Zhenyu Jin

Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Moore School of Business

First Advisor

Xiaojing Yang


Formalness, which refers to the sense of seriousness, importance, and significance, is a commonly-encountered experience in consumers’ daily lives and can influence consumer behavior in wide domains. Despite its ubiquitous nature, research on consumer experiences of formalness in marketing settings is limited. This dissertation investigates the sense of formalness in consumer behavior, exploring its antecedents and consequences in sensory marketing, luxury consumption, and consumer lifestyles.

Essay 1 identifies one of the antecedents and consequences of formalness sense by exploring how music used in marketing communications and retail environments can induce a sense of formalness in consumers, which in turn shapes product evaluation. Across five studies involving experiments and unstructured data (e.g., audio files) data analyses, this essay demonstrates that, compared with high-pitched music, low-pitched music used in commercials and retail settings can augment consumers’ perceived luxuriousness of the advertised products or services. This effect occurs because low- (vs. high-) pitched music can evoke a sense of formalness in consumers, which in turn elevates their luxury perceptions. The findings provide marketers with useful and actionable implications that a simple change in music pitch can systematically increase consumers’ luxury perception, thereby facilitating marketing strategies in advertising, branding, and promotion.

Essay 2 examines consumer preferences for a sense of formalness by exploring how fresh start reminders can motivate consumer preferences for formal versus casual product offerings. Employing multiple fresh start reminders readily available in consumer lives and prevalent in the marketplace, five studies, including evidence from real-world data, establish that reminding consumers about fresh starts increases their preferences for formal (vs. casual) styles in clothing, social activities, and lifestyles in general. By measuring and manipulating meaning-seeking motives, this research presents converging evidence of a meaning-seeking motive as the underlying mechanism. The findings shed new light on consumers’ style preferences, providing marketers with novel perspectives in developing effective strategies to promote products and services with different levels of formalness.