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Working Paper

Consumer Testimonials as Self-Generated Advertisements: Evaluative Reconstruction Following Product Usage

Terence A. Shimp, Stacy L. Wood, and Laura Smarandescu, 2005, 05-109

Testimonial solicitations—in which firms solicit consumers’ personal endorsements of a product or service—represent a popular marketing practice. Testimonials are thought to offer several benefits to firms, among them that participating consumers may strengthen their positive attitudes toward a brand, through the act of writing testimonials.

Here, Shimp, Wood, and Smarandescu conceptualize a testimonial as a self-generated advertisement. Prior research finds that exposing consumers to advertisements after they have used a product influences their memory-based evaluations of the usage experience and inflates their product judgments. In their study, the authors investigate whether this effect exists for testimonials.

Two laboratory studies demonstrate that the act of writing testimonials can enhance product evaluations beyond the actual experience of using the product. That is, the act of writing a testimonial caused participants to evaluate the product—a special, watery formulation of orange juice presented as a delicious new brand—more favorably than its formulation warranted. In addition, writing a testimonial about a product in conjunction with a special person (e.g., the Brawny paper towel “Who is your Brawny man?” contest) enhanced product evaluations over writing a testimonial about a product per se.

Because of the context in which testimonials are generally solicited (as part of a promotion with the incentive of a potential prize), consumers may write exaggeratedly positive testimonials. In a third study, the authors find that when consumers exaggerate in their testimonials, their evaluations of the product are lower than when they do not exaggerate—that is, exaggeration results in a discounting effect.

These results support the solicitation of testimonials as a marketing tool but indicate that the testimonial must be designed carefully in order to have a positive effect. It is incumbent on brand managers to develop testimonial programs that encourage consumers to offer genuine commentary so as to avoid the backlash effects of subsequent discounting.

Terence A. Shimp is Distinguished Foundation Fellow and Professor of Marketing, Stacy L. Wood is Associate Professor of Marketing, and Laura Smarandescu is a Ph.D. student, all at the Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina, Columbia.

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