Language Abstraction In Marketing Communication: Online Reviews Of Product Failure Context
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Although language is an essential component of word of mouth (WOM) there is limited understanding of how language used in WOM messages affects receivers. Extant research indicates that there are three dimensions of language: semantics (meaning of words), syntax (rules of combining words), and pragmatics (social interpretation of semantic and syntactic aspects). Prior research in the marketing domain has focused on investigating the effect of message semantics on consumer outcomes using attribution models. In this thesis, I investigate the importance of message syntax in negative eWOM and crisis communication. In particular, I apply the Linguistic Category Model (LCM) to examine the effect of language abstraction in negative eWOM on receivers’ attitudes and buying intentions. Language abstraction is concerned with use of abstract and concrete words during interpersonal communication. Marketing studies have demonstrated the differential effect of abstract and concrete messages on attention and message persuasiveness. However, in these studies the abstractness in the message is manipulated through meaning, so with a focus on semantics instead of syntax. Utilizing data from over 1,200 participants in eight experiments, I empirically demonstrate the direct impact of high abstraction level in message syntax on increase in causal attribution and blame assignment towards the brand, and on decrease in perceived product quality, product attitude, and buying intentions. I also demonstrate that this effect is moderated by personal variables such as prior brand favorability and overload confusion proneness but is not moderated by product involvement. In addition to this, receiver’s perceived tie strength with the sender, source expertise, and sender’s name are found to moderate the relationship between language abstraction in negative eWOM and receiver outcomes. Finally, I empirically demonstrate the direct influence of language abstraction on consumers’ attitudes and buying intentions in corporate communication in the context of crisis communication about a product failure. This thesis contributes to theory by exploring language abstraction as a new dimension in marketing communication and outlines implications for managers.
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