An experimental study examining intensity level portrayed in images and the effects on consumer attitudes toward the activity, attitudes toward the image and purchase intentions.
This study examined the effects of intensity levels depicted in images used to represent adventure tourism activities on consumer attitudes. The study was to answer five questions:
1) Does the level of intensity portrayed in an adventure tourism activity image affect consumer attitudes toward the image?
2) Does the level of intensity portrayed in an adventure tourism activity image affect consumer attitudes toward the activity?
3) Does the level of intensity portrayed in an adventure tourism activity image affect consumer purchase intentions?
4) Does social comparison theory explain the relationship between effective advertising images and consumers?
5) Are consumers of adventure tourism activities driven by upward or downward comparisons when shown adventure images?
The proposed research questions were examined using a 3 x 2 experimental design. Results indicate social comparison theory can explain the relationship between effective adventure tourism images. However, the level of intensity alone does not affect attitudes toward the image, activity, or purchase intention.
Before diving into the actual results I will explain the theoretical basis behind my research. Social comparison theory states we gauge our own abilities and opinions based on other people’s abilities and opinions. We’ve all done it at some point in our lives; the act is universal. Diving deeper into the theory, however, provides insight into when and why people turn toward social comparison, and the characteristics they display.
Whether or not someone is predisposed to take part in social comparison, times of uncertainty or stress brings it out in everyone…enter first time adventure tourism consumers. The characteristics displayed by those in this situation are those of overconfidence and even narcissism. They tend to use first person references more, and are highly attentive to the image they are portraying to their social audience.
Upward vs. Downward comparison
When Festinger (1954) first developed social comparison theory, the thought was that upward comparison is a good thing, causing someone to use it when assessing someone in a better position than themselves to strive to improve themselves. More studies have been done over the years however, and research has shown that this is not the case when the quest for improvement must happen in front of an audience. When that is the case, upward comparison can actually result in lowered self-esteem (Buunk, 1995).
Downward comparison on the other hand is used to enhance self-esteem by comparing yourself to those in a situation worse off than your own. Little to no research has been done on which process drives adventure tourism consumers to purchase a trip. This research provides a starting point to answer such questions.
The results of the experiment indicate there is not a significance between intensity level and attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the activity, or purchase intentions. To answer whether or not SCO explains the relationship between effective adventure tourism images and consumer attitudes, it is important to look at the significance of SCO on attitudes as well as the control and confounding variables. Experience level proved significant on attitude toward the activity and purchase intention, but not attitude toward the image suggesting those with more experience will be drawn toward the activity no matter the image in the advertisement confirming Fluker and Turner’s (2000) research in which experienced rafters cared more about benefits such as spending time with friends or being outdoors. The fact that SCO proves to be a significant effect on both the high and low intensity images, but not the neutral image suggests that while the intensity level of the image might not prove a factor in affecting consumer attitudes, an image of the activity taking place does trigger a cognitive response. This is similar to Baumgartner, Sujan, and Bettman’s (1992) findings of effective advertisements eliciting autobiographical memories from a unique, positive frame of a person’s life, causing consumers demonstrating high levels of SCO to have a more favorable response toward the image, activity, and purchase. Because the experience level does not affect the attitude toward the image, it can be said that those responding more favorably toward the image are either naturally higher in SCO, or placed in an unfamiliar situation exhibiting the characteristics of those with high SCO (Taylor & Lobel, 1989). Therefore, social comparison theory does explain the relationship between effective adventure tourism images and consumer attitudes. As discussed earlier, more research is needed to determine whether upward or downward comparison plays a larger role in choosing an adventure activity, however, the current study provides a base for such research as those exposed to high intensity images identified as less experienced, while those exposed to low intensity images identified as more experienced. This supports earlier research stating Festinger’s (1954) notion of upward drive is used only when the threat of showing inexperience does not exist (Buunk, 1995). Those shown the low intensity images took part in downward comparison boosting their self-esteem and inflating their confidence in their skills (Morse & Gergen, 1970), while those shown high intensity images took part in upward comparison, not in an attempt to better themselves, but rather in a way that lowered their self-esteem and confidence in their skills (Morse & Gergen).
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