The authors investigate the benefits of using a narrative (i.e., a storyline featuring a protagonist) to convey product information in the evaluation of really new product concepts by consumers. In the context of early product evaluation, the imagination of consumers can be guided by a narrative about a protagonist who uses the new product in a series of actions and events. In this way, a narrative can present information about the new product concept in a way that is evocative and relevant.
The authors build on narratives research and study the implications of different protagonist focal characters. Further, the role of a protagonist focal character in facilitating consumer evaluations is examined, and evaluation formats (narrative versus attribute/benefit listings) are compared. Utilizing three empirical studies, this research looks at the potential effects of protagonist (dis)similarity with the reader on transportation and new product evaluation both in narrative and bulleted list evaluation formats. Study 1 shows an interactive effect of reader–protagonist similarity and evaluation format on transportation and product evaluation. The results from this study show that reader–protagonist similarity is needed for a narrative to be effective.
Studies 2 and 3 provide further understanding of the effects of reader–protagonist (dis)similarity. Study 2 shows that the negative impact of a dissimilar protagonist can be mitigated by explicitly instructing the readers to imagine themselves as the protagonist, thus enabling them to fully experience the storyline. Study 3 decomposes the reader–protagonist dissimilarity and shows that not all protagonists dissimilar to the reader deliver a negative outcome. A dissimilar protagonist that is not from a dissociative out-group for the reader effectuates a positive result. Finally, the underlying process for the observed effects is demonstrated: narrative transportation is shown to mediate the observed effects in all three studies.
With these studies, the authors advance narrative transportation and social identity theory. Furthermore, the research provides practical guidelines for how narratives should be constructed and utilized to obtain consumer evaluations of product concepts in the new product development process.