Business Psychology - Latest Findings

Article No. 168
Customer Psychology Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

Creating Memories

Researcher demonstrates a way to create positive, enduring attitudes with product ads that receive only minimal attention.

Imagine owning a company that produces health and beauty products. Your company has developed a new mouthwash that you want to introduce to the public, and you're planning the ad campaign. You hope for a good response, so you hire a well-known personality to endorse it. If you have two choices, Joe Montana, a handsome athlete, or Christie Brinkley, a beautiful model, who would you choose?

If you selected Joe Montana, you should resign yourself to your handicap at picking endorsers and trust your ad agency. But if you picked Christie Brinkley, it may interest you to know why this is correct and to learn what Jaideep Sengupta, from Hong Kong University learned in research he conducted on the west coast.

People associate Ms. Brinkley with romantic relationships because of the products she models, most of which aim to help people attract each other: clothes, jewelry, perfume, and health and beauty products. Mouthwash fits in perfectly. Ms. Brinkley provides a boost to the ad message because people hold well-developed attitudes about romance and attraction that they associate with her, and these attitudes immediately attach themselves to the new product, your mouthwash. In the trade, her presence in your ad is a related cue. She contributes attitudes desired by customers that can be satisfied with your product.

Try the mouthwash test again. Which endorser is best, Jerry Seinfeld, the T.V. personality, or Crest, a respected brand name in oral hygiene products? If you selected Jerry Seinfeld, that's another wrong answer, and you know the rest.

Jaideep Sengupta investigated cues in advertisements looking for a solution to the dual problems of time delay and minimal attention to ads. You can illustrate these problems in your own mind.

Think of all the advertising you were exposed to in the last 24 hours: print ads, billboards, radio, and T.V., and count on the fingers of one hand the brands you recall. Now try to remember brands from week-old ads. The conclusion is disheartening, and illustrates forgetfulness and the minimal attention you gave to examining these ads. The truth is, they flew by, yet when purchase opportunities arise, you do make decisions, and at these times some ads demonstrate their impact. But which ones, and why?

Sengupta learned that ads featuring endorsers who are related to the product they're endorsing create enduring, positive attitudes that successfully attach to the product when the ads receive minimal attention. In contrast, ads featuring unrelated endorsers fail to create persistent attitudes even though the endorsers are equally attractive. Because they are unrelated, they fail to attach to the product.

The conclusion is obvious, and you should now have some skill in picking endorsers, but remember, the advantage of related cues disappears when customers seriously consider your ad message. When this occurs, the effort they expend creates a persistent memory, and the favorability of this memory depends upon the ad message, not on the cue paired with it.

You should also remember that pairing a related cue with your product can occur in other settings besides product advertisements. For example, walk around your favorite grocery store and notice the odors in different departments. Odors can be a related cue. Does the bakery smell like baking bread? Does the meat counter smell like dead fish? Which area enjoys growing sales?

Here's an exercise: Identify a few relevant cues for your product: endorsers, symbols, odors, sounds, and so on. Next, examine your advertising and business setting and look for opportunities to pair cues with your product. For example, pair recorded sounds of a beach scene with surf and calling gulls in a travel office or on its telephone hold recording. Finally, try a few of these pairings and see what happens. In all these examples, attitudes associated with the cue can become attached to the product without any conscious, serious thought.

Reference: Sengupta, Jaideep, Ronald C. Goodstein, and David S. Boninger (1997) All Cues Are Not Created Equal: Obtaining Attitude Persistence Under Low-Involvement Conditions. Journal of Consumer Research, 23 ( March, 1997), 351-362.

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