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Volume 4(1/2): 59–90 Copyright © 2004 SAGE www.sagepublications.com DOI: 10.

1177/1470593104044087

articles

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 Cacioppo’s Elaboration Likelihood Model (1981, 1986) and Mandler’s 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

Introduction
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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marketing theory 4(1/2) articles

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 Cacioppo’s Elaboration Likelihood Model (1981, 1986) and Mandler’s 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.

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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; O’Sullivan 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 Cacioppo’s Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) (1981, 1986) and Mandler’s 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 Mandler’s incongruity processing model is its focus on the actual nature of the processing and the resolution process. By including Mandler’s 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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g. Haugtvedt et al. 1955). schema serving as a frame of reference (Osgood and Tannenbaum. in resolving an incongruity within their cognitive schema network will likely determine their affective responses. The ELM suggests that there are two routes to persuasion that reflect the end points of a continuum of elaboration likelihood. 1990). 1981. Petty et al. Petty and Cacioppo (1986) refer to a set of postulates in their presentation of the ELM.g. the creative non-message elements depicted in the graphics used in the ads.. 1994). The central route reflects a careful and effortful processing of issue-relevant information that conveys the merits of an issue. The integrated model attempts to provide a comprehensive accounting of all the different processing possibilities. Since that time. Thus. the cosmetic variation of these graphic elements. Schumann et al.marketing theory 4(1/2) articles or it may be ignored altogether.. Mandler (1982) suggests that individual processing of incongruity will be guided by one’s schema (see Figure 1). 1994. Relative to attitudes formed or altered through central processing. 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. object or person. those formed or altered through peripheral processing are thought to be relatively temporary and susceptible to counterarguments (Petty and Cacioppo. potential peripheral cues might include such ad features as the characteristics of the source of the message. and certain types of action and voices in the case of commercials (e. 1983. 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 one’s attitude. Haugtvedt et al.e. 1986). The Elaboration Likelihood Model Over two decades ago. how successful individuals are. attitudes and evaluations are formed through the resolution of (or inability to resolve) incongruity. significant research has been generated in the advertising and consumer behavior disciplines adopting the ELM as an explanatory framework (e. level of incongruity) is likely to determine what internal process individuals will employ (assimilation or accommodation) when they are faced with incongruity. Petty and Cacioppo introduced their Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion in the social psychology discipline (1981.. Also. the fit (or lack thereof) with the activated schemas (i. Schumann et al.. 1991). Two of these postulates are especially pertinent to our discussion of 62 . His work draws upon schema theory and the classical notions of assimilation and accommodation by Piaget (1981).. In advertising. This high level of elaboration occurs in those who are both motivated and able to do so.

we propose an integrative conceptual framework that adopts the notion of elaboration likelihood and the employment of schemata (see Figure 2). or influence the amount of message processing that occurs’ (1997: 624). a communication containing something perceived to be incongruous can be processed either centrally or peripherally. incongruity as a persuasion variable can ‘act as a peripheral cue .. First. . As Petty et al. Schumann Level of incongruity Congruity slight alternative schema assimilation successful unsuccessful Incongruity severe accomodation value affect intensity POS 0 POS + POS ++ POS or NEG +++ NEG Figure 1 Mandler’s theory of incongruity (1982: 22) processing incongruity. . 1997). a variable can impact persuasion ‘via different processes’ to lead to ‘different levels of elaboration likelihood’ (Petty et al. and their motivation and ability will likely determine the level of their mental investment. Second. infer. 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. Therefore. Processing incongruity is cognitively effortful for many individuals. drawing 63 . a persuasive variable can play multiple roles in the processing of a communication. Finally. .Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Combining theories To better explain and predict when and how incongruity effects are likely to be processed as they occur in advertising. or bias processing . .

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 No Peripheral processing (Assimilation possible) yes PERIPHERAL ATTITUDE SHIFT Ability to process the incongruity Ignore or reject the incongruity No RETAIN INITIAL ATTITUDE yes 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 64 .marketing theory 4(1/2) articles Advertising employing incongruity Moderating influences SITUATIONAL FACTORS – Perceived risk – Personal relevance – Processing time – Mood INDIVIDUAL FACTORS – Optimal stimulus level – Novelty.

they tend to process information in a simplified way in order to minimize cognitive effort (Alba and Hutchinson. Often. we attempt to depict types of resolution strategies for incongruity relating to various changes in schema structures. 1982. The communication produces a (temporary) judgment. Schumann on Mandler’s schema incongruity theory (1982). or familiarity as readily accessible schemas. are employed in the formation of an attitude. Peracchio and Tybout. 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. 1984). Elaboration likelihood of incongruity: three paths We conceptualize that processing incongruity can vary from minimal (ignoring incongruity) processing. Markus. message recipients are usually able to distinguish source attractive- 65 . 1996. Ignoring or rejecting incongruity There is a general consensus that when people lack motivation. message recipients may not have the motivation and/or the ability to process persuasive communication in an extensive way. Yoon. but the motivation to hold correct judgments is not important enough to lead to extensive processing of the messages. and individuals may very well avoid information that increases such disturbance instead of engaging in deeper cognition. Individuals may see no point in investing their scarce cognitive resources in processing irrelevant information and simply ignore or reject the incongruity outright. 1996) or typical of a generic category (Cherniak. 1997). Peripheral processing of incongruity In some cases. For example. relatively low effort (peripheral) processing. they tend to make quick judgments when an item is congruent with their expectation (Fiske. Each will be discussed in turn. That is. it is reasonable to assume that people spend their cognitive resources sparingly. 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. to relatively high effort (central) processing. Another reason why some individuals may not approach incongruent information is because incongruity causes disturbances in one’s cognitive system. 1975). Studies have found that people often ignore certain information based on the lack of fit with their existing schema (Peracchio and Tybout.Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. resulting from limited processing capacity (Bobrow and Norman. 1977). 1987. When individuals process. Here. they may selectively attend to cues within the message environment. individuals may base their judgments simply on schema congruity/ incongruity. contextual cues that are easily understood yet not directly related to the main issue. Cacioppo and Petty (1985) suggest that given the cognitive limitation in attention and information processing. Festinger’s (1957) cognitive dissonance theory suggests that disturbances (dissonance) that occur between cognitive elements of information causes tension.

Individuals distracted by incongruent elements in an ad may likely be led to attend to peripheral cues such as celebrity sources. It is suggested that people assess the relevance of conditions. even at low levels of involvement. 1999). background images. Meyers-Levy and Malaviya. 1991). In so doing. 1983]). Mandler (1982) contends this takes place through cognitive involvement of existing and/or constructed schema. Conceptualized as an association network of knowledge and expectations in memory. As noted by Petty and Cacioppo (1986). then due to the likely tension caused by the incongruity. the individual will typically seek some form of resolution. 1999). it becomes ‘hot information’ that guides the subsequent cognition of that information (see also Petty et al.. 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).marketing theory 4(1/2) articles ness quite easily. individuals spend substantial cognitive resources to find crucial information and carefully process the information to make correct judgments (Petty and Cacioppo.’s notion of involvement [Petty and Cacioppo. include the case when individuals realize that their initial judgments were incomplete and/or incorrect. borrowed from cognitive psychology. Again. and other execution elements. attitudes formed via the peripheral route are rather temporary. 1986. 1993). Individuals may generate simple inferences from these cues on which they base their attitudes (Fiske and Neuberg. a schema also provides 66 . Individuals processing centrally are likely to adopt some systematic strategy when there is a need to make accurate judgments. Petty et al. the resources needed to engage in judgment correction processing are sizable. The notion of schema. when an individual has the ability and motivation to process the incongruity found in an advertisement. therefore. If the information is appraised to be relevant to personal goals. 1986). Central processing of incongruity When individuals are fully motivated to process incongruity. 1990. individuals will allocate their cognitive resources to processing that information (Kahneman. 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. such as the importance of the processing of that particular information. is pertinent to understanding cognitive processing of incongruity. Processing strategies for incongruity As noted in Figure 2. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) note that if some information is thought to have personal relevance. 1973). Thus ability to process is hampered and will likely result in peripheral processing. in achieving their personal goals before engaging in elaborate processing (Lazarus. and individuals will not attempt to correct their initial judgments unless they are highly motivated. A judgment correction process will occur in such cases to alleviate biased prior inferences (Meyers-Levy and Malaviya. Incongruity may also serve as a distraction from processing extensively. Occasions of central processing.

and unsuccessful accommodation (please refer to Figures 1 and 2). In employing analogies to resolve incongruity. does not always involve drastic changes in current schema structures. In this case. In the brand literature. When applied to brand positioning. Although classified as a possible strategy under central processing in Figure 2. 1989. Mandler (1982. including organization and interconnections of relevant information.. Instead. The advertised brand shares enough consistent attributes with the generic schema to be assimilated into the existing schema (Sujan and Bettman. information from the existing schema can be recalled and transferred in a new way as a result of a productive thinking process (Guilford. there would be little naturally occurring curiosity that would result in further consumer thought (Mandler. 1993) has suggested four types of processing strategies dealing with varying levels of incongruity: assimilation. By first identifying the level of incongruity. 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. Schumann ‘processing strategies that contain procedural definitions of its potential functions and operations’ (Bobrow and Norman. 1989) that may not be perceived as innovative. MeyersLevy and Tybout (1989) provide an appropriate example. 1999). or transferring prior knowledge to resolve incongruity. Assimilation of incongruity is likely to occur with a relatively weak level of incongruity that can be easily incorporated into the existing schema. it is really just another soft drink’. incongruities can often be resolved within the existing cognitive structure (Mandler. with minimal cognitive effort.Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. and then determining the difficulty (or ease) of resolution. alternative schema. 1965). thus combining lower levels of message elaboration with attention to peripheral cues (Meyers-Levy and Malaviya. successful accommodation. Meyers-Levy and Tybout. consumers might think. Stayman et al. 1982. Assimilation Assimilation refers to the placement of the incongruent information into existing schema. 1989). 1975: 138). it 67 . but as slightly new or improved.g. accommodation) and could receive less elaboration. Alternative schema Alternative schema refers to an analogical reasoning that efficiently utilizes other schemas in resolving incongruities. More specifically. assimilation may also employ fewer cognitive resources than other processing strategies (e. The process of alternative schema utilizes analogies in perceiving similarities between the existing schema and an incongruent representation (Vosniadou and Ortony. 1992). ‘Oh. is thought to guide the process of resolving incongruity. 1989). The expectancy system of a schema. 1982). Sujan and Bettman (1989) note that consumers can easily assimilate weak to moderate incongruity between a generic product category and brand attributes. Both assimilation and alternative schema are examples of self-directed learning using analogies (Gregan-Paxton and John. slight incongruity of an advertised brand with the generic product schema could produce a weak product differentiation (Sujan and Bettman. 1997). Forming new connections and/or putting the incongruent representation under an alternative schema.

1977). individuals who encounter a fruit-juice-tasting drink and are told that what they have is a ‘soft drink’. may think. ‘subtyping’. a new schema is required. 1989. both cognitively and emotionally. 1981). Thus. For example.marketing theory 4(1/2) articles uses other existing schemas to resolve current incongruity.... If one cannot use analogy or transfer prior knowledge from existing schema to the target incongruity as in assimilation or alternative schema. one that is close to the generic category but spatially discernible in the perceptual map. 1989) or ‘This product is a word-processing typewriter’ (Ozanne et al. it is more of a fruit juice’ (Meyers-Levy and Tybout. ‘This product is not a typewriter – it is more like a computer’ (Ozanne et al. in facilitating judgments. resulting in subcategories within a schema (Taylor and Crocker. ‘It is not really a soft drink. 1989). 1982). 1992). Similarly. For example. when the severity of incongruity is too intense to be assimilated into existing schemas. a strongly differentiated brand can result in a ‘subtyped’ position (Sujan and Bettman. when one is told that s/he is given a typewriter. the thought samples of subtyping reveal that individuals perceive some difficulty in fitting incongruent information into existing schemas. Ozanne et al. Finally. 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. can be found in the consumer information processing literature. it is possible that in cases of severe incongruities. Subtyping refers to the process of filtering out incongruity and encoding it as a special case. s/he may think. Assimilation and alternative schema processing strategies make heavy use of existing schemas and individual knowledge. 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. Hence. one could categorize incongruity under existing schema yet add new elements such as ‘It is a soft drink. in order to accommodate and possibly resolve such severe incongruities (Mandler. 1989). but the device has features more similar to a computer. one may fail to resolve the severe incongruity even after one has attempted to make substantial changes to one’s current schema struc- 68 . in response to severe incongruities. Accommodating extremely severe incongruity takes enormous effort. They will typically build a new node into the existing schemas to accommodate that particular incongruity. one may realize that s/he needs an entirely new schema that may deny existing schemas. In brand positioning. Accommodation When confronted with severe incongruity. 1992). Specifically. and requires much greater skill in operating psychological resources. 1992). but one that does not have the usual preservatives’ (Meyers-Levy and Tybout. one might restructure his/her knowledge schema or build a new associative link between existing schemas that were not previously connected. As distinguished from simple assimilation and alternative schema (Meyers-Levy and Tybout. One means of building a new sub-node within existing schema. This process of creating a new schema that will enable successful accommodation typically demands much more cognitive effort and skillful operation of cognitive resources.

thereby demonstrating the moderating effect of consumer perceived risk on product evaluations and attitude.Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. 1993). 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. fearful and jittery – 69 . 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. Perceived risk (tension arousal) Campbell and Goodstein (2001) reexamined the moderate incongruity effect posited by Mandler (1982) and the moderating influence of perceived risk. processing time and mood. 1985) and the likelihood that incongruity can be successfully resolved. Heightened risk perception is likely to produce risk aversion and reliance on well-known brands (Erdem. personal relevance. 2001). 1986) proposes two types of arousal: tension and energy. From a comprehensive review of all the relevant literature. Tension arousal reflects feeling clutched-up. 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. tend to inhibit exploratory tendencies and prefer choosing the norm and familiar options over novelty and unfamiliar options (Campbell and Goodstein. they preferred the congruent (and familiar) option to the moderately incongruent choice. and source and message factors. when perceiving high risk. 1998). Thayer’s multidimensional arousal (activation) theory (1978. Consumers’ perceptions of risk guide their product evaluation. These potential moderators are categorized by situational factors. Reconciling the extremely severe incongruity into existing schemas within one’s total cognitive system may simply be beyond one’s ability. Moderating influences As noted in Figure 2. individual difference characteristics. High-risk incongruity can generate tension arousal. 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. Situational factors Cognitive processes are often context-dependent and the contents of processing reflect situational influences (Mandler. Individuals. When respondents perceived high risk associated with a purchase. 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. Schumann tures. We identify situational influences that may affect the motivation and/or ability to process incongruity as perceived risk.

1981. 1991). Srull et al. systematic processing (Mackie et al.. Mood Research has indicated that mood influences the nature. when individuals are not given sufficient processing time. 1992). Energetic arousal resulting from personal relevance will likely facilitate individuals’ motivation to process and resolve incongruity. 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. exposure time significantly affects consumers’ attention to brand information in an ad (MacInnis et al. 1986).e.. Isen. 1991). These results suggest that time. Mackie et al. Bower. 1981. incongruity) (Houston et al. Furthermore. 1993).. When messages are personally relevant. careful processing of information (Asuncion and Lam. High involvement messages convey greater personal relevance and connections (Petty et al. Speck et al. the less attention is likely to be paid to a discrepant message (i. resolution of incongruity did not occur. 1992.e. In brand information processing. it becomes ‘hot information’ (Lazarus and Folkman. (1988) demonstrated that respondents indicated increased extensive processing under the incongruity condition (i. superior memory effects for incongruity were substantially diminished as a result of limited attention and processing investment.. full of pep and energetic. 1987). instead of being sleepy. The manner in which information is encoded. 1985) found that unless subjects were given enough time to think about incongruity. as a form of processing opportunity. 1990. 1995. Higher recall was observed only when respondents were allowed enough processing time. 1990. For example. stored and retrieved from memory and the depth of processing is thought to be influenced by mood (Batra and Stayman. whereas sadness increases careful. previous research has indicated that happiness reduces deliberate.. when exposure time was reduced from 15 seconds to 10 seconds in the Houston et al. Energy arousal is reflected in feeling vigorous. tired and drowsy (Thayer... For example. Schwarz and Bless. calm and restful – in response to an ad stimulus. 1984). and individuals may likely experience some energetic arousal. course and quality of cognitive activities. The shorter exposure time. 1991). if the tension created by high-risk incongruity is unbearably high. 1983). when the source and their role cue were incongruent). On the other hand. Processing time Srull and his colleagues (Srull. they tend to use peripheral cues such as source expertise in forming their attitudes (Ratneshwar and Chaiken. Isen and Daubman’s (1984) findings indicate 70 . It is reasonable that individuals will not be motivated to process incongruity if they do not have enough time to process the information.marketing theory 4(1/2) articles instead of being still. one may try to avoid/ignore the input and preserve inner balance. study (1987). While heightened tension may generally increase one’s motivation to process information at hand. individuals are less likely to invest their cognitive resources to process incongruity that has little personal relevance. Petty et al. will have a considerable impact on any decision to invest processing effort.

if the actual stimulus level notably exceeds the OSL. The Affect Infusion Model (AIM) proposed by Forgas (1995a) explains how affect infuses cognition and behavior. if an individual has a high optimum stimulus level. evidence indicated that mood had a significantly greater influence on judgment for the atypical pattern requiring more extensive processing (Forgas. 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. Specifically. Optimal stimulus level Each individual has a preferred level of stimulation. Moreover. Thus. s/he is likely to be bored. prior knowledge. 1986) because it often contains novelty.g. we propose that optimal stimulus level. and creativity might affect the motivation and/or the ability to process incongruity. need for cognition. tolerance for ambiguity. s/he may fall asleep out of boredom or panic due to overexcitement (Mowen. In extreme cases. When the actual stimulus level is lower than an individual’s OSL.g. s/he is overwhelmed. 1978. Individual characteristics Individual characteristics. novelty-seeking. in processing incongruity. Asuncion and Lam’s (1995) findings suggest that a neutral mood is better for memory of incongruent information than a happy or sad mood. using a mood-related heuristic) or indirectly through affect priming (e. Schumann that subjects with positive affect tended to be flexible in applying analogies and making necessary adjustment in schemas. discrepancy and contradictions with conventional knowledge. 1995). 1998) and energy arousal (Thayer. are identified as potential moderating influences on the motivation to process incongruity in the model. On the other hand. 1998). dogmatism and rigidity.. whereas individuals with 71 . s/he is more likely to attend to and process incongruity that can increase stimulation. selective retention of mood-congruent information (Wegener et al. In accordance with AIM. 1980). Information that is incongruent with an existing schema is likely to provide high sensory stimulation (Mowen. 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. variety seeking. Both heuristic and substantive processes allow the possibility of affect infusion either directly (e. mostly personality and cognitive characteristics. Therefore. termed optimum stimulus level (Raju. 1995b). Johnson and Tversky (1983) demonstrate that even relatively mild affective states could substantially limit cognitive processing.Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. 1994). because it consumes resources that may be necessary for subsequent cognition (Asuncion and Lam. extreme affect (positive or negative) is thought to interfere with any extensive information processing. Optimal stimulus level (OSL) deals with an individual’s general response to the surrounding objects that contain some levels of sensory arousal. The directionality of these effects is not clear at this time and will require more empirical work.

Therefore. motivated to preserve the current system. Highly dogmatic and rigid individuals are also less receptive to new and unfamiliar stimuli that are incongruent with their expectation (e.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. 1996). Rigidity is conceptually close to dogmatism (Peracchio and Tybout. It has been empirically shown that sensation seeking has a positive effect on acceptance of novel information. Incongruent messages tend to be high in sensation value and therefore will more likely attract high sensation seekers than low sensation seekers.. one of which is schema congruity (Meyers-Levy and Tybout.g. 1960). Tolerance for ambiguity Tolerance for ambiguity is defined by Budner (1962) as 72 . Rigid individuals tend to have low motivation for change (Rokeach et al. It is also possible that highly dogmatic or rigid individuals will often reject incongruent information simply based on heuristics (Chandrasekaran and Kirs. 1994). 1979). Rigidity is negatively related to acceptance of new ideas that may be incongruent with conventional ways of thinking. 1986). are not likely to process (or even attend to) an input information that is incongruent with their belief system. For example. Zuckerman (1988) found that high sensation seekers were receptive to novel stimuli whereas low sensation seekers tend to reject novelty. highly dogmatic individuals. one aspect of novelty seeking is pursuing information potentially ‘incongruent’ with an existing schema. while messages low in sensation value were more effective with low sensation seekers. Donohew et al. low sensation seekers prefer congruent messages. new types of music) (Jacoby. Therefore. sensation seeking is a motivation to seek out novel and complex sensations and experiences (Zuckerman. 1980). In the persuasion context. (1991) empirically demonstrated that messages high in sensation value were more effective with high sensation seekers. 1989). Incongruity has a potential to disrupt the stable belief system of highly dogmatic or rigid individuals and thus.. 1995) definition of incongruity suggests that novelty can be considered as a case of incongruity. Interestingly. and is defined as a tendency to avoid trying new things (Raju. because incongruent information is not represented by one’s schema. highly dogmatic and rigid individuals are less favorable to incongruent information than less dogmatic people. 1960). incongruent information will be better received by individuals with high novelty. Similarly.. 1971). 1980). Novelty and sensation seeking Novelty seeking is a tendency driven by some internal drive to seek out new information (Hirschman. Rigidity and dogmatism Rigidity and dogmatic thinking refer to resistance to potential change of one’s belief system. because congruity is low in sensation value (Lorch et al. Highly dogmatic individuals have difficulty in receiving and integrating new information that may result in changes in their belief system (Rokeach et al. Mandler’s (1982.marketing theory 4(1/2) articles a low optimum stimulus level may likely avoid such incongruity to decrease stimulation. On the other hand.

Alba and Hutchinson (1987) suggest that schemas of experts who have an elaborate knowledge structure adopt fewer schema-based heuristics (e. rather than reject as intolerant individuals might.. 1983). 1985). As a result. 1989. 1991. Prior knowledge Knowledge structures can be defined as elaborate or nonelaborate. 1977). 1992). are expected to be more motivated toward detailed processing (Sujan. Therefore. and less likely to be guided by schemabased heuristics (Peracchio and Tybout. it is suggested that individuals more tolerant of ambiguity should search for more information and should process. depending on the amount of information and the complexity of interconnections within and between schemas (Hirschman. Tesser and Cowan.g. Individuals with an elaborate knowledge structure are flexible in identifying analogies and applying categories (Peracchio and Tybout. 1996). Although incongruity appears to stimulate elaborate processing. individuals with an elaborate knowledge. Ambiguity. it should be noticed that elaborate processing is likely to occur only when incongruity is relatively extreme (Hastie. 1987). can be threatening for individuals who have a low tolerance for ambiguity. Meyers-Levy and Maheswaran. incongruent information (Bettman and Zins. compared to novices. 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. 1977). Schumann ‘the tendency to perceive ambiguous or inconsistent situations as desirable’. We believe this tendency of ignoring incongruity will be more pronounced in novices than in experts. On the other hand. more able to utilize incongruent information and recall it (Fiske et al. Thus. In the information-search literature. Individuals most tolerant of ambiguity can deal with most difficult and complex problems (Schaninger and Sciglimaglia. Proficiency at problem solving and efficient use of cognitive resources is a characteristic of an elaborate knowledge structure (Alba and Hutchinson. 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. 1996.Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. as perceived in situations where the available information may seem incongruent and unfamiliar (Camerer and Weber. 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. 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. Meyers-Levy and Tybout. high knowledge individuals will initiate detailed processing at lower levels of incongruity than individuals with a poorly developed schema. 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. 1996). 1980. when faced with incongruent information. 1980). Peracchio and Tybout. individuals’ perception of incongruity may vary depending 73 . 1981) such as severe incongruities. stereotypes) in forming judgments.

. Similarly. In the consumer usage context. if an individual has creativity. Individuals low in need of cognition generally do not engage in deep processing unless required. 1980]).g. Specifically. by being adept in operating and rearranging the elements in schemas or creating a new schema. the Need for Cognition (NC) Scale. it is expected that high prior knowledge and well-developed schema will facilitate processing of incongruent information. Because creativity involves the skillful operation of the existing schemas (e. 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 . Indeed. political experts inferred and recalled incongruities to a greater extent than did novices. 1997). (1983) report that in political cognition. s/he is more likely to be skilled in such processing strategies that involve making changes in the current schema structure. Gregan-Paxton and John. A scale to determine those in each camp. creativity includes originating new product uses.marketing theory 4(1/2) articles on the prior knowledge that enables them to process and resolve incongruity properly. 74 . Therefore.g. Fiske et al. In the processing of advertising. . it is expected that they will process incongruity in the same manner. rearranging relevant elements into a new configuration suitable for solving new problems [Hirschman. in processing incongruity. 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. 1980). however. was developed by ELM (Elaboration Likelihood Model) researchers (Cacioppo and Petty. individuals with creativity will be successful in processing incongruity. incongruity. experts who have high political sophistication use information incongruent with the prior knowledge more flexibly and effectively than novices. than will non-creative individuals. 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. generally within the context of problem solving’ (Guilford. 1965). some individuals find thinking enjoyable. Because individuals high in need of cognition are motivated to process information via the central route. Creative consumers are ready to adopt new products or often invent new ways of using products (Ridgway and Price. 1994). 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. those low in need of cognition are more likely to attend (either consciously or subconsciously) to readily available peripheral cues. or by acquiring new information from the environment and combining it with existing knowledge within schemas (Hirschman. 1982). 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.

Therefore. 1980: 467) is an important component of credibility. Gick and Holyoak (1983) found that knowledge transfer between schemas could be improved with hints or resolution messages. defined as ‘the apparent honesty and integrity’ of information (McGinnies and Ward. 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. Individuals often rely on credible sources for trustworthy information (Wilton and Myers. severe incongruity). 1982). source credibility will likely motivate individuals to invest in processing incongruity. Srull 75 . A resolution message or a hint can help an individual’s resolution processing by suggesting a possible connection between a seemingly unrelated stimulus and the existing schema. 1986). 1958). As a result. and subsequently is recalled better than expected information (Srull. If a trustworthy source advocates a message that is incongruent with one’s 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. 1994). 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. 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. Source credibility Credible information sources are believed to deliver information that can be trusted. is processed more extensively (Baker and Petty. In a similar vein.Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. 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. 1986). In persuasion. Trustworthiness. Schumann Source and message factors Petty and Cacioppo (1986) note the importance of source and message factors in persuasion effectiveness. When individuals transfer knowledge to solve similar problems. research indicates that incongruent information catches attention (Lynch and Srull. Resolution message or hint Processing and resolving incongruity requires ability to use existing schemas and transfer knowledge to fill a gap in logic. 1981. However.e. 1986). 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. presence of a resolution message may not be meaningful (Gick and Holyoak.

Thus. An empirical study (Goodstein. assimilation) and hence are less likely to lead to successful resolution of incongruities. 1993) illustrates that subjects indicate more positive affective responses to congruent (typical) ads than incongruent (atypical) ones. Petty and Cacioppo. However. in countering Mandler’s prediction. attitude change is posited to be a function of the specific type of processing strategy aimed at resolving incongruity. since processing strategies of incongruity are heavily based on schematic operations. a positive (negative) attitude change is more likely (Petty and Cacioppo.e. Matching congruent (or only slightly incongruent) input information with an existing schema and placing the information under the activating schema is relatively effortless.g. 1985). Tesser and Leone (1977) indicate that attitude can be altered as a result of change within a schema. 1986). ‘the affective responses to incongruity would be moderately positive since congruity is the preferred state of world for most individuals’ (1982: 22). 1981). see Figure 1). Assimilation and alternative schema Mandler notes that when individuals can solve incongruity and achieve schema congruity rather easily through assimilation or using alternative schemas. However. the proposed model identifies the fallacy of assuming an invariably positive effect of incongruity on memory and attitude. if positive (negative) thoughts are dominant during the message processing. Suppose a consumer who thinks that Brand X cereal tastes very 76 . Incongruity has varied effects on cognitive and affective responses depending on the types of processing adopted by individuals given a specific situation. assimilation. In the next subsections. to better understand attitudinal changes it is necessary to consider the specific type of processing strategy (i. the affect attached to a prior category schema now subject to the integration of an incongruity input may be transferred to the incoming element. we turn our attention to how various strategies of processing incongruity may result in different memory and attitude consequences. Arguably. changes in attitude are thought to be mediated by the types of thoughts generated when exposed to persuasive communication (e. alternative schema. achieving perfect schema fit does not always lead to positive affective state. In fact.g. The types and valence of thoughts are. That is. The resultant attitude outcomes of incongruity processing may vary depending on the types of internal process individuals engage in to resolve incongruity. Ortony (1991) states that ‘not all cases of successful assimilation to an active schema lead to affectively positive reactions’. some processing strategies (e. Realizing that one can easily solve a problem can produce positive feelings toward the slight incongruity (see Figure 2). successful and unsuccessful accommodation. That is. determined by the processing strategies.marketing theory 4(1/2) articles et al. Incongruity and attitude According to the ELM. For example. in fact. accommodation) that involve substantial changes in one’s schema structure demand more cognitive resources and skills than other processing strategies (e..g.

1955). resulting in prior category affect transfer (Fiske. tends to be adaptive in nature in the direction of producing reconciliation of the incongruent elements (Heider. 1981). self-produced thoughts need not be consistent with the original message (Petty et al. she easily assimilates Y into the existing schema of brand X. Furthermore. Processing strategies for severe incongruity (e. 1982) – a negative case. If she tries the new product Y. The reconstruction process in successful accommodation. As individuals have reinterpreted the original information. Spiro. Successful accommodation Accommodation is generally applied to severe incongruity (see Figure 2). In a similar vein. Cognitive response theory notes that such self-generated thoughts (positive and negative) could be the critical determinants of attitudes. affective responses will likely depend on the prior affect – positive and negative – attached to the activated schema into which incongruity is being assimilated. Therefore. individuals often will reinterpret the incongruity in their own ways or restructure their schema to accommodate. Schumann bad has just found that brand X launched a new product Y. successful accommodation) involve reinterpreting the non-fitting elements. only to find that it tastes as bad as the original brand. Unsuccessful accommodation Festinger’s (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 77 . 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. 1988) argues that transfer in analogical reasoning can be both positive and negative. In resolving severe incongruity. Spiro (1980: 86) indicates that a reconciliatory-restructuring process takes place when individuals are accommodating incongruent information based on Bartlett’s (1932) reconstruction hypothesis. 1980).Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Individuals may try to accommodate the incongruity by rendering it more congruent within their existing schemas (Osgood and Tannenbaum. by the negative prior affect attached to the brand X schema. their attitudes toward the incongruity will likely be altered in a positive direction.g. once they can successfully accommodate it and resolve tension caused by the incongruity. Tesser and Leone (1977) suggested that the thought processing of incongruity tends to result in the polarization of attitudes. when individuals use assimilation or alternative schemas for congruent or only slightly incongruent information. The drive for accommodating severe incongruity is the tendency to resolve the tension and imbalance caused by incongruity.. especially an accommodation using information from existing schemas. 1977: 341). Thus. transfer theory (Novick. although individuals may initially perceive severe incongruity as negative. 1958. in part. her affective response toward Y will be determined. 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). According to Ortony (1991).

Due to this failure to resolve tension. 1980. The more attention (Hastie. Since encoding of incongruity demands greater cognitive investment than encoding of congruity (Hastie. Severe incongruity generates tension resulting from the disruption to the current schema structure. In regard to changes in connections within schemas during the processing of incongruity. 1980) and longer retention in short-term memory (Srull. Therefore. As the number of associative paths is positively related to the probability of retrieving a particular item. If the threat of interruption cannot be eliminated by successfully accommodating it into the schema structure. While successful accommodation will likely generate positive feeling toward incongruities. the intensity of affect under these conditions will be relatively strong and in the negative direction (see Figure 2). 1981). the average number of associative paths produced when processing incongruity is substantially greater than the number produced when processing congruity. individuals try to relate incongruity to other concepts and themes in an effort to place and resolve incongruity within their existing schemas. 1980). (1983) also found that people pay more attention to unpredicted. even after struggling to accommodate severe incongruities (Mandler. Fiske et al. 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. Incongruity between the stimulus and category expectation was shown to motivate people to process the stimulus in greater detail (Fiske and Taylor.. demonstrated by significantly longer viewing time than congruent (typical) ads. intense negative affect will likely result from unsuccessful accommodation. 1983). 1981) in encoding incongruity is thought to lead people to process and elaborate on incongruent information to a greater depth than congruent information (Hastie. 1981). Empirical results support Hastie’s contention.marketing theory 4(1/2) articles schema structure rather than struggle with it. a more secure position of incongruity in a schema will result in greater memory for incongruity. Incongruity and memory Goodstein’s (1993) findings revealed that incongruent (atypical) TV ads may induce subjects to pay greater attention. 1993). the encoding process becomes more difficult and requires more extensive processing (Srull. unexpected occurrences and as a consequence. if there is not a good match between information and existing schema. hence leading to a ‘Zeigarnik’ 78 . 1982). individuals tend to remember incongruity better than congruity. Goodstein. as suggested by Hastie (1981). it is likely that such incongruities will create a sense of incompleteness. Therefore. Schema theory also postulates that information that matches well with the existing schema tends to be encoded effortlessly. On the other hand. 1991. which results in deeper cognition (Fiske et al. tend to be motivated to learn more about them. 1992). 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.

1935). Schumann type effect (Zeigarnik. incomplete tasks that invoke some tension.. Smith and Graesser. Incongruent information that has not been securely encoded in memory. In such cases. Therefore. 1981. However. is more susceptible to decay over time and in such cases. 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. that particular incongruity will not receive sufficient processing effort to allow for a secure position in one’s schema. therefore. Srull and Wyer. This model can better explain the effectiveness of incongruity employed in advertising by predicting when and how incongruity is processed and resolved. For example. 1984. Sengupta et al.Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. Moore and Hutchinson (1985) suggest that severely incongruent and thus disliked commercials often can be more effective than neutral ones. Interestingly. 1989) will not occur if one simply ignores or rejects incongruity. Schmidt and Sherman. 1979. memory for incongruity may decay over time (Alba and Hutchinson. 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. 1986).. most findings supporting superior memory effect were obtained in generally high motivation environments where incongruent information receives central processing. There are many empirical studies that report that the probability of recalling incongruity decreases as time passes (Hastie and Kumar. a phenomenon of superior memory for unfinished. (1997) found that subjects demonstrated inferior delayed memory for incongruity. Moreover. 1985. our model identifies two obstacles for processing incongruity employed in advertising: motivation and ability. Although encoding of incongruity requires intense use of cognitive resources that may lead to higher immediate recall as discussed previously. Similarly.. Srull et al. the superior memory effect of incongruity suggested by Hastie and Kumar (1979) and Srull and his colleagues (Srull. 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. retrieval of memory after some time is facilitated especially for the key congruent elements that have a secure position in one’s schema (Fiske et al. These interact with a number of moderating factors. Wyer and Srull. incongruity found in advertising will be more likely to be effective when it is not only 79 . 1983). because memory has a tendency to become abstract and ‘schema-driven’ over time. such incongruities can actually diminish counterarguing and become more persuasive than regular ads (Aaker et al. delayed recall for such incongruity will be poor. Based on ELM. 1987). 1989). especially in terms of memory. Based on Mandler’s theory. 1981.

an emotional stress may occur upon perceiving a severe incongruity. If certain beliefs or attitudes were more strongly/strictly held in Person A’s existing schema than in Person B’s. prejudice and stereotypes. He proposed that resolving severe incongruity with alternative schema would generate only a positive affect. In our model. Individuals may be likely to have idiosyncratic schema structures based on their life-long learning experiences as a consumer. will not be likely to shift attitude in a positive direction. mismatch and humor) may likely evoke various combinations of affective and cognitive responses. Second. even if individuals are given the same incongruent advertising cue. Future research should delineate differences in these dimensions and explain how different types of incongruity (e. will be viewed as severe incongruity. Incongruent cues that are ignored. or processed but not resolved successfully. irrelevance. such as religious norms. Third. Due to the effortful and difficult nature of such processing. and it offers a conceptual road map of how various situational.g. It is possible that the affective and cognitive dimensions of incongruity responses may be uniquely identified. individual characteristics and message/source factors can moderate the route through which incongruity will be processed. one interesting issue to consider is whether incongruity can further be decomposed to dimensions such as cognition/affect and positive/negative (valence). Thus. and how will they affect cognitive processing of incongruity? For example.marketing theory 4(1/2) articles attended and processed. contradiction. 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. affect transfer from existing schema could be positive or negative depending on the valence of affective node connected to existing schema. Any challenge to schemas that are tightly defined and relatively isolated from other schemas. processing and resolution strategies applied to incongruent messages. Person A will perceive a greater incongruity and it will 80 . First. but also assimilated or accommodated successfully. Future research needs to test the moderating influences of these factors and how they affect the attention. Mandler’s model equates a specific level of incongruity with a corresponding resolution-seeking schema operation. the probability for one to succeed in accommodating severe incongruity found in advertising is not always guaranteed. their perceptions and responses can differ widely. Consideration of the present state of theory development in this area reveals a number of possible avenues for future study. avoided. what determines one’s perception of the ‘levels’ of incongruity found in advertising? Perceiving levels of incongruity could be a subjective process. As contributors to the cognitive psychology paradigm. What are the potential affective responses to ad incongruity beyond a reporting of attitude. schema incongruity theory and the ELM shed light on schema operation and cognitive processing in a response to information incongruity. The final outcome of accommodating severe incongruity has yet to be determined. whereas a weak incongruity may trigger a minor conflict only at the cognitive level. Perhaps the flexibility (or lack thereof) of one’s schema network structure may guide perception of different levels of incongruity. unexpectedness.

This type of advertising creates incongruity since the presence of only rocks and 81 . 1996. First. Finally. such as flexibility and connectivity. 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. slight incongruity) (Mandler. 1982. 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. light can be shed on how to better create a message that will be well remembered and well received by a target audience. 1989. 1982. in 1989. marketers and advertisers may aim primarily at enhancing memory by harnessing the ‘Zeigarnik effect’ or the ‘von Restorff effect’ (Lynch and Srull.Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. After all. Wallace. Brand advertising The part of the model that addresses the resolution of incongruity identifies two possible ways of harnessing incongruity effects in brand advertising. Schumann be more difficult for Person A to resolve such incongruity. Future research should help us understand how characteristics of existing schemas. affect perception of different levels of incongruity employed in advertising. incongruity resolved successfully and in the positive direction will deliver the most desired outcome of persuasion: a firm and persistent. 1982) than congruity or extreme incongruity (Meyers-Levy and Tybout. it can generate positive evaluations for both the ad and the product. 1963). 1992) as a means of eliciting favorable attitudes toward the ad and the product.. marketers and advertisers can develop an ad that contains an optimal level of incongruity (e. 1989) with that schema. Stayman et al. Therefore. 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. Meyers-Levy and Tybout. where positive affect may or may not accompany the superior memory effect. few studies have measured the actual process of resolving the incongruity presented in advertising. positive attitude shift. Alternatively.g. when the level of incongruity is operationalized appropriately in the creation and execution of an advertisement. By understanding incongruity effects in advertising. Nissan’s unusual ad campaign for Infiniti presented only rocks and trees without any insinuation of a car. 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. Peracchio and Tybout. while many studies measured quantitative outcomes such as memory and attitude as a response to incongruity. For instance.

. the ad series contributed to the company’s international reputation with substantial profit increases during the 1990–1992 time period (Tinic. especially the ones countering personal values. The vulnerable populations in our society. 1998). showing burnt eggs as a brain on drugs) to generate stronger impact on the receivers. 1994). identifying the target audience’s shared schemas can be achieved through qualitative research including cognitive response method. in-depth interview. their exposure to the persuasive messages.e.g. Social marketing communication that aims at disseminating information on social issues often involves ‘demarketing’ or attempts to reduce certain consumption behaviors (Mowen. Having this knowledge enables a determination of which type and what level of incongruity will be most effective. Given that ad incongruity employs an element that presents a mismatch with existing schema. such as those who are vulnerable to such negative influences. 1993). It is hard to estimate effectiveness of the Benetton campaign. Since people tend to have strong attitudes and values toward the ‘hot’ social issues. Social marketing communication In practice. Another case of severe incongruities found in brand advertising is the series of ad campaigns sponsored by Benetton. 1997). commonly identifiable with certain demographic and psychographic 82 . because the Benetton ad campaign with such severe incongruities created intense affect – both positive and negative. However. Since schema networks are developed throughout one’s lifelong learning. 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. Most striking images such as ‘a new-born baby covered in blood with an umbilical cord still attached. Methodologically. 1997).marketing theory 4(1/2) articles trees in the total absence of an automobile was not expected or predicted by the audience. public service announcements (PSAs) and other social marketing campaigns often create incongruity conditions as a means of encouraging attitude change. relaxed environment). will be likely to create severe incongruity with their existing attitudes and values (Lorch et al. an AIDS victim dying with his family at his bedside. PSAs related to demarketing often target specific populations. individuals sharing the same culture and life experiences may be likely to share similar schemata. The advertising campaign has consistently created severe incongruities in audiences’ minds and received a wide range of responses among world consumers (Evans and Riyait. An intense fear-appeal can create incongruity (i. advertisers would be interested in discovering what the target audience’s existing schema and associate network is. 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. and protocol analysis involving key customers. Also. some social marketing campaigns use fear appeal and intensively affectdriven advertising (e. rows and rows of crosses in an American cemetery’ have been presented in Benetton’s ad campaign since 1989 (Tinic.

Knowing the potential routes for the processing of incongruity. and (2) encouraging individuals to form new attitudes that result in desirable implications for the persuasion agencies. various effective persuasion strategies can be developed for application. and understand different processing tendencies and patterns within these populations. Conclusion Persuasive communications often aim at two objectives: (1) overcoming prior perceptions and attitudes. memory and attitude. Schumann and Treise. 1955) to invoke the protective mechanism of reducing tension and maintaining balance and harmony within the existing cognitive schemas (Heider. presumably have bounded cognitive abilities and processing strategies. Osgood and Tannenbaum. 1997) and gender (Peracchio and Tybout. teenagers may be novelty seekers and have higher optimal stimulus levels. people can be active seekers and processors of incongruent information (Petty and Cacioppo. Processing information incongruent with prior knowledge or beliefs is an essential part of any persuasive communication aimed at attitude change. Many individuals reject or ignore attitudinally inconsistent information (Heider. and people are generally not likely to invest their cognitive and affective resources in processing incongruity. 1973). 1992). On the other hand. unless there is a compelling need or reason. With the elderly. the nature of how incongruity is pro- 83 . 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. especially for identified target populations within social marketing. however. elaboration. Processing and resolving incongruent information to fit existing schemas. Customizing content and execution of ads. For example.Explaining the case of incongruity Eun-Ju Lee and David W. 1996) in processing incongruity. will likely prove to be an effective communication strategy. 1958) or because of cognitive limitations (Kahneman. Research is now beginning to recognize demographic differences such as age (Yoon. 1981). they may not respond to social marketing messages that have low stimulation (e. advertisers should take caution to establish the best conditions under which a message will be received.g. More research effort is needed to identify target populations for social marketing programs. 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. Thus. the restrictive processing capacity often found in the elderly may need to be considered in designing the message. On the other hand. 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. Schumann characteristics. knowing there may be some obstacles interfering with elaboration of the message. As varied incongruity effects have multiple implications for attention. if a social marketing program is designed for older adults. 1982). is cognitively complex (Mandler. 1958.

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