A Better Course

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Selecting And Ignoring

January 14th, 2008 · 4 Comments

Seminar at work today by Nader Tavassoli on “mere exposure” versus “mere neglect” in advertising and brand liking.

We are used to blocking things out given the constant competition for attention. Does the act of ignoring something mean that we are biased against what is ignored – in other words, is the statement any exposure is good exposure true?

In various task-based experiments, it seems likely that not all exposure is good exposure. In experiments where the subject had to identify “targets” amongst “distractors”, the targets were rated highly and the distractors were rated negatively compared to both the target and the baseline (typically a hitherto-unseen stimulus). If, for example, a participant had to identify ‡ in the following sequence-

‡ and µ would receive a more positive evaluation than ¶.

Furthermore, the closer to the target the distractor was, the less liked it was. There are implications in this for people who think that rollover Flash adverts are a really good idea.

All of these experiments, up to this point, had relied on the target being “selected”. Cognitive dissonance reduction leads us to prefer the things we choose without compulsion; could this have been what was in effect here? In a further experiment, participants had to sort pens from pencils, nickels from quarters, and Wrigley’s from Trident gum. Half of the participants were told they were “rejecting” the target, the other half that they were “selecting”. At the end of the experiment, the participants were told to select a piece of gum as a ‘thank you’ for having taken part. Across both groups (those selecting and those rejecting) 61% chose the target brand over the distractor brand – indicating that this was not cognitive dissonance at work.

Given these results, it looks fairly likely that things that (we feel) distract us from our goals to a significant extent generate more negative than positive feelings. Whilst I’d like to see more results from less experimental circumstances, this is clearly an effect worth considering. There are a few areas that I think might be affected by findings like these ones;

  • Saturation; if an ad is a constant and rarely-relevant distraction, is that going to lead to more negative than positive results?
  • Conciseness; are online ads that distract by failing to get to the point going to be evaluated more negatively than those that can be discounted immediately?
  • Location; if we see an advert where none is expected (and where information we are looking for is expected) does this escalate the effects of “mere neglect?”

Categories: advertising · branding
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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Matt // Jan 17, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Should there be a distracting µ added to that sequence? And based on the next paragraph, should it be that ¶ and ‡ get a higher evaluation than µ (ie the target and base are both evaluated higher than the distractor), rather than the target and distractor being evaluated higher than the base?

    Just checking because I’m not sure I quite understand, and so of course my first recourse is to query the text rather than my early morning brain 🙂

  • 2 Alexandra Mitchell // Jan 17, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    µ isn’t in the sequence – it is the base because it’s neither a target nor a distractor. If any exposure is good exposure, you’d expect ¶ (distractor) and ‡ (target) to rate higher than µ (base), because ¶ and ‡ have been shown to the participant before and µ hasn’t at the point when they’re rated. However, the participants irritation with ¶, which distracts them from the task of finding ‡, outstrips the fact that they’ve seen it before leading them to like the hitherto-unseen µ better.

    These are quite difficult experiments to explain without recourse to physical space and / or flashcards…

  • 3 Matt // Jan 17, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Oh, no, I think I’m beginning to understand! µ is a control and not meant to appear in the sequence? And ¶ is a distractor because it’s what’s getting in the way. Possibly.

  • 4 Alexandra Mitchell // Jan 17, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Yes, exactly!

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