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What’s not to like? Negations in brand messages increase consumer engagement

Abstract

How do you increase consumer engagement with your marketing communications? We suggest using negations in your brand messaging (e.g., “It doesn’t get any better than this”). Four studies, including field studies that analyzed more than 53 million interactions between consumers and brands, find that consumers are more likely to engage with brands when their messages include negations. This occurs because brands seem more powerful when they use negations in their brand messaging, and consumers generally want to associate with more powerful brands. Moreover, the positive, indirect effect of negations on engagement, through perceived brand power, is stronger among consumers with a higher need for status. These findings deepen our understanding of the often-surprising ways seemingly innocuous language features influence consumers, including how they perceive and interact with brands. The managerial implications are straightforward—incorporate negations in your brand messaging, especially when communicating with those that desire status.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers, the Associate Editor, and the Editor for their recommendations and support throughout the review process. The authors would also like to thank Caleb Warren for his feedback.

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Correspondence to Todd Pezzuti.

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Appendices

Appendix A

Table 5

Table 5 Bivariate correlations among the indicators of consumer engagement in the Facebook field study (Study 1)

Appendix B

Table 6

Table 6 Unstandardized parameter estimates for models without control variables in the Facebook field study (Study 1). See Table 2 in the main paper for model results with control variables

Appendix C

Table 7

Table 7 Bivariate correlations among indicators of consumer engagement in the Twitter field study (Study 2)

Appendix D

Table 8

Table 8 Unstandardized parameter estimates for models without control variables in the Twitter field study (Study 2). See Table 4 in the main paper for model results with control variables

Appendix E

In the main text for Study 3, we report our analyses without controlling for message certainty. However, we found that message certainty varied across conditions, and message certainty has been shown to affect consumer engagement with brand posts on social media (Pezzuti et al., 2021). As a robustness check, we include message certainty in the same models used in Study 3. As detailed below, message certainty did not affect the directionality or significance of the results reported in the main text.

The results of an ANCOVA with negation as the independent variable, consumer engagement as the dependent variable, and message certainty as a control variable show that the negation present message was more engaging (M = 1.76, SD = 1.33, SE = 0.07) than the negation absent message (M = 1.56, SD = 0.97, SE = 0.07, F(1, 563) = 4.49, p = 0.034, ηp2 = 0.008). We then assessed mediation again but with message certainty as a control. Negation increased perceived brand power (b = 0.24, SE = 0.10, t = 2.37, p = 0.018) and perceived brand power increased consumer engagement (b = 0.35, SE = 0.04, t = 9.22, p < 0.001), resulting in a positive, indirect effect of negation, through perceived brand power, on consumer engagement (b = 0.08, bootstrap SE = 0.04, 95% CI [0.01, 0.16]).

We then assessed parallel mediation again but with message certainty included as a control. Perceived brand power was the only variable that mediated the negation effect on consumer engagement. Even after controlling for brand competence, trust, and message novelty and certainty, negations continued to exert a positive effect on perceived brand power (b = 0.24, SE = 0.10, t = 2.37, p = 0.018) and perceived brand power continued to drive consumer engagement (b = 0.31, SE = 0.05, t = 6.74, p < 0.001); and the indirect effect, through perceived brand power remained significant (b = 0.07, bootstrap SE = 0.03, 95% CI [0.02, 0.14]). None of the other indirect effects were significant, including the indirect effect through message novelty (95% CI [-0.03, 0.003]), perceived competence (95% CI [-0.03, 0.01]), and trust (95% CI [-0.02, 0.03]); negation did not relate to message novelty (p = 0.427), nor did message novelty influence consumer engagement (p = 0.189); negation did not increase perceived competence (p = 0.292) nor trust (p = 0.809); competence did not relate with engagement (p = 0.734), but trust positively influenced engagement (b = 0.12, SE = 0.05, t = 2.56, p = 0.011).

Next, we assessed moderated mediation again but with message certainty included as a control. Negation increased perceived brand power (negation: b = 0.24, SE = 0.10, t = 2.38, p = 0.018). Perceived brand power and need for status exerted positive main effects on consumer engagement (perceived brand power: b = 0.33, SE = 0.04, t = 8.87, p < 0.001; need for status: b = 0.09, SE = 0.03, t = 3.33, p < 0.001). The interaction between perceived brand power and need for status on consumer engagement was significant (b = 0.06, SE = 0.02, t = 3.55, p < 0.001). Floodlight analysis revealed that perceived brand power exerted a positive and statistically significant effect on consumer engagement within the observed range of need for status. Accordingly, we ran a spotlight analysis which revealed that perceived brand power had a stronger effect on consumer engagement among participants with higher need for status (blow = 0.24, SE = 0.05, t = 4.89, p < 0.001; bmedium = 0.34, SE = 0.04, t = 9.06, p < 0.001; bhigh = 0.44, SE = 0.05, t = 9.52, p < 0.001). The index of moderated mediation (index = 0.01, SE = 0.009, 95% CI [0.002, 0.036]) was significant. The positive effect of negation on consumer engagement was stronger among participants with a relatively higher need for status (blow = 0.05, bootstrap SE = 0.03, 95% CI [0.01, 0.12]), bmedium = 0.08, bootstrap SE = 0.03, 95% CI [0.01, 0.15]), bhigh = 0.10, bootstrap SE = 0.05, 95% CI [0.02, 0.20]).

Appendix F

In the main text for Study 4, we report our analyses without controlling for message certainty, processing fluency, and message novelty; however, we found these varied across the negation present versus absent conditions. To assess robustness, we include message certainty, processing fluency, and message novelty in the same models used in Study 4. As detailed below, the inclusion of these variables did not affect the directionality or significance of the results reported in the main text.

The results of an ANCOVA with negation as the independent variable, word-of-mouth intention as the dependent variable, and processing fluency, message certainty, and novelty as controls revealed a significant main effect (F(1, 540) = 6.83, p = 0.009, ηp2 = 0.012); word-of-mouth intention was higher in the negation present condition (M = 3.17, SD = 1.60, SE = 0.091) versus the negation absent condition (M = 2.82, SD = 1.53, SE = 0.091). We then assessed mediation again but with processing fluency, message certainty, and novelty as controls. Negation increased perceived brand power (b = 0.25, SE = 0.10, t = 2.61, p = 0.009), which, in turn, related positively with word-of-mouth intention (b = 0.74, SE = 0.05, t = 15.15, p < 0.001), resulting in a positive, indirect effect through perceived brand power (b = 0.19, bootstrap SE = 0.07, 95% CI [0.05, 0.32]).

We then assessed the moderated mediation model again but with processing fluency, message certainty, and novelty as controls. Negation increased how powerful the brand seemed (negation: b = 0.25, SE = 0.10, t = 2.61, p = 0.009). Perceived brand power and need for status related positively with word-of-mouth intention (perceived brand power: b = 0.70, SE = 0.05, t = 14.50, p < 0.001; need for status: b = 0.17, SE = 0.03, t = 5.17, p < 0.001), and the effect of perceived brand power on word-of-mouth intention depended on need for status (binteraction = 0.05, SE = 0.02, t = 2.20, p = 0.028). A floodlight analysis showed that the perceived brand power exerted a positive and statistically significant effect on word-of-mouth intentions across all observed values for the need for status values. Accordingly, we ran a spotlight which revealed that the effect of perceived brand power on word-of-mouth intentions was higher among participants that reported relatively higher levels of need for status (blow = 0.63, SE = 0.06, t = 10.31, p < 0.001, bmedium = 0.71 SE = 0.05, t = 14.74, p < 0.001, bhigh = 0.79, SE = 0.06, t = 12.98, p < 0.001). Again, the index of moderated mediation was significant (index = 0.01, bootstrap SE = 0.008, 95% CI [0.002, 0.037]). The indirect effect of negation, through perceived brand power, was larger for those with higher need for status (bhigh = 0.20, bootstrap SE = 0.08, 95% CI [0.05, 0.37], bmedium = 0.18, bootstrap SE = 0.07, 95% CI [0.04, 0.32], blow = 0.16, bootstrap SE = 0.06, 95% CI [0.04, 0.29]).

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Pezzuti, T., Leonhardt, J.M. What’s not to like? Negations in brand messages increase consumer engagement. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-022-00894-3

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Keywords

  • Language
  • Negation
  • Power
  • Need for status
  • Brand communications