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Marketing has the power to influence consumer evaluations of products and persuade people to buy, but some forms of marketing have a reverse effect. For instance, exposure to the brand name "Walmart", which is typically associated with saving money, reduces subsequent spending, but exposure to the brand’s slogan "Save money. Live better" induces more spending. What is going on here?
Marketing has the power to influence consumer evaluations of products and persuade people to buy
According to the findings of one study, it may be that the medium is the message: marketing tactics in and of themselves may have the power to influence consumer behavior because of the responses they evoke.
The study by Juliano Laran, Amy N. Dalton and Eduardo B. Andrade teases out the impacts of two forms of marketing, brands and slogans. It shows that consumers perceive slogans as blatant persuasion tactics, which they are prone to resist, while brands are seen as a generic feature inherent to products. These perceptions influence consumers such that they have completely opposite responses to each tactic.
"We argue that priming effects depend not only on the behavior implied by a marketing tactic, but also on the type of tactic used. Rather than behaving in a manner implied by a tactic, consumers automatically behave in a contrary manner, becoming more thrifty when tactics imply spending and more indulgent when they imply seeking value. So rather than a priming effect, marketing tactics may cause a reverse priming effect on behavior. This can happen when consumers perceive a market tactic as a source of persuasion," the authors said.
They conducted five studies to test their ideas and found strong support. First, they showed that participants did indeed respond to the priming effects of brands (for instance, indicating they would spend money on a shopping trip after being exposed to a luxury brand), but there was a reverse priming effect when they were exposed to slogans (indicating they would spend more after being exposed to a slogan that promoted savings).
However, these effects were not rigidly set. By diverting participants’ attention to another aspect of a slogan – in this case creativity – the authors were able to show that resistance was reduced and participants responded more positively to the message. They also showed that it was possible to induce a reverse priming effect for brands by getting participants to focus on brands as a persuasion tactic.
Another aspect of the investigation was the process involved in the consumer response. They were able to show that correcting for a persuasion tactic was an automatic response and it could be triggered subliminally. This, they said, was likely the result of consumers having rich knowledge of marketing tactics and experience in coping with such tactics, to the extent that their responses had become routine.
The findings have implications for anyone concerned with marketing. It seems priming effects depend on the type of stimulus used, opening up the field for further research. "Consider the simple act of a consumer entering a supermarket. The number of cues and potential priming effects is overwhelming. Among a cashier’s friendly smile, a well-established brand and a discount sign, which cue dominates and why?" the authors said.
The effectiveness of slogans would also seem to be under question, although the authors stressed their results did not imply that slogans had uniformly negative effects. In fact some slogans, especially if they have double meanings or repeated exposure, have been shown to have a positive effect.
One final point: consumer welfare may appear to be a concern here, but the authors suggested a "smart unconscious" may be helping to protect consumers. "Rather than being defenseless, we find consumers exhibit automatic responses that reflect their perceptions of the persuasion intent of different marketing tactics even when these perceptions aren’t salient. This highlights that a critical factor determining the effectiveness of defense mechanisms, conscious or automatic, is the persuasion knowledge that feeds into them," they said.
This article was orginally published on HKUST Business School.