Brands should try to strike a balance in displaying “warmth” and “competence” to consumers, according to a paper in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Christina Peter (LMU Munich) and Milan Ponzi (Logit Management Consulting/Munich) contended in the study that consumers perceive brands, and people, on these particular dimensions.

Their paper, The Risk of Omitting Warmth or Competence Information in Ads: Strategies for Hedonic and Utilitarian Brand Types, also examined the widespread belief that marketers must choose one attribute or the other.

“Warm brands are ‘those that are trusted to be sensitive to consumers’ needs’ and competent brands are ‘those that can be trusted to reliably fulfill needs’,” they argued.

Furthermore, they posited, hedonic brands typically are perceived to score highly on the warmth dimension, whereas utilitarian brands primarily stand for competence.

“Although this characterization seems appropriate to illustrate the real meaning of brand warmth and brand competence,” the authors argued, “no studies have tested it empirically.”

The result is that “addressing only one dimension in advertising can lead to negative evaluation of the omitted dimension for both brand types, making one-sided advertising ineffective”.

In response, Peter and Ponzi introduced an “innuendo effect” that argues for advertising that includes both warmth and competence.

“If a brand is described only on one of the two basic dimensions … customers made negative inferences about the omitted dimension, which, in turn, lowered the customers’ attitude toward the brand.

“This means that even though there was a positive effect on brand attitude via the dimension addressed in the advertisement, innuendo counteracted this effect, making the advertisement ineffective. This was the case regardless of whether the more primary or secondary dimension of the product was omitted.

“The innuendo effect was moderated by product involvement, although this influence was weak. Highly involved customers identified innuendos more easily, which makes the effect even more noteworthy, considering that this was also the group most likely to buy the promoted products.”

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff