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Are self-endorsed advertisements for unhealthy food more effective than friend-endorsed advertisements?

Company marketers are consistently striving to capture consumers' interest by using a variety of advertising methods and media. The most recent trend is the use of interactive media to communicate with consumers through interactive advertising. The use of interactive advertising, compared with other types of advertising, leads to more favorable consumer attitudes toward the advertising and greater content-sharing intention (Shen, Chiou, Hsiao, Wang, & Li, 2016). A typical example of interactive advertising is using a social movie that relies on social networking sites for its distribution. A social movie is a video recording in which consumers play the lead roles, and in which they are sometimes allowed by advertising producers to choose one of several possible scenarios for the story. For instance, in 2010, the Philips technology company used a social movie in their marketing campaign in South Korea. The consumers who participated in this campaign were able to appear in the movie with a celebrity, and they could make up their own story by choosing which episode they wanted. This campaign resulted in over 1,200,000 visitors to, and video clicks on, the campaign page, and about 200,000 consumer-created video recordings were made (Innored, 2014).

A strategy that advertisers often use to convince consumers of a product's merits is to encourage them to relate the product to themselves or to their own experiences (Meyers-Levy & Peracchio, 1996). In the context of interactive advertising, consumers may have a positive association with, and attitude about, the advertised products, an association that is attributed to the self-reference effect (Ahn & Bailenson, 2011). Further, companies can expect additional positive effects from consumers' friends who are exposed to the advertisements in which their friends appear (Huang, Su, Zhou, & Liu, 2013). From this perspective, the endorser can be classified as either self or friend. We expected that the effect of interactive advertising would depend on the type of endorser. However, there have been few studies conducted in which this perspective on advertising has been examined.

In this study we examined whether or not the effectiveness of interactive advertising depends on the type of endorser. We classified products as virtue products (healthy food) and vice products (unhealthy food) to investigate the effectiveness of interactive advertising. We argued that because of the self-reference effect, the enhanced association between self and unhealthy food would lead to cognitive dissonance.

We expected that people who experienced cognitive dissonance would try to reduce it by self-justification of their choice of unhealthy food. However, in the case of healthy food, although the self-reference effect could occur, we expected that no such effect would occur because there was no cognitive dissonance or subsequent need for self-justification.

Virtue Food and Vice Food

Wertenbroch (1998) suggested that products can be categorized as either virtue goods or vice goods. Virtue goods are goods that are desirable because of their long-term consumption consequences, whereas vice goods are goods that are desirable because of their short-term consumption consequences. Similarly, food can be classified into two types: healthy and unhealthy (Rozin, Ashmore, & Markwith, 1996). Chernev and Gal (2010) defined virtues as options that coincide with long-term goals such as weight loss, but, inevitably, do not satisfy immediate needs. In contrast, vices are defined as options that coincide with short-term goals such as eating chocolate cake, but are in discord with longer term goals. Mishra and Mishra (2011) applied these definitions of virtue or vice consumption to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy food.

Researchers have explored how people's consumption decisions are influenced by these two types of food, and whether or not consumers prefer virtue to vice food. For example, Sela, Berger, and Liu (2009) found that people tend to select virtue food over vice food when choosing from a larger assortment compared to when they choose from a smaller one. Mishra and Mishra (2011) examined how sales promotions affect the choice between unhealthy and healthy food. They showed that for virtue food, consumers opt for quantity-based promotions (bonus packs) instead of price-based promotions (price discounts), whereas for vice food, consumers prefer price discounts to bonus packs. Poor, Duhachek, and Krishnan (2013) demonstrated that exposure to an image of a person consuming vice food increases the viewer's taste perceptions relative to the food image.

These findings have been attributed to the fact that the choice and consumption of vice food is generally more difficult for the individual to self-justify than is the consumption of virtue food. Despite the fact that both vice and virtue food provide consumers with benefits and pleasure, vice food makes consumers feel guilty about consumption because, unlike virtue food, they have negative long-term health consequences (Mishra & Mishra, 2011). Researchers have shown that people experience a sense of guilt both when they consume vice food (Okada, 2005) and when they are exposed to images of vice food (Fletcher, Pine, Woodbridge, & Nash, 2007). In contrast, virtue food does not evoke a sense of guilt (Okada, 2005). Thus, it is easier for the individual to self-justify the consumption of this food.

The Self-Reference Effect

In most cognitive psychology studies on the self-reference effect, self-referencing represents a cognitive process that people use to understand new information by associating self-relevant stimulus information with information stored in their memory (Debevec & Romeo, 1992). The use of self during the encoding of information is more effective than other encoding methods, such as semantic encoding and other-referent encoding (Rogers, Kuiper, & Kirker, 1977; Symons & Johnson, 1997). For example, people tend to recall target words better when they respond to questions related to whether or not the words describe themselves, than they do when the words are presented in larger type or when the words are presented with synonyms (Rogers et al., 1977).

Research findings on advertising and consumers have shown that self-referencing can have instructive effects, such as recall, persuasion, and evaluation about the messages or products. Kendzierski (1980) reported that self-oriented information produces better recall than does situation-oriented information. Sujan, Bettman, and Baumgartner (1993) showed that self-referencing information leads to more positive emotion and reduces the processing of the product's features, thereby enhancing the evaluation of advertising. Further, self-referencing can enhance advertising recall by strengthening the association between self and information in the advertising (Klein & Loftus, 1988). It can also increase persuasive power by strengthening the elaboration of a product's attributes and benefits (Meyers-Levy & Peracchio, 1996).

Burnkrant and Unnava (1989) reported that self-referencing enhances the receiver's recall of message content as well as his or her attitude and cognitive response. Specifically, they found that if the arguments of the message are strong, the message has a greater influence on the receiver's attitude and cognitive response when self-referencing is strong compared to when self-referencing is weak. Escalas (2007) suggested that self-referencing can be classified as narrative or analytical. Narrative self-referencing affects persuasion through transportation, whereby people are absorbed in an advertisement, for example, "Imagine yourself running through this park ... [with] Westerly running shoes on your feet." In contrast, analytical self-referencing affects persuasion through cognitive elaboration, whereby people relate an advertisement to themselves, for example, "We would like to introduce you to Westerly running shoes, designed with you in mind." Escalas demonstrated that narrative self-referencing is persuasive regardless of the argument's strength, whereas analytical self-referencing is more persuasive when the arguments are strong compared to when the arguments are weak. Perkins and Forehand (2012) showed that when content is self-related, this enhances the receiver's evaluation by strengthening the association between self and object (self-object associations). According to cognitive consistency theory (Festinger, 1962), self-object associations can promote a positive attitude toward the object.

Researchers have conducted studies in which they have manipulated self-referencing using diverse methods. For example, to evoke self-referencing, Sujan et al. (1993) encouraged participants to form an impression of the target brand by eliciting autobiographical memories. Burnkrant and Unnava (1995) manipulated self-referencing by varying the messages in advertisements. They found that the messages that evoked strong self-referencing addressed the subjects directly, for example, "You might not know what you will find in the new calculator." In contrast, the messages that evoked low self-referencing began with an indefinite pronoun, for example, "One might not know what one can find in the new calculator." Meyers-Levy and Peracchio (1996) used photographs taken from the perspective of either a participant or a detached onlooker to manipulate self-referencing. They found that to prompt self-reference, a participant's perspective was better than was a detached observer's perspective.

Self-Justification Theory

Several researchers of social psychology and decision-making have claimed that people seek reasons for their behavior and have motives for justifying their behavior (Simonson, 1989). People typically tend to justify their behavior and use available information as supporting evidence to gratify their desires. Such behavior is generally referred to as self-justification.

The need for self-justification comes from cognitive dissonance, which makes people psychologically uncomfortable. According to the theory of cognitive dissonance proposed by Festinger (1962), people who experience dissonance caused by inconsistent relations among cognitive elements may motivate themselves to reduce the inconsistency or to avoid situations that increase the inconsistency.

There are two types of dissonance, moral and hedonic (Holland, Meertens, & van Vugt, 2002; Kelman & Baron, 1974). Kelman and Baron (1974) proposed that moral dissonance occurs when a person behaves in a way that violates his or her moral standards or values, whereas hedonic dissonance occurs when a person performs an action or task that has little intrinsic value for him or her. From a slightly different perspective, Holland et al. (2002) proposed that it is the victim of the negative consequence who defines the difference between moral and hedonic dissonance. That is, moral dissonance results from behavior that has a negative consequence for other people, whereas hedonic dissonance results from behavior that has a negative consequence for the person carrying it out. For example, people may experience moral dissonance after gaining a higher grade by cheating, resulting in people who did not cheat receiving a lower grade, or hedonic dissonance if they realize that they had made a poor decision about a purchase.

There are two types of strategy related to self-justification, internal and external (Holland et al., 2002). Internal self-justification refers to people's justification for their actions by changing their perception or attitude about the actions and related consequences. For instance, people would not mind about, or would deny, the negative consequences when they are confronted with cognitive dissonance. In contrast, external self-justification occurs when people use external excuses to justify the negative consequences of their actions. For instance, people often make excuses for their behavior by comparing themselves with others who behaved even worse than they did.

Hypotheses Development

We proposed that self-justification would occur when people were exposed to self-endorsed advertisements for unhealthy food. As it is generally more difficult for a person to justify the consumption of vice food compared to virtue food (Mishra & Mishra, 2011; Okada, 2005), it can be assumed that, compared to virtue products, vice products are less preferred. That is, stronger self-justification is required for a person to have a positive attitude toward vice products compared to virtue products.

The self-reference effect can occur in association with either virtue or vice products. When people are exposed to self-endorsed advertisements, the association between self and advertised product is strengthened. This strong association can promote a positive attitude toward the product (Perkins & Forehand, 2012). In particular, we expected that the need for self-justification would increase when people were endorsing vice products, because the strengthened association between self and vice product would result in cognitive dissonance between the negative consequences of using the vice products and the person's positive self-image. Therefore, people would be motivated to justify use of the vice products to reduce cognitive dissonance, which is a kind of hedonic dissonance because the negative consequences of using the vice products are directed toward oneself. According to Holland et al. (2002), people who experience hedonic dissonance are more likely to manifest internal self-justification, such as reduction and denial of the negative consequences.

This concept can be extended to self-endorsed advertisements for vice products. Specifically, in the case of unhealthy food, people exposed to self-endorsed advertisements would self-justify the advertised products more strongly than would people exposed to friend-endorsed advertisements. Moreover, the self-justification would result in people having a more positive attitude toward the products, because the main drawback in the consumption of vice products would be overcome through this self-justification. In contrast, because people who are shown advertisements for healthy food would not experience cognitive dissonance, they would not need to self-justify the advertised products. Therefore, we proposed the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: For unhealthy food, people exposed to self-endorsed advertisements will have a more positive attitude toward the advertised products than will people exposed to friend-endorsed advertisements. In contrast, there will be no significant difference in attitude according to the type of endorser in the case of healthy food.

Hypothesis 2: People's self-justification for consumption of healthy and unhealthy food will mediate the relationship between the type of endorser and their attitude toward unhealthy food.


Participants and Procedure

Participants in the experiment were 186 undergraduate and graduate students at a university in South Korea. To recruit participants, we posted a notice about this experiment on the bulletin board at the university. All students participated voluntarily in the experiment in exchange for a US$4.00 meal voucher and the chance to win one iPad mini. We used 178 of the survey forms we received for the analysis; eight forms were eliminated because of missing values. In the final sample, 61% were men, and 39% were women. The average age of the participants was 23 years (SD = 3.08). We prepared a dedicated area for the experiment and set up shooting and display equipment to record the advertising images using the participants' pictures. The students were told that they could participate in the study only if they formed a pair with a friend. After they had signed the participation consent form, participants were informed that the purpose of the study was to evaluate advertising programs tentatively proposed for a new product that would soon be launched.

Participants were randomly assigned to conditions in a 2 (product type: healthy food vs. unhealthy food) x 2 (endorser type: self-endorsed vs. friend-endorsed) between-subjects design. We manipulated product type using two beverages. Participants assigned to the healthy food condition were exposed to advertisements for a mixed fruit and vegetable juice product, whereas participants assigned to the unhealthy food condition were exposed to advertisements for a carbonated soft drink product. In the self-endorsed condition, participants were shown three advertisements, each of which included their own picture, and in the friend-endorsed condition they were shown three advertisements, each of which included their friend's picture. All participants were asked to select the advertisement that they preferred the most out of the three advertisements (see Figure 1). After choosing their preferred advertising image, participants answered items about their perception of the healthiness of, and their attitude toward, the product. Finally, participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they self-justified the product. Each experiment lasted about 15 minutes.


To confirm that participants perceived the mixed fruit and vegetable juice and soft drink as healthy and unhealthy, respectively, we used three items that were based on Wertenbroch's (1998) study. Participants were asked to indicate the product's perceived benefit (1 = not at all beneficial and 7 = very beneficial), healthiness (1 = very unhealthy and 7 = not at all unhealthy), and desirability (1 = not at all desirable and 7 = very desirable). The dependent variable, labeled attitude toward the product, was measured on a 7-point scale using the following items: not at all favorable/very favorable, dislike/like, and good/bad. The mediation variable of the justification measures for the product was adapted from Franke, Keinz, and Steger's (2009) and Inman and Zeelenberg's (2002) studies and was measured on a 7-point scale (1 = strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree), according to participants' agreement with the following items: "I could understand people who consume this product," "I could persuade people who are against the consumption of this product that it is not a bad product," and "I could easily explain to someone else the reason why I consume this product." All measures in this study were first translated from English to Korean by the authors and then back-translated by expert translators. An associate professor in Psychology at Soongsil University confirmed that there were no semantic differences between the two versions.

Data Analysis

All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS version 21.0. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed and a t test was used to test for mean differences in healthiness of, and attitude toward, the products. The mediation effect was tested using the bootstrapping procedure recommended by Hayes (2013).


Manipulation Check

To check whether or not our manipulation was successful, we combined the scores for the perceived benefit, healthiness, and desirability of the products because these items were highly correlated with one another (a = .76). As expected, the participants rated the mixed fruit and vegetable juice as healthier than the soft drink ([M.sub.juice] = 4.60, [M.sub.soft drink] = 3.52; t = -7.096, p < .001). Thus, our manipulation of the healthiness of the products was successful.

Attitude Toward the Product

The three items related to attitude toward the products were highly correlated with one another ([alpha] = .89). Therefore, we aggregated them to form a product attitude index. Using this index as the dependent variable, we conducted a two-way ANOVA with product type (healthy food, unhealthy food) and endorser type (self-endorsed, friend-endorsed) as the between-subjects factors. The results showed no main effect of either the product type, F(1, 174) = .854, p > .10, or the endorser type, F(1, 174) = 1.432, p > .10. However, the interaction effect between these two factors was significant, F(1, 174) = 5.244, p < .05, which indicated that the influence of advertising on the attitude toward the product depended on both the type of product and the type of endorser (see Table 1 and Figure 2).

In a result consistent with Hypothesis 1, the participants exposed to the self-endorsed advertising for the vice product (soft drink) evaluated the product more favorably than did the participants exposed to the friend-endorsed advertising for the same product ([M.sub.self] = 4.47, [M.sub.friend] = 3.91; t = 2.742, p < .01). However, for the virtue product (mixed fruit and vegetable juice), there was no significant difference in the favorability of the evaluation of the participants between the self-endorsed advertising and the friend-endorsed advertising ([M.sub.self] = 3.95, [M.sub.friend] = 4.13; t = -0.924, p > .10).

Mediation Effect

To examine the effect of self-justification as a mediator, we aggregated the three items of the justification measures to form a justification index ([alpha] = .78). We had predicted that participants exposed to the self-endorsed advertising for the soft drink would self-justify consumption of the drink more strongly than would participants exposed to the friend-endorsed advertising for that product. Further, we expected that there would be no difference in the strength of self-justification for consuming the juice product between self-endorsed and friend-endorsed advertising. We had also predicted that this difference in the strength of self-justification for consuming the product would mediate the interaction effect of product and endorser type on the attitude toward the product.

We tested the moderated mediation with Model 8 of the bootstrapping process recommended by Hayes (2013) with 5,000 bootstrap samples.

In Table 2, the results showed that the interaction effect of product and endorser type had a significant impact on self-justification in Model 1, but not on attitude toward the product in Model 2. Moreover, the effect of self-justification on product attitude was significant. In the self-endorsed condition, the mediating effect of self-justification was significant, [beta] = .250; 95% confidence interval (CI) excluding zero = [0.023, 0.492], whereas in the friend-endorsed condition, the mediating effect of self-justification was nonsignificant, [beta] = -.153; 95% CI including zero = [-0.428, 0.123]. These results indicated that the interaction effect of product type and endorser type on product attitude was mediated by self-justification. Thus, Hypothesis 2 was supported.

Comparison with a Control Condition

One limitation in the study thus far was that we had not compared either type of interactive advertisement (friend- or self-endorsing) with control conditions. To address this, we conducted an additional study. We assigned 73 undergraduate students to two control conditions (healthy food vs. unhealthy food). We used the same procedure as in our initial study, except that the stimuli did not include a picture of either the participant or a friend.

The results showed that participants in the control condition gave a less favorable evaluation of the vice product than did participants in the self-endorsed advertisement condition in our initial study ([M.sub.self] = 4.47, [M.sub.control] = 3.76; t = 3.263, p < .01). However, there was no significant difference in the evaluation between the control group and initial study group for the friend-endorsed advertisement ([M.sub.friend] = 3.91, [M.sub.control] = 3.76; t = 0.640,p > .10). In contrast, for the virtue product, participants in the control condition gave a less favorable evaluation than did participants in the friend-endorsed advertisement condition ([M.sub.friend] = 4.13, [M.sub.control] = 3.57; t = 2.211,p < .01), but there was no significant difference in the evaluation for the self-endorsed advertisement ([M.sub.self] = 3.95, [M.sub.control] = 3.57; t = 1.517, p > .10). These results offer additional support for our hypotheses.


In this study we examined how the effectiveness of interactive advertising depends both on the product type and whether or not the advertisement is self-endorsed or friend-endorsed. The results showed that, as we had predicted, the effectiveness of interactive advertising depended on the type of, and who is endorsing, the product. Specifically, with the unhealthy food product, participants exposed to self-endorsed advertisements had a more positive attitude toward the product than did participants exposed to friend-endorsed advertisements. For the healthy food product, there was no significant difference between the effect of self-endorsed and friend-endorsed advertisements. Further, our finding that this effect was mediated by participants' self-justification for consuming the product was consistent with previous findings (e.g., Kemp, Bui, & Grier, 2011; Mishra & Mishra, 2011).

In this study we have made several contributions to the advertising, self-reference effect, cognitive dissonance, and self-justification literature. First, we extended previous advertising research by including the categorization of interactive advertising, which we classified according to whether or not the endorsement was self-endorsed or by another person. According to construal level theorists (Trope & Liberman, 2010), the type of endorser can be closely related to psychological distance. Therefore, interactive advertising has enormous potential for many applications in other fields of study. For example, close to purchase time, self-endorsement is more effective than is friend-endorsement because others' recommendations are more persuasive when the construal levels associated with both social and temporal distance are congruent (Zhao & Xie, 2011).

Second, most previous researchers of the self-reference effect have manipulated self-referencing using a message evoked by self-referencing or a photograph taken from the participants' perspective (Klein, 2012). In contrast, we manipulated self-referencing by presenting the consumers with images of themselves in the advertisements. This technique has been applied extensively in advertisements such as live commercials and haul videos, and we believe that the self-reference effect is particularly acute for video recordings made by consumers. Further, our results are significant because they show for the first time, to our knowledge, that the self-reference effect can vary according to product type.

Third, we have contributed to the cognitive and social psychology literature by showing that the self-reference effect can lead to self-justification through cognitive dissonance. Most researchers have based their self-referent effect research on a strong association between self and object, whereby a positive attitude toward the object is promoted (Perkins & Forehand, 2012). However, in this study we proposed that the positive influence of self-referencing can come from self-justification when self-referencing has led to cognitive dissonance. In other words, we identified another aspect of the self-reference effect.

There are important practical implications for account executives and marketers in this study. The results indicate that self-endorsed advertisements will be more fruitful than friend-endorsed advertisements in achieving the goals of successful marketing and increasing sales of vice products such as unhealthy food. Therefore, when designing an interactive advertising campaign for a vice product, marketers and account executives should, to achieve success, focus on consumers' participation rather than on their sharing. An example is the fast food chain McDonald's Big Mac Song campaign in South Korea in 2012, 2013, and 2015. People were invited to sing the Big Mac song and appear on television by uploading their video recordings to the campaign's website. In 2015, this campaign led to about 3,000 user-generated video recordings and 1,300,000 views. In our view, this campaign was highly effective because consumers were able to participate in it without any restrictions, with the result that many consumers were willing to create self-endorsed advertisements for hamburgers, which are considered an unhealthy food.

In contrast, marketers who want to successfully promote the sale and consumption of healthy food should focus on consumers' sharing rather than on their participation. As we found that there was no difference between the effect of self-endorsed and friend-endorsed advertisements, wider dissemination of self-endorsed advertisements will be sufficient to bring about a positive effect, even if only a few consumers participate in self-endorsed advertisements. Therefore, to increase the sale and consumption of healthy food, marketers should target people who are influential and who have wide networks, and then implement strategies to motivate these people to create and share self-endorsed advertisements.

There are several limitations in this study. First, because we focused on interactive advertising, we did not examine noncelebrity- and celebrity-endorsed advertisements. Typically, people rarely know the identity of a noncelebrity endorser, but this was not the case for the advertisements in this study. Therefore, future researchers should compare self-endorsed general noncelebrity advertisements with advertisements featuring celebrity endorsers, as has been done previously (Chou, 2014; Erfgen, Zenker, & Sattler, 2015).

Second, we expected that cognitive dissonance would occur because of the enhanced association between self and a vice product (i.e., unhealthy food). However, the extent to which people experience cognitive dissonance can vary according to their perceptions of diet and fitness (Bech-Larsen & Kazbare, 2014). For example, people who are greatly concerned about their fitness can experience greater cognitive dissonance than would others when exposed to self-endorsed advertisements for unhealthy food. Subsequently, the self-justification effect may also work differently for these people. Future researchers can explore this possibility. Third, we demonstrated that the relationship between endorser type and attitude toward an unhealthy food was mediated by the individual's self-justification for consuming that food. To analyze this effect in greater detail, future researchers can examine other mediators, such as strength of the association between self and object, degree of cognitive dissonance, and positive and negative emotions, and can specify a serial multiple mediator model. 10.2224/sbp.6124


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Soongsil University

Jayoung Choi and Yongbum Kim, College of Business Administration, Soongsil University; Junghwan Sung, Global School of Media, Soongsil University; Huibeom Yu, College of Business Administration, Soongsil University.

This work was supported by the Soongsil University Research Fund of 2014.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Yongbum Kim, Venture Center #506, Soongsil University, Sangdo 1-dong, Dongjak-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea. Email:

Caption: Figure 1. Manipulation of stimuli.
Table 1. Results of Two-Way ANOVA for Attitude Toward the Product

                       SS      df     MS      F       P

Product type (A)      0.964     1   0.964   0.854   .357
Endorser type (B)     1.617     1   1.617   1.432   .233
A x B                 5.924     1   5.924   5.244   .023
Error               196.579   174   1.130

Table 2. Results of Test for Moderated Mediation of Study Variables

                      Model 1 Outcome:           Model 2 Outcome:
                    Self-justification           Product attitude

                  Coefficient       t       Coefficient        t

Product type         .092         0.546        .099          0.744
Endorser type        .262         1.562        .056          0.418
A x B                .758         2.259 *      .328          1.218
Self-                                          .530          8.856 **

Note. * p < .05, ** p < .001.

Figure 2. Influence of product type and endorser type on attitude
toward the product.

                     Healthy food   Unhealthy food

Self-endorsed ad       3.95            4.13
Friend-endorsed ad     4.47            3.91

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Article Details
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Author:Choi, Jayoung; Kim, Yongbum; Sung, Junghwan; Yu, Huibeom
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Date:Aug 1, 2017
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