Over thirty years ago Krugman (1965) claimed that learning of advertising messages was much more like an Ebbinghaus nonsense syllable memory task than an exercise in rhetoric. If anything, he seems even more right today in a media environment that continues to become more cluttered. In this article, we investigate the role that memory plays in the development of beliefs within this context and focus on the formation of beliefs that develop with little intention or opportunity to learn. Following on previous work, we investigate the effect of repetition-induced increases in belief for advertising claims that are hierarchically related: a superordinate general benefit claim (e.g., security of a lock) and multiple subordinate feature claims (e.g., pick resistant and professional installation required). We find that beliefs in feature claims increase monotonically with number of exposures, although at a diminishing marginal rate. We find no evidence of horizontal spillover of repetition-induced increases in belief from one subordinate feature claim to another. However, we find a substantial amount of vertical spillover of repetition-induced increases in belief from individual subordinate feature claims to the superordinate general benefit. A dual mediation analysis suggests that the vertical spillover comes from both an increase in familiarity of the general benefit and greater belief in the set of subordinate feature claims.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by Grant 41CL94-1582 from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada to Scott A. Hawkins. We are grateful to Martin Evans, Reid Hastie, Andy Mitchell, and the editors and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.
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