‘Gaining clarity on ambiguity’: vague versus precise temporal framing in marketing communications
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Extant research based on temporal construal theory has employed only specifically defined time frames for near versus distant future but has not examined the case where a future event’s time of occurrence is stated in a vague manner (“coming soon”). Essay 1 focuses on how framing time-related information as vague versus precise can differentially impact consumers’ construal mindset, perceived temporal distance, and preferences for desirability versus feasibility. Through four behavioural experiments and an electroencephalogram (EEG) study, we demonstrate that a vague framing elicits a higher-level mental construal, which in turn leads to a greater perceived distance from the future consumption event. We also uncover a boundary condition (hedonic versus utilitarian product/experience category) under which this effect is altered. Examining downstream consequences on consumer preferences, we find that a vague (versus precise) temporal framing leads to a greater preference for hedonic (compared with utilitarian) products and for desirability (versus feasibility) attributes. In essay 2, we examine how vague versus precise launch date information in pre-launch advertisements can impact temporal judgments and purchase behaviour. Firms engaged in developing innovative products spend considerable resources on pre-launch advertisements, but there is a lack of literature examining the role of temporal framing in such advertisements. Findings from five behavioural experiments indicate that a vague launch date leads to a greater perceived temporal distance from the launch, while a precise launch date leads to a lesser perceived temporal distance. This effect occurs because framing the launch time as “soon” leads to consumers inferring that the product is still at a nascent development stage. We uncover the moderating impact of product innovativeness level and desirability-oriented versus feasibility-oriented product descriptions in the advertisement. Evidence indicates a construal matching effect, such that a vague launch date aligns better with a more innovative product and a desirability-focused description, to elicit higher interest and purchase likelihood. This work makes substantive theoretical contributions in the domain of pre-launch advertisements and temporal framing; while offering strategic managerial implications for effective marketing communications.
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