60-Second Science

Ads Convince Consumers of Nonexistent Experiences

Ads can make consumers believe they've tried products that they haven't or that don't even exist. Christopher Intagliata reports

One way advertisers convince us to buy something is to remind us that we’ve enjoyed their product before. Unfortunately, we can have fond memories of a product that we’ve never even had. Or that doesn’t even exist.

A hundred volunteers looked at print ads for Orville Redenbacher's "Gourmet Fresh" popcorn—a variety that researchers made up. Some subjects saw an ad with a vivid description of the brand's “big white fluffy kernels." Others saw a less evocative ad.

A week later, subjects who saw the vivid ad were twice as likely to believe they'd tried this fictional product as were subjects who saw the plain ad. In fact, the believers were as confident that they had tried the popcorn as were people who actually ate popcorn after seeing the fake ads. The study is in the Journal of Consumer Research. [Priyali Rajagopal and Nicole Votolato Montgomery, "Imagine, Experience, Like: The False Experience Effect” Link to come]

Previous marketing surveys have shown that if you think you've tried something before, you tend to like it more and you're more likely to buy it. So next time you're about to grab a product that you know you love, stop and think: have you actually tried it? Or have ads just made you think you did.

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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