What types of messages are most persuasive? For example, would you be more likely to buy a TiVo if an ad described it as offering you freedom or if it explained how you could replay sports events?

In a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, Kellogg professors say the key to an effective message is finding the fit between the consumers’ goals and the level of abstraction.

“Informing people that TiVo promotes freedom of expression is an abstract, high-level benefit of the brand, whereas the replay and slow-motion features represent concrete, low-level benefits,” write Angela Y. Lee, the Mechthild Esser Nemmers Professor of Marketing, Brian Sternthal, the Kraft Foods Chair in Marketing, and Punam Anand Keller, a professor at Dartmouth College. “Our research indicates that whether consumers are more persuaded by abstract or concrete benefit information depends on their goals.”

The key to an effective message is finding the fit between the consumers’ goals and the level of abstraction.

The researchers found that when consumers aimed to fulfill aspirations and satisfy achievement goals, more abstract messages — for example, those highlighting the freedom TiVo provides — stimulated favorable brand evaluations. On the other hand, consumers who sought to fulfill their responsibilities and satisfy their security goals were more persuaded by concrete messages, such as those emphasizing TiVo’s replay and slow-motion features.

People experience a heightened sense of engagement when they process information that fits with their goals, the authors explain. When the level of abstraction fits the goal, people understand messages better and are more easily persuaded.

And, it seems, this message fit can benefit people in tasks beyond choosing products. “Our research shows that not only do people become more engrossed in fit information, they are also energized by fit messages to perform better in a subsequent task (e.g., solving anagrams), even if the task is unrelated to the message.”