As early as 1911, researchers have been examining the effectiveness of soft-sell vs. hard-sell advertisements with different consumer groups. In soft-sell ads, the emphasis is on image and atmosphere, with the ad often telling an emotional story of some kind. Human sentiments have precedence over direct product-related information. Conversely, in hard-sell ads, a sales orientation takes over; text-driven information about product features, performance, and competitors is frequently used. These types of ads often include superlative statements, such as “number one” or “leading”.
There has also been extensive research about the use of global consumer culture positioning (GCCP), local consumer culture positioning (LCCP), and foreign consumer culture positioning (FCCP). In GCCP, a brand is positioned as being a symbol of a global culture; for example, P&G’s Wash and Go shampoo uses GCCP to sell itself as a shampoo for busy women living in a hectic world who want to save time. In LCCP, the brand associates itself with a specific local consumer culture, such as Levi’s association with the rugged American West. Finally, in FCCP, a brand will associate itself with a specific foreign culture, such as Louis Jadot wine being positioned as “the taste of France”.
In the research performed by Okazaki, Mueller, and Taylor (2010), the use of soft-sell vs. hard-sell ads were compared as part of a GCCP strategy in the US and Japanese markets. Their research indicated that not only are soft-sell ads perceived similarly in both markets, but they were significantly preferred in both markets (vs. hard-sell ads). These researchers posit that “soft-sell appeals may be more effective in transmitting global brand quality, social responsibility, prestige, and relative price in a symbolic and implicit form”. This researcher speculates this may be due to the storytelling aspects of image-based ads, which allow consumers to draw their own benefit inferences rather than being explicitly told about product features.
Okazaki, S., Mueller, B., Taylor, C. (2010). “Global consumer culture positioning: testing perceptions of soft-sell and hard-sell advertising appeals between US and Japanese consumers”, Journal of International Marketing. 18 (2), pp. 20-34.