For brands to effectively communicate with their audiences, they must first address how consumers feel toward the brand, what they think about the brand, and how they behave toward the brand. By understanding these attitudes, brands can create marketing messages that will speak directly to their audience in a way that’s transparent, relevant, and cohesive. But the concept of attitudes is pivotal to this understanding. What is attitude, what is the function of attitude, and how is attitude formed?

One definition of attitudes is the following: “The learned and lasting general evaluations of people, objects, and concepts that include brands, stores, a particular product or product category. Attitudes represent a summary evaluation that includes our beliefs and our feelings about the attitude object.” (Professor Alexandra Rodriguez) 

Another way to define attitude is a “feeling of favorableness or unfavorableness that an individual has towards an object.” (Source: Consumer Behavior – Attitude)

Moreover, attitudes serve functional needs. Below, let’s evaluate how brands have created customer messaging to address each specific attitude function:

Utilitarian Function

Relating to rewards and punishment

In this ad by the University of Phoenix, we see a single mother who puts in long hours working at the grocery store. Her son is reading a storybook about a dragon who discovers his wings, to serve as an allegory for the mother who decides to go back to university and obtain her Bachelor’s. This ad is targeting parents who view university as serving a utilitarian function, that is, the university will open up a world of possibilities – and opportunities – for them to advance in this world, and in this case, for a mother to provide a better future for her son. 

Knowledge Function

Need for order, structure, or meaning

In this quick-paced advertisement, Duke lays out all the reasons why it is a great university, from its programs to its people, even mentioning accolades (Nobel prize winners). This type of advertisement would appeal to someone whose attitude toward university is a “knowledge function” meaning they have a need for structure and order. You can glean a sense of belonging if you become part of the Duke University family.

Value-Expressive Function

Expressing consumer’s values or self-concept

This advertisement is much more laidback, and it’s geared toward those who are on a journey in the “search for truth.” It speaks to the university’s value and belief system. This type of advertisement will align with those who find it invaluable to apply to a university whose values resonate with their own.

The added benefit is that in unraveling consumer attitudes about any given brand or product, companies can also change their attitudes toward the brand, influencing them positively and favorably if they know how to.