Not buying it: Marketing messages may not work in uncommon situations

Sep 15, 2008

Marketers like to talk about "priming" goals -- or sending subtle messages to encourage consumption. For example, thirsty people who encounter ads related to thirst tend to buy more beverages.

But a surprising new study in the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that goal priming can backfire, especially when consumers are in uncommon situations.

Authors Juliano Laran (University of Miami), Chris Janiszewski (University of Florida, Gainesville), and Marcus Cunha, Jr. (University of Washington, Seattle) examined the phenomenon called "goal priming," and its opposite: "anti-priming."

"A priming effect occurs when active information influences people's behavior," explain the authors. "For example, a consumer exposed to information related to impressing others (e.g., a brand slogan containing the word "excellence") may become more likely to buy expensive products that are symbols of status. Anti-priming effects occur when the use of goal primes backfire and lead to the opposite effects of those intended by the priming cues."

During the course of the study, the researchers stimulated goals in undergraduate participants by having them unscramble sentences. Some of the sentences related to having fun, some to impressing others, and some had neutral sentences. After their goals were primed, participants chose restaurants—although they did not know the tasks were related.

When participants were planning a dinner for that night (a common situation), they chose restaurants consistent with the primed goals. In a less common situation (choosing a restaurant for a dinner a month from now), people who were primed for fun or impressing others were less likely to choose a corresponding restaurant. Subsequent studies yielded similar results: In familiar situations, priming goals worked; in uncommon ones, the goal priming backfired.

The authors believe that marketers should be aware of the effects of priming and anti-priming. "The implication of these findings is that retailers should understand the amount of experience consumers have with certain choice situations before using priming as a marketing tool to influence consumers," they conclude.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: 85 college students tried to draw the Apple logo from memory: 84 failed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The Milky Way's new companion galaxies

Mar 18, 2015

When we think of cosmology, we often imagine the largest telescopes peering into the deepest space, collecting the feeble light from exploding stars or the first galaxies.

Florentine basilica gets high-tech physical

Feb 26, 2015

Late last year, two University of California, San Diego students set out for Florence, Italy, to diagnose a patient that had no prior medical record, couldn't be poked or prodded in any way, and hadn't been ...

Firing up the proton smasher

Feb 17, 2015

The Large Hadron Collider is being brought back to life, ready for Run II of the "world's greatest physics experiment". Cambridge physicists are among the army who keep it alive.

Recommended for you

Boys plagiarise more than girls at school

Mar 27, 2015

Research by the University of the Balearic Islands has analysed the phenomenon of academic plagiarism among secondary school students. The study, published in the journal Comunicar, confirms that this practi ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.