Process vs. Outcome Thought Focus and Advertising

Journal of Consumer Psychology, Vol. 13, No. 3

28 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2003

See all articles by Jennifer Edson Escalas

Jennifer Edson Escalas

Vanderbilt University - Marketing

Mary Frances Luce

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business


Recent social psychological research demonstrates that certain types of mental simulation are particularly useful for helping individuals reach the future they envision (e.g., Taylor et al. 1998). More specifically, Taylor's recent research indicates that the most successful simulations focus on the process of reaching a goal rather than on the outcomes or attainment of the goal. This paper extends consideration of process- vs. outcome-focus thought to advertising. In studies manipulating the focus of subjects' thoughts while viewing a print advertisement, we find that a process-focus ad condition results in significantly higher behavioral intentions than an outcome-focus ad condition. Additional results demonstrate that the benefit of process-focus occurs when ad arguments are generally appropriate (e.g., strong and credible). However, in the case of inappropriate ad arguments, process-focused thought actually lowers behavioral intentions, compared to thoughts focusing on the end result or outcome of product usage. Thus, in addition to increasing the persuasive power of strong advertising claims, process-focused thinking appears to make individuals better, or more discerning, consumers who do not form behavioral intentions when it is inappropriate to do so. This basic phenomena appears to be robust across the specific form of ad arguments (specifically, whether arguments involve the process or outcome of product usage) and it appears to operate independently of motivational or elaboration processes.

Keywords: Thought focus, mental simulation, advertising

Suggested Citation

Edson Escalas, Jennifer and Luce, Mary Frances, Process vs. Outcome Thought Focus and Advertising. Journal of Consumer Psychology, Vol. 13, No. 3, Available at SSRN: or

Jennifer Edson Escalas (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Marketing ( email )

Nashville, TN 37203
United States

Mary Frances Luce

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States

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