Advertising Research and Public Policy Journal of Advertising

Journal of Advertising

Guest Editor: Jeremy Kees, Villanova University

The field of advertising has a long history of producing research that has implications for public policy. Indeed, articles published in the Journal of Advertising over the past five decades have addressed important issues such as consumer protection (Andrews et al. 2000), advertising deception (Barry 1980), the role of advertising in consumer health (Kees, Burton, and Tangari (2010), advertising regulation (Greer and Thompson 1985), advertising of harmful products targeted at vulnerable populations (Henke 1995), advertising ethics (Zayer and Coleman 2015), risk communication in advertising (Macias and Lewis 2003), and advertising disclaimers (Stern and Harmon 1984). While advertising scholars have always been concerned with contributions to advertising theory and practice, it seems that contemporary advertising research is often positioned make contributions to public policy and consumer welfare. This trend is evidenced by two recent Journal of Advertising special issues devoted to public policy topics: Green Advertising (Vol. 41, No. 4) and Effective Health Messages in Advertising (Vol. 44, No. 2). It is my pleasure to provide an introduction to this Journal of Advertising Virtual Special Issue on “Advertising and Public Policy,” which identifies 14 articles published in the Journal of Advertising since 2013 that have important implications for public policy. Below, I provide a brief overview of these impactful articles and how the findings from these studies can impact the policy landscape.

Advertising research can play in important role in shaping policy and laws that have implications for consumer health and welfare. For instance, findings from Davis and Burton (2016) identify conditions under which graphic health warnings (GHWs) can be supportive of smoking cessation outcomes. This research is timely as legislation related to mandatory GHWs is hotly debated in the federal court system and such research is of importance to federal agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP). In a similar vein, direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising research is of prime importance to the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) due to its impact on public health. The findings from Huh et al. (2015) are especially noteworthy considering new advertising platforms (i.e., advergames) that can be used to market pharmaceuticals. Advertising research also has offered some important insights related to the topic of alcohol (and anti-alcohol) promotion and advertising. Findings from Noguti and Russell’s (2014) article examining alcohol product placement, and Park and Motron’s (2015) work on the framing of anti-drinking advertisements, are of importance as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues to find innovative ways to educate consumers about responsible consumption and promote industry self-regulation.

While the research above is focused on specific substantive policy topics (i.e., tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals), other advertising research on message strategy can contribute more broadly to consumer well-being. For instance, Pounders, Lee, and Mackert (2015) offer findings that demonstrate the importance of considering temporal frames and self-view when designing persuasive health messages. Results from Sundar, Karder, and Wright (2015) suggest that the truth effect (i.e., repeated advertising claims) and its moderators, such as emotion, can be used to influence the persuasiveness of health-related claims. The study of health messaging strategies like the ones noted above are informative to government agencies (e.g., FTC; FDA; CDC) and Congress in the consideration of potential policy interventions to protect and enhance consumer welfare.

Sustainability and environmentalism has been a popular topic for advertising research over the past decade. Advertising scholars have made notable contributions to the understanding of how to motivate sustainable behaviors (by firms and consumers) and how to increase support for pro-environmental policies. In a replication content analysis, Segey, Fernandes and Heng (2016) found that consumers are exceedingly accepting of advertisements which make environmental claims, and results from Matthes and Wonneberger (2014) further reinforce the general positive consumer perception of green advertising. While traditional “green” appeals seem to be gaining widespread consumer acceptance, other forms of environmental advertising can also be useful. Reich and Soule (2016) offer interesting findings related to green demarketing appeals. However, despite increasing consumer acceptance of green advertising, results from Fernando, Suganthi, and Sivakumaran (2014) demonstrate that advertisers should still be cognizant of perceived “greenwashing.” Such contributions are beneficial to continued work on Environmental Marketing Guides at the FTC.

Advertising research is especially useful in using advertising theory to examine the mechanisms by which various attributes of sustainability claims operate. For example, results from Atkinson and Rosenthal (2014) use signaling theory to understand which aspects of eco-labeling are most effective at evoking positive consumer responses. Ryoo, Hyun, and Sung (2017) show the importance of descriptive norms and construal level in impacting sustainable attitudes and behaviors. Green and Peloza (2014) compare advertising claims related to consumer versus social benefit and reconcile previously conflicting research on the efficacy of these appeals under different consumption contexts. Hartmann, Apaolaza, and Elsend (2016) studied nature imagery in non-green advertising and the underlying processes involved. Each of these studies contribute to overall understanding of the how the specific design of environmental claims can impact consumer behavior.

No doubt, public policy research is interdisciplinary in nature and advertising scholars have the opportunity to play an increasingly important role in shaping evidence-based policy decision making. It is important to note that federal agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission often look to the academic community for data to guide and support public policy. Rigorous advertising research grounded in theory will continue make broad and substantial contributions to public policy and consumer well-being. The articles contained in this virtual special are excellent examples of how advertising research can contribute to public policy.

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Jeremy Kees, PhD
Richard J. and Barbara Naclerio Endowed Chair in Business and Professor of Marketing
Villanova University

Access articles chosen by guest editor Jeremy Kees