Symbolic Meaning Integration in Design and its Influence on Product and Brand Evaluation
Thomas Van Rompay, Ad Pruyn, Peter Tieke


Previous research and theorizing in product design and consumer psychology testifies to the importance of congruence among symbolic meanings connoted through elements in visual communications such as advertisements, product appearance, and product packaging. However, understanding of the processes whereby meaning congruence impacts consumer response is limited. In this paper, we propose a framework for understanding congruence effects in design based on recent studies addressing processing fluency. Based on these findings, the authors propose that incongruence thwarts impression formation of product and brand by inducing ambiguity, thereby negatively affecting attitude formation. However, research indicates that congruence effects may vary across consumers. Hence, in the experimental study presented, effects of ‘advertising slogan-product shape’ (in)congruence were studied as a function of consumers’ tolerance for information ambiguity. Results from this study indicate that incongruencies are particularity distressing for consumers with a low tolerance for ambiguity in everyday life. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

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