Research Spotlight: Real ads, false memories

Stock photo of glossy magazine coversPeople who read vivid print advertisements for fictitious products actually come to believe they’ve tried those products, according to a new study by SMU’s Priyali Rajagopal in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“Exposing consumers to imagery-evoking advertising increases the likelihood that a consumer mistakenly believes he or she has experienced the advertised product, and subsequently produces attitudes that are as strong as attitudes based on genuine product experience,” write authors Rajagopal, an assistant professor of marketing in Cox School of Business, and Nicole Montgomery, an assistant professor of marketing at College of William and Mary.

They report their findings in the scientific paper “I Imagine, I Experience, I Like: The False Experience Effect” in the October 2011 issue.

In one study, the researchers showed participants different types of ads for a fictitious product: Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Fresh microwave popcorn. Other participants ate what they believed to be Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Fresh microwave popcorn, even though it was another Redenbacher product. One week after the study, all the participants were asked to report their attitudes toward the product and how confident they were in their attitudes.

“Students who saw the low-imagery ad that described the attributes of the popcorn were unlikely to report having tried the popcorn, and they exhibited less favorable and less confident attitudes toward the popcorn than the other students,” the authors write.

People who had seen the high-imagery ads were just as likely as participants who actually ate the popcorn to report that they had tried the product. They were also as confident in their memories of trying the product as participants who actually sampled it.

“This suggests that viewing the vivid advertisement created a false memory of eating the popcorn, despite the fact that trying the fictitious product would have been impossible,” the authors write.

The authors found that decreasing brand familiarity and shortening the time between viewing the ad and reporting evaluations reduced the false memories in participants.

For example, when the fictitious brand was Pop Joy’s Gourmet Fresh instead of the more familiar Orville Redenbacher’s, participants were less likely to report false memories of trying it.

“Consumers need to be vigilant while processing high-imagery advertisements because vivid ads can create false memories of product experience,” the authors conclude.

Story courtesy of the University of Chicago

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Research Spotlight: Two great products…great together?

Stack of cell phone-PDAsFrom voice recorder-MP3 players to dual-fuel vehicles, hybrid products are everywhere – and emerging technologies mean there are likely to be more of them in the future. Marketers hope consumers will love the results when two popular products are blended into one package. But all too often, the extra features go unnoticed and unused.

Hybrid products face a unique set of marketing challenges, and advertising frequently fails to communicate those products’ advantages effectively, according to Priyali Rajagopal, assistant professor of marketing in SMU’s Cox School of Business.

For example, consumers used to view the cell phone with PDA attributes as primarily a cell phone, she says. “This is a huge problem for marketers, because it costs money to add features. Consumers categorize in one area or another and then draw inferences which flow from that single category, not multiple categories.”

Rajagopal and co-author Robert Burnkrant of Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business conducted a study in which respondents were shown examples of hybrid products in ads – a pen-pencil, a cell phone-PDA, and so on. When the participants were given information about both product categories, they were able to properly acknowledge the two parts of a hybrid product.

The technique is calling “priming,” a term from psycholinguistics. In short, exposure to information about both functions of a hybrid product helped people see that the hybrid belonged in both categories.

“It was a really simple, intuitive finding,” Rajagopal says. “Being primed with many examples has an impact on information processing, and thus beliefs. This then affects how consumers see the product in the future.”

At the same time, the authors found that when individuals were not “primed” with information, they refused to acknowledge that the product belonged in two categories. The marketing implications are unmistakable, Rajagopal says.

“In the absence of clear communications, consumers are not going to take away [the extra] feature. The product will be viewed as uni-dimensional otherwise.”

“Consumer Evalutions of Hybrid Products” by Priyali Rajagopal and Robert Burnkrant is forthcoming in Journal of Consumer Research.

Read more from the Cox School of Business website