Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication

Document Type



This study examined corporate public affairs and brand awareness advertising under the third-person effect. Third-person effect studies examine the interaction between the media and its effect on public opinion. Past research in third-person effect indicates that individuals perceive that the media is more influential on others than oneself. However, recent studies find a reverse effect, where individuals perceive a greater effect on oneself when compared to others when media messages are positive and desirable to be influenced by. Findings from this study indicate that ExxonMobil public affairs advertisements are found to be socially desirable to be influenced by and that individuals attribute a greater effect to themselves from such ads when compared to others. Further, they are likely to act on that perception in the form of purchasing ExxonMobil fuel and voting for legislation supporting the cause promoted by the corporation. These unique findings suggest that message influence is derived in part from social acceptance in general rather than one's individual assessments of media messages. As such, corporate use of tools such as issue ads, cause related marketing and advocacy advertising are valuable when those messages are deemed socially acceptable, as they lay a foundation of support for corporate operations. Pro-social messages help build the image of a corporation as socially responsible. And the bottom line for such a reputation for corporations is the importance it has securing future sales both directly and indirectly. In other words, public affairs messages can help a company's bottom line indirectly by managing the corporation's image to ensure favorable policies toward the corporation. As well, socially responsible corporations are looked favorably upon by individuals and this perception can realize a direct increase in sales. The implications of such findings rest in the commercial speech debate of corporations who comment on public issues and under the larger umbrella of media effects. We realize that media effects do not occur in a vacuum. They occur in social contexts. As such, as undue influence is of great concern to the debate of public salient issues, the need for responsible corporate citizens who comment in the market place of ideas is paramount.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

H. Denis Wu