I’m (very/not) committed – Involvement

Involvement is one of those frequently used notions in marketing – that seem easy to understand, but that can get quite complex once they are looked at in more detail. The problem is that it can mean different things in different scenarios – and it’s therefore important tho clarify what type of involvement is being talked about:  I.e. we can talk about product involvement, media involvement or message involvement. Let’s take each of these in turn:

Product involvement, is probably the classic idea of “involvement”, conceptualised as the consumers’ perception of the significance of the product category, based on their innate needs, values, and interests (Mittal 1995). This is the closest type of involvement to the original Robertson (1976)  idea of involvement. This is the suggestion that some products, for example expensive products, have a high consumer involvement – and therefore consumers want a substantial amount of information before committing to a purchase. Conversely, for low involvement products, often inexpensive, everyday goods, consumers require a lot less information. Robertson’s idea was further developed into the FCB grid which helps to script advertising messages.

Media involvement on the other hand can also play a role in how a message is perceived (Krugman, 1965). For example, radio (in the background) can be seen a very low involvement media type – while reading your favourite magazine (the one you read from cover to cover as soon as it arrives) could be seen as very high involvement media type.

The final type is message involvement, i.e. the extend to which someone cares about specific message features. This type of involvement is likely to be highly personal, for example, someone who is interested in the environment may pay close attention to advertising messages that imply ecological product features. Conversely, someone who does not care about the latest technology may not pay any attention at all to messages about technical specifications of a mobile phone.

So what drives involvement? Well, this probably depends to some extent again on which one: Message involvement is most likely to be driven by interest in a subject matter and highly personal; media involvement is likely to be contextual and personal (e.g. some people will pay close attention to certain programmes, others won’t). Product involvement on the other hand is likely to be more complex than the often promulgated high/low price definition. Blair & Eagly (1989) use three types of motivators for involvement: (1) Value-relevant involvement, based on enduring values a consumer holds, (2) outcome-relevant involvement, where consumers are focused on the achieving a defined outcome  and (3) impression-relevant involvement, where the consumer/scenario is driven by the impression they make on others.

A final point: Although involvement is often generalised as being particularly positive for a marketer – this may not always be the case. Imagine for example the case of people who are highly involved in ethical trading practices (i.e. they have a high value-relevant involvement). If a message contains relevant clues (e.g. hinting at fair trade deals etc) – then these consumers are likely to become highly involved in the message – and by consequence paying especially close attention to everything that is being said. Take the example of Starbucks, who very vocally advertise their commitment to fair trade coffee – and the criticism from message involved consumer groups (e.g. in 2000, 2007, 2011 …).

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