the audience. Another case of severe incongruities found in brand advertising is the series of ad campaigns sponsored by Benetton. Most striking images such as a new-born baby covered in blood with an umbilical cord still attached, an AIDS victim dying with his family at his bedside, rows and rows of crosses in an American cemetery have been presented in Benettons ad campaign since 1989 (Tinic, 1997). The advertising campaign has consistently created severe incongruities in audiences minds and received a wide range of responses among world consumers (Evans and Riyait, 1993). It is hard to estimate effectiveness of the Benetton campaign, because the Benetton ad campaign with such severe incongruities created intense affect both positive and negative. However, the ad series contributed to the companys international reputation with substantial profit increases during the 19901992 time period (Tinic, 1997). Given that ad incongruity employs an element that presents a mismatch with existing schema, advertisers would be interested in discovering what the target audiences existing schema and associate network is. Having this knowledge enables a determination of which type and what level of incongruity will be most effective. Since schema networks are developed throughout ones lifelong learning, individuals sharing the same culture and life experiences may be likely to share similar schemata. Methodologically, identifying the target audiences shared schemas can be achieved through qualitative research including cognitive response method, in-depth interview, and protocol analysis involving key customers. Researchers can generally discover common threads and associated network patterns connecting across their key customers and use the shared schemas as a frame of reference when developing ads.

Social marketing communication

In practice, public service announcements (PSAs) and other social marketing campaigns often create incongruity conditions as a means of encouraging attitude change. Social marketing communication that aims at disseminating information on social issues often involves demarketing or attempts to reduce certain consumption behaviors (Mowen, 1998). Since people tend to have strong attitudes and values toward the hot social issues, their exposure to the persuasive messages, especially the ones countering personal values, will be likely to create severe incongruity with their existing attitudes and values (Lorch et al., 1994). Also, some social marketing campaigns use fear appeal and intensively affectdriven advertising (e.g. showing burnt eggs as a brain on drugs) to generate stronger impact on the receivers. An intense fear-appeal can create incongruity (i.e. strongly negative affect) with the casual settings of message exposure such as TV viewing or magazine reading (which normally is supposed to be a mildly positive, relaxed environment). PSAs related to demarketing often target specific populations, such as those who are vulnerable to such negative influences. The vulnerable populations in our society, commonly identifiable with certain demographic and psychographic


Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Schumann

characteristics, presumably have bounded cognitive abilities and processing strategies. Research is now beginning to recognize demographic differences such as age (Yoon, 1997) and gender (Peracchio and Tybout, 1996) in processing incongruity. More research effort is needed to identify target populations for social marketing programs, and understand different processing tendencies and patterns within these populations. Customizing content and execution of ads, especially for identified target populations within social marketing, will likely prove to be an effective communication strategy. For example, teenagers may be novelty seekers and have higher optimal stimulus levels. Thus, they may not respond to social marketing messages that have low stimulation (e.g. Schumann and Treise, 1992). On the other hand, if a social marketing program is designed for older adults, the restrictive processing capacity often found in the elderly may need to be considered in designing the message. With the elderly, advertisers should take caution to establish the best conditions under which a message will be received, knowing there may be some obstacles interfering with elaboration of the message.

Persuasive communications often aim at two objectives: (1) overcoming prior perceptions and attitudes, and (2) encouraging individuals to form new attitudes that result in desirable implications for the persuasion agencies. Processing information incongruent with prior knowledge or beliefs is an essential part of any persuasive communication aimed at attitude change. Processing and resolving incongruent information to fit existing schemas, however, is cognitively complex (Mandler, 1982), and people are generally not likely to invest their cognitive and affective resources in processing incongruity, unless there is a compelling need or reason. Many individuals reject or ignore attitudinally inconsistent information (Heider, 1958; Osgood and Tannenbaum, 1955) to invoke the protective mechanism of reducing tension and maintaining balance and harmony within the existing cognitive schemas (Heider, 1958) or because of cognitive limitations (Kahneman, 1973). On the other hand, people can be active seekers and processors of incongruent information (Petty and Cacioppo, 1981). The integrative model presented in this article can account for many varying results regarding the effects of incongruity in advertising by identifying when and how incongruity is processed. The model presented in Figure 2 identifies three paths through which ad incongruity can be processed and schematically resolved which have crucial implications for cognitive and affective responses. As varied incongruity effects have multiple implications for attention, elaboration, memory and attitude, various effective persuasion strategies can be developed for application. Commercial advertisers and agents in brand advertising and social marketing communication can create effective messages that can be liked and/or well remembered by properly harnessing the incongruity effect. Knowing the potential routes for the processing of incongruity, the nature of how incongruity is pro-


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cessed, and the identification of key moderating influences, will certainly help researchers and practitioners predict when and how incongruity is likely to achieve desirable communication effectiveness. This conceptual blending of theories provides an overarching framework for establishing specific hypotheses to be tested in future research activity.

1 For further definitions of incongruity, please consult Mandler, 1982; Shultz, 1976; Srull, 1980.

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Eun-Ju Lee is Assistant Professor of Marketing at California State University Los Angeles. She received her dual PhDs in retailing and marketing from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She was the recipient of the American Council of the Consumer Interests dissertation award and the AFCPE theoretical journal article award. Her research focuses on consumer trust and attitudinal responses to technologies in marketing. Her research has been published in numerous peer-reviewed academic journals. Address: 5151 State University Drive, Simpson Tower #917, California State University, Los Angeles, CA 90032-8127, USA. [email:] David W. Schumann is the William J. Taylor Professorship of Business in the Department of Marketing and Logistics at the University of Tennessee. His research interests center on issues concerning marketing communication with specific focus on belief structures, attitude formation, persuasion, and prejudice reinforcement. His work has appeared in numerous scientific journals covering the advertising, communications, consumer behavior, marketing, and social psychology disciplines. He is a past president of the Society for Consumer Psychology and is a fellow of the American Psychological Association Fellow (Divisions 23 and 46). Address: James Taylor Professor of Business, 310 Stokely Management Center, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA. [Email:]