Accountants & Advertising: Image vs. Need

Article excerpt

Fifteen years have passed since the famous Bates vs. State Bar of Arizona (1977) case which brought about significant changes in the legality of advertising by professionals. Professional codes of ethics which specifically banned advertising had to be rewritten to reflect these changes.

Although the Bates decision was promulgated in 1977, there has been rather little empirical research on the subject of advertising by professionals such as attorneys, physicians and dentists. One of the benchmark studies in the field of advertising among professionals was done by Shimp and Dyer (1978) who surveyed 1,400 attorneys in two states (with 485 usable responses) to determine their attitudes and intentions toward advertising approximately one year prior to the Bates ruling. The study found that a large majority of respondents were strongly opposed to attorney advertising. Opposition was particularly strong among older lawyers and those practicing in larger, corporate-oriented firms. In addition, most lawyers were also strongly opposed to an "anything goes" advertising approach where all forms of information content (including price) and all available media (including television) are acceptable. Since the Bates decision, research on attorneys' attitudes toward advertising has generally found negative perceptions (Smith and Meyer, 1980; Dyer and Shimp, 1980; and Stem, Laudadio, and Israel, 1981).

Some research studies have focused on additional professional groups to gauge differences in their perception of advertising. For example, Darling and Hackett (1978) researched attitudes held by accountants, attorneys, dentists and physicians toward advertising. Their study found significant differences in these four groups' attitudes regarding professional advertising. Although all of the groups had a negative perception of advertising, accountants and attorneys were more positive about the potential role of advertising in their professions.

Another study focusing on changes in CPAs' attitudes toward advertising between 1976 and 1988 found that accountants were generally more receptive to advertising than they had been 12 years earlier. In addition, less experienced accountants appeared to be more positive toward advertising (Heischmidt and Elfrink, 1991).

Hite and Fraser (1988) conducted two meta-analyses of attitudes toward advertising by professionals (such as accountants) covering 10 years of research findings. Results indicate that a rather large attitudinal gap still separates consumers and professionals. While consumers favor increased professional advertising, professionals continue to be reluctant to use it, fearing that negative impacts on image, credibility, and dignity are likely, with little benefits to consumers. However, the authors imply that increased exposure to professional advertising tended to reduce the resistance to it by professionals.

Have attitudes toward advertising by accountants become more favorable? How do such factors as years in practice or type of practice (solo vs. group) influence attitudes? A study was designed to answer these types of questions.

Methodology

Data for this study were gathered from questionnaires mailed to a randomly selected sample of accountants located throughout the contiguous 48 states. The mailing list was obtained from a mailing list broker who prepared the sample. One thousand questionnaires were mailed out and 243 were returned yielding a 24.3% return rate. Questions included practice characteristics, attitudes toward advertising, and their own use of advertising, ad agencies, etc. as well as marketing TABULAR DATA OMITTED expenditures. The practice data included years of practice, solo versus group, type of specialty (if any), geographic area and annual revenues of their firm. Attitudinal measures about advertising were obtained by using a seven-point agree/disagree scale ranging from one (1) strongly disagree to seven (7) strongly agree to nineteen attitudinal statements. …