Why Advertising Rarely Goes Wrong

Why Advertising Rarely Goes Wrong

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By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist and Jake McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer

Marketers are often very conscious of the ways that their advertisements can backfire or “go wrong” in the eyes of their audiences. They often worry about insulting someone or someone taking their messaging the wrong way. The good news, however, is that this rarely happens and there are virtually no cases where advertising has resulted in a decline in sales. 

This sentiment is expressed by an article from a few years ago by Les Binet and Sarah Carter. In the article, the authors state that “in nearly 30 years of research, we’ve never seen a single example of an ad campaign that was shown to have a negative effect on sales. Not one. And it’s hard to think of even anecdotal examples.”

The authors point out a psychological reason why advertisements rarely have a negative effect on sales. It has to do with the mere exposure effect, which basically means that the more we’re exposed to something, the more we like it. The mere exposure effect is commonly attributed to Robert Zajonc for the important research that he conducted in the 1960s. 

His research, and the research of many others, shows that we tend to develop a liking or positive feeling for symbols or items that we see repeatedly. Research also shows that the mere exposure effect applies to our impression of people, too. For example, students developed a preference for someone who consistently sat in front of them in the classroom throughout the year, despite never meeting that person. 

When we take the mere exposure effect into account, it becomes clear why advertising rarely has a negative impact. Advertising helps to put brand assets, like your logo and color and product and brand characters, in front of people, and the more these assets get in front of people, the more likely people are to develop positive feelings toward these assets and your brand. In fact, the impact of the mere exposure effect has been shown specifically in studies using advertisements, and they have found that students rated a banner ad more favorably when they had previously appeared as a pop up on their computer. Importantly, the students didn’t have to focus on the banner ad for this effect to take hold, since we know that the majority of people ignore banner ads and other forms of advertising that they see. 

In order to fully leverage the mere exposure effect in marketing, marketers should make sure to use recognizable elements within their advertising. In addition, they should make sure that these elements align with what the customer sees when they see the product. This will ensure that your customers will have an easier time noticing the product on the store shelves or on the computer screen and that they will have some familiarity with the brand. 

The mere exposure effect is just one of many psychological biases that people use to simplify how they go about the world. These sort of insights ​​can help you make great advertisements that connect with your audiences. Feel free to give us a call at 833-578-1314 or email us at [email protected] to discuss how we can help with your marketing challenges. In addition, sign up for our newsletter to stay in touch with the latest insights in marketing psychology.