An Exploratory Investigation into the Nature of Offensive Television Advertising
The advertising literature contains some evidence that offensive advertising is multidimensional in nature, but little is known about the character of these dimensions. In an exploratory study of TV advertising, two different dimensions of "offensive" were identified. These dimensions were labeled Offensive Products and Offensive Execution. This distinction is important both for the study of the construct as well as for advertisers who are faced with decisions on advertising execution. The Offensive Products dimension contains those products related to consumer problems which social norms dictate should not be discussed in public. The Offensive Execution dimension, the dimension over which the advertiser has more control, consists of those ads which are perceived to be offensive by the nature of the execution or themes and/or topics of the ad and not the product itself.
Advertisers have long been interested in measuring consumers' evaluations of advertisements. Recently, researchers have become interested in the affective and evaluative meanings associated with the advertisement itself. In a recent study, Burke and Edell (1989) found that the feelings generated by advertisements were linked to the consumer's evaluation of both ads and brands. Their study further found that on the three dimensions considered (upbeat, warm, and negative), subjects' cognition and affect regarding the ads were significantly affected by their feelings. A general finding of research into attitude toward the ad has been that such attitudes can influence a consumer's attitude toward the advertised product or brand (Burke and Edell 1989). In the present study, our interest is on the negative dimension of attitude toward the ad; that is, the offensive nature of advertising.
The Changing Nature of Advertising
While advertisements for sanitary protection products were rated to be among the most offensive commercials in 1982, Tampax, in 1985, introduced the colloquialism "period" into their television advertising. According to a spokesperson for Tampax's advertising agency, people were found to react more favorably when ads for the product were straightforward, than when a more subtle approach was employed (Alter 1982; Christopher 1985). Also since 1985, consumers have been exposed to television ads for condoms, to a greater number of ads for personal-hygiene products, and to more explicit bra ads, as well as to an increasing number of other sexually explicit ads. This change in advertising strategy has produced an outpouring of conflicting opinions (for some recent examples of this debate see Andes 1987; Comer 1987; Evans 1987; Gersh 1987; Kanner 1983; Kinlaw 1987; Lowry 1986; Miller 1988; O'Brien 1987; Perreca 1988; Piper 1987; Ross 1984; Sullivan 1988; Sussman 1984; and Wilson 1987). While much of this debate suggests a broadening of cultural values in American society, one should not assume that cultural change is constant across all groups. A recent Wall Street Journal (King 1989) article describes a return to more traditional values among certain groups. If such a return is indeed underway, consumers are likely to become more critical of advertising. In a 1988 study of offensive advertising done for Advertising Age by SRI Research Company (Hume 1988), feminine-hygiene ads still topped the list of most offensive. However, some ads identified as being disliked, such as McDonald's, Budweiser, and Energizer, also appeared on the SRI list, suggesting that "offensive" may be viewed more appropriately as a multi-dimensional construct, rather than as a …