||Copyright © 2000 M.
All rights reserved.
Why is it so difficult to introspect on advertising and how
it influences us? Because we look for major effects, that’s
why! Too often, we look for the ability of an ad to persuade
us. We look for a major effect rather than more subtle, minor
effects. Big and immediate effects of advertising do occur
when the advertiser has something new to say. Then it is easy
for us to introspect on its effect.
But most effects of advertising fall well short of persuasion.
These minor effects are not obvious but they are more characteristic
of the way advertising works. To understand advertising we
have to understand and measure these effects. When our kids
are growing up we don’t notice their physical growth each
day but from time to time we become aware that they have grown.
Determining how much a child has grown in the last 24 hours
is like evaluating the effect of being exposed to a single
commercial. In both cases, the changes are too small for us
to notice. But even small effects of advertising can influence
which brand we choose especially when all other factors are
equal and when alternative brands are much the same.
Deciding between 2 virtually identical alternatives.
It is easiest to understand this with low-involvement buying
situations. The situation is like a ‘beam-balance’ in which
each brand weighs the same. With one brand on each side, the
scale is balanced. However, it takes only a feather added
to one side of the balance to tip it in favor of the brand
on that side. The brands consumers have to choose from are
often very similar. Which one will the buying balance tip
towards? When we look for advertising effects we are looking
for feathers rather than heavy weights. 
The buying of cars, appliances, vacations and other high-priced
items are examples of high-involvement decision- making. This
high level of involvement contrasts with the low level brought
to bear on the purchase of products like shampoo or soft drink
or margarine. For most of us, the buying of these smaller
items is no big deal. We have better things to do with our
time than agonize over which brand to choose every time we
The fact is that in many low-involvement product categories,
the alternative brands are extremely similar and in some cases
almost identical. Most consumers don't really care which one
they buy and could substitute easily if their brand ceased
to exist. It is in these low-involvement categories that the
effects of advertising can be greatest and yet hardest to
|High involvement decisions:
Very different alternatives
can weigh equal.
Even with high involvement products the beam balance analogy
is relevant because very different alternatives can weigh-up
equal. We often have to weigh up complex things like ‘average
quality at a moderate price’ against ‘premium quality at a
higher price’. Often we find ourselves in a state of indecision
between the alternatives. When the choice weighs equal in
our mind, whether it be low involvement products or high involvement
products, it can take just a feather to swing that balance.
With high involvement decisions we are more concerned about
the outcome of the weighing up process, so we think more about
how much weight to give to each feature (quality, size or
power)? How many extra dollars is it worth paying for a feature?
Automotive writers for example can reach very different opinions.
The more complex a product’s features the more complex this
assessment because there are usually both positive and negative
perspectives. For example, a compact car is positive in regard
to both fuel economy and maneuverability but negative in
regard to leg-room and comfort.
So which way should we see it? What weight should
we give to a particular feature in our minds? When, advertising
emphasizes points that favor a brand, it doesn’t have to persuade
us - merely raise our awareness of the positive perspectives.
Chances are we will notice confirmatory evidence more
easily as a result. When we subsequently read a newspaper
or consumer report or talk with friends, research shows that
we are prone to interpret such information slightly more favorably
. This effect
is a long way from heavyweight persuasion. Rather it is a
gentle, mental biasing of our subsequent perceptions, and
we see in Chapter 2 how perspective can influence our interpretation.
It is not so much persuasion as a shifting of the mental
spotlight...playing the focal beam of attention on one perspective
rather than another.
|Small cumulative increments:
We don’t notice a child’s
growth in 24 hours.
As with the amount by which our kids grow in a day, we are
just not aware of the small differences advertising can make.
Even though these imperceptibly small changes in time add
up to significant effects, individual increments are too small
for us to notice. They are just below the just noticeable
Through the process of repetition these small increments
can produce major perceived differences between brands, but
we are rarely aware of the process taking place.
The cumulative effects of changes in brand image become starkly
noticeable only in rare cases: for instance, when we return
home after a long absence and find that an old brand is now
seen by people in a different light — that in the intervening
period the brand has acquired a different image.
Registering a claim in our minds (e.g. ‘taste the difference’
or ‘good to the last drop’) does not necessarily mean we believe
it. However, it makes us aware that there are claimed
differences between brands. This is a proposition (a ‘feather’,
if you will) that, when everything else is equal may tip the
balance of brand selection, even if only to prompt us to
find out if it is true.
Repetition increases our familiarity with a claim. In the
absence of evidence to the contrary, a feeling of greater
likelihood that the claim is true begins to accompany
the growing familiarity. This effect of repetition is known
as ‘the truth effect. 
We tend to think that if something is not true somehow it
would somehow be challenged. If it is repeated constantly
and not challenged, our minds seem to regard this as prima
facie evidence that perhaps it is true. The effect of repetition
is to produce small but cumulative increments in this ‘truth’
inference. It is hardly rational but we don’t really think
about it. We don’t go out of our way to think about it because
low involvement, by definition means we don’t care much anyway.
Such claims are ‘feathers’.
In summary, the reasons we are unable to introspect on advertising’s
effects — especially in low-involvement situations are:
the effect of each single ad exposure is small;
with repetition, even imperceptibly small effects can
build into larger perceived differences between brands;
if something gets repeated constantly without challenge,
our minds seem to regard this as prima facie evidence
that maybe, just maybe, it is true (the ‘truth’
often it is no big deal to us which of the alternative
brands we choose, anyway.
If you have ever wondered why advertisers seem to persist
in repeating the same ad — if you have ever wondered
why they think this could possibly influence sane people like
us — then here is the answer. Much of advertising creates
only marginal differences, but small differences can build
into larger differences. Even small differences can tip the
balance in favor of the advertised brand. This is especially
true of ‘image advertising’.
The effect of image advertising is easier to see in relation
to high-involvement products, so let us start with a high-involvement
example — Volvo cars.
Between 1970 and 1990, Volvo focused its image advertising
on safety. Through repetition, it built up a strong image
for the Volvo as a safe car. On a scale of 1 to 10 for safety,
most people would rate Volvo higher than almost any other
car. Safety is now an integral part of our perception of this
brand. (The fact that the car actually delivers on this promise
has of course been a very important ingredient in the success
of the safety campaign -but that is another story.)
One effect of image advertising, then, is to produce gradual
shifts in our perceptions of a brand with regard to a particular
attribute — in Volvo’s case, safety (in other words,
to effect marginal changes in our mental rating of the brand
on that attribute). This is often not perceptible after just
one exposure because the change, if it occurs, is too small
for us to notice.
Now let’s take a low-involvement product category-hair spray
— and examine its history of brand image advertising.
The first brands of hair spray originally fought for market
share on the basis of the attribute of ‘hair holding’. That
is, each brand claimed to hold hair. To the extent that they
all claimed the same thing, they were what we call ‘me-too’
To break out of this, one brand began to claim that it ‘holds
hair longer’. Just as Volvo claimed that it was safer, and
thereby moved Volvo up higher up the perceived safety scale,
so this brand of hair spray made people aware that some brands
of hair spray might hold hair longer than others. It then
attempted to shift perception of itself on this attribute
and marginally increase the mental rating consumers would
give it on ‘length of hold’.
|Vidal Sassoon Hairspray ad claiming
The next brand of hair spray to enter the market, instead
of tackling that brand head-on, cleverly avoided doing battle
on ‘length of hold’. The new brand claimed that it was ‘long
holding’, but also that it ‘brushes out easier’ — a dual
benefit. In doing so it successfully capitalized on the fact
that hair sprays that hold longer are harder to brush out
(or were until then). Many years later, came the attribute
of ‘flexible hold’.
These examples of image advertising for hair spray and cars
illustrate how one effect of advertising is to alter our perceptions
of a brand. Advertising can marginally change our image of
a brand by leading us to associate it with a particular attribute
(like ‘longer holding’ or ‘brushes out easily’), and to associate
the brands in our minds with that attribute more than we associate
it with any other competitive brand.
Gauging the effects image advertising has on us is made even
more complex because these effects may not operate directly
on the image of the brand itself. Image advertising may produce
small, incremental differences in the image of a brand, as
in the case of Volvo — but sometimes it is aimed at changing
not so much the image of the brand itself but who we see in
our mind’s eye as the typical user of that brand.
In advertising for Levi’s, Revlon, Coca-Cola, Calvin Klein,
Dior or Gap, the focus is often on people who use the brand.
What changes is not so much our perception, or image, of the
product as our perception of the user-stereotype — the
kind of person who typically uses the brand, or the situation
in which the brand is typically used.
|Jim Beam ad reinforcing the stereotypical
user image - young, single males.
When these brands are advertised, the focus is very much
on image but often with this important, subtle difference.
The advertising aims to change not how we see the brand itself-the
brand image-but how we see:
the stereotypical user of the brand -the user image;
the stereotypical situation in which the brand is used.
If the user image of a brand resembles us, or the type of
person we aspire to be, what happens when we come to buy that
product category? The user image acts as a feather on one
side of the beam balance. If everything else is equal it can
tip the scale (but note, only if everything else is about
User, or situational, image changes usually fall short of
the kinds of rational, heavyweight reasons that make perfect
sense of any choice. But they can nevertheless tilt the balance
in favor of one brand. Minor effects such as these constitute
much of the impact of advertising. Yet they are usually much
more difficult for us as consumers to analyze introspectively,
and we tend to discount them because they clearly fall well
short of persuasion.
We have been told so often that the role of advertising is
to persuade that we seem to have come to believe it.
How often do we hear the comment, ‘It wouldn’t make me run
out and buy it.’ This is common in market research when participants
are asked to analyze introspectively how they react to an
ad -especially if it is an image ad. It demonstrates the myth
of how advertising is supposed to have its influence. No-one
really believes that any ad will make them run out and buy
the advertised product. Nothing has that kind of persuasive
or coercive power. So why do people say, ‘It wouldn’t make
me run out and buy it’? Because they can’t think of any other
way the ad could work. The effect of advertising is not to
make us ‘run out and buy’. This is especially true with low-involvement
products and especially true with image advertising. It is
High-involvement buying contrasts with low-involvement, low-cost
purchases. When people are parting with substantial sums of
money to buy a TV, a car or a vacation, they do not take the
decision lightly. These are high-involvement decisions for
most consumers. Before making them, we actively hunt down
information, talk with friends and generally find out all
we can about our prospective purchase.
Furthermore, the alternative brands available will usually
have many more differences. They are unlikely to be almost
identical, as is the case with many low-involvement products.
Advertising is one influence in high-involvement buying decisions,
but it is only one among many. Often it is a relatively weak
influence, especially in comparison with other influences
like word-of-mouth, previous experience and recommendations
by ‘experts’. In the case of high-involvement products, much
of advertising’s effect is not so much on the final decision
as on whether a brand gets considered — whether we include
it in the set of alternatives that we are prepared to spend
time weighing up. This is one of the ways that advertising
influences our thinking indirectly. For example, there are
hundreds of brands and types of cars, far too many for us
to consider individually in the same detail. We seriously
consider only those that make it onto our short list. But
what determines which cars make it on to our short list? This
is where advertising comes into play.
If we are unlikely to be in the market for a new car, refrigerator
or wall unit for several years, the advertising we see and
hear for these products falls on low-involved ears. However,
if our old car or appliance unexpectedly breaks down today,
we may find ourselves propelled into the market for a new
one. Suddenly, the ads we saw yesterday or last week or last
month under low-involvement conditions become more relevant.
One test of their effectiveness will be whether they have
left enough impact to get their brand onto our short list.
A lot of advertising, even for high-priced items, thus has
its effect in a low-involvement way. Again we see that, in
looking for the effects of advertising, we need to look for
subtle effects. It is a case of ‘feathers’ rather than persuasion
— ‘feathers’ that influence what alternatives get weighed-up
as well as ‘feathers’ that add their weight to one side
of the weighing-up process.
There are fundamentally different mental processes at work
in choice decisions. We have already considered the most obvious
one, the weighing up of alternatives. But there is another
process that consumers and advertisers tend to be less conscious
of. Weighing up the alternatives is one thing. Which
alternatives get weighed up is another!
What determines the alternatives that are actually considered?
Think about a consumer decision that you probably make every
day. It’s getting on for noon, you are feeling hungry and
you ask yourself, ‘What am I going to have for lunch today?’
Your mind starts to generate alternatives and evaluate each
alternative as you think of it. The process goes something
‘Will I have a salad?’ No, I had a salad yesterday.
‘A sandwich?’ ‘No, the sandwich store is too far away
and besides, it’s raining.’
‘I could drive to McDonald’s.’ “Yes . . . I’ll do
There are two things to note here. First, what the mind does
is produce alternatives, one at a time. This ‘mental agenda’
of alternatives is ordered like this:
choice for lunch?
- TGI Friday
- Pizza Hut
Second, the order in which the alternatives are arranged
is the order in which they are elicited by the mind. This
order can influence your final choice. You may enjoy Pizza
Hut more than McDonald’s. But in the example, you didn’t go
to Pizza Hut, you went to McDonald’s.
Had you continued your thought process instead of stopping
at the third alternative (McDonald’s), you would probably
have gone to Pizza Hut. But if Pizza Hut is only fifth on
your mental agenda of lunch alternatives, it is unlikely to
get much of your business. You didn’t get to Pizza Hut because
you didn’t think of it before you hit on a satisfactory solution
— McDonald’s. You didn’t get there physically
because you never got there mentally. Even if we like
or prefer something, if it is not reasonably high on our mental
agenda it is likely to miss out.
How many times have you found yourself doing something and
realised too late that there was something else you would
rather have been doing but didn’t think about in time? The
most preferred alternatives are not necessarily the ones you
think of first. (Anyone who has ever left an important person
off an invitation list will appreciate this.) Next time you
go out for dinner and are trying to decide which restaurant
to go to, observe your thought pattern. There are two separate
processes at work. One is generation of alternatives. The
other is evaluation of the alternatives.
To affect the outcome of buying decisions, advertisers can
try to influence:
the order in which the alternatives are evoked;
the evaluation of a particular alternative; or
When we think of advertising’s effects we almost invariably
think of how advertising influences our evaluation of a brand. Yet
much of advertising’s influence is not on our evaluations
of a brand but on the order in which alternative brands are
Influencing the order of alternatives has its basis in what
is known as the agenda-setting theory of mass communications.
This says: The mass media don’t tell us what to think. But
they do tell us what to think about! They set the mental agenda.
The agenda-setting theory was originally developed to explain
the influence of the mass media in determining which political
issues become important in elections. Adroit committee members
and politicians claim that if you can control the agenda you
can control the meeting. It was not until 1981 that the relevance
of this to advertising was recognized.
We can produce mental
agendas for lots of things.
- Presidential allegations
- State of the economy
- Youth suicide rate
- A child abducted
- The Sydney Olympics
What’s the choice
- TGI Friday
- Pizza Hut
We can produce mental agendas for lots of things. We can
discover out mental agenda by pulling out what is in our minds
under a particular category and examining the order (in which
it emerges). The category may be ‘What’s the choice for lunch?’,
‘What’s news’?, or what brand of soft drink to buy.
When we reach into our minds to generate any of these agendas,
the items do not all come to mind at once. They are elicited
one at a time and in an order. The items on top of the mental
agenda are the most salient and the ones we are most likely
to remember first. It’s the same with choosing which restaurant
to go to or which department store to visit or which supermarket
to shop at this week. It is the same with the decision about
which cars or refrigerators to short-list and which dealers
to visit. The order in which we retrieve the items from our
memories seems almost inconsequential to us but may be critically
important in determining the chances of our going to a McDonald’s
versus Pizza Hut.
This effect also occurs if we have a list of the alternatives
or a display of them such as in the supermarket. Even here,
where the brands are all set out in front of us, all of them
do not get noticed simultaneously. In fact they do not all
Think about the process. We stand there at the display. We
notice first one brand, then another and then another. It
happens rapidly, but in sequence. So despite the fact that
the brands are all displayed, they are not necessarily all
equal in terms of the probability that they will come to mind
or be noticed. Supermarkets today carry more than 30,000 items,
up from 17,500 a decade ago. This raises a question. At supermarket
displays, what makes a brand stand out? To use the marketing
term, what makes it ‘break through the clutter’ of all the
alternative packs and get noticed? What makes one brand get
noticed more quickly than others at the supermarket display?
This introduces the concept of salience, which is
formally defined in the next section. In this context we ask
how a brand can be moved up from fifth, to fourth to third,
to second, to become the first one noticed. The higher up
it is in this order, the better the chance it has of being
considered, and consequently, the better the chance of its
The brand’s physical prominence, the amount of shelf space
it occupies and its position in the display are very important. But
advertising can influence choice when other factors (like
shelf space or position) are otherwise equal. Advertising
can help tip the balance.
Asking what makes one brand more salient — more likely
to come to mind or get noticed — than another is like
asking what influences Pizza Hut’s position on our mental
lunch agenda. In the supermarket, instead of having to recall
all the alternatives by ourselves, we are prompted by the
display. However, the brands we notice and the order in which
we notice them can be influenced by more than just the display.
We think much more often about people and things that are
important to us than about those that are not. The psychological
term for this prominence in our thoughts is salience.
Advertisers would like us to think of their brands as ‘more
important’ but they will settle for ‘more often’.
In other words, they would like their brands to be more salient
Our definition of salience is the probability that something
will be in the conscious mind at any given moment. One way
advertising can increase this probability is through repetition. We
have all had the experience of being unable to rid our minds
of a song we have heard a lot. The repetition of the song
has increased its salience; it has increased its probability
of being in the conscious mind at any moment. Repetition of
an advertisement, especially a jingle, can have a similar
effect. Through repetition of the ad, the salience of the
brand - the star of the ad - is increased in our minds.
Another way that advertising influences what we think about
and notice is through ‘cueing’. To explain this, answer a
What’s the first thing you think of when you see: "Just
What’s the first thing you think of when someone says: "Don't
leave home without it."
What comes to mind if you are asked: "Where do
you want to go today?”
What’s the first thing you think of when someone says:
"Cross your heart”?
When you see the word "Always ....”, what
do you think of?
What's the first thing you think of when someone asks
"Where's the beef?” in America or "Which
bank?” in Australia?
Words or expressions such as these come up naturally in everyday
conversation. When a brand is linked to them through repetition,
they become cues that help increase the salience of the brand.
An actor in a play takes his cue from a line or some other
happening or event. The human mind takes its cue from its
intentions and its immediate environment. Such cues can influence
what we think about next. That’s how we go to sleep at night. We
turn off the cues. We turn off the light and the radio. We
try to reduce distractions or cues so that things won’t keep
popping into our minds.
One way advertising can use cues is by tying a brand to something
that frequently recurs in the ordinary environment. There
are many common words, expressions, symbols or tunes that
can be developed by means of repetition into mnemonic devices
that trigger recollection of the brand.
Gimme a break
Have a Kit Kat
| Have a break...
|| Have a Kit Kat
|| UK & Australia
Big M flavored milk
| MmmmmMmmmmm Good
|| Campbell's Soup
Don’t leave home without it...
| Do you know me?
|| American Express
Just do it.
| Where do you want
to go today?
The real thing...
| Because you’re
Reach out and touch someone
| Thanks! I needed
|| Mennen Skin Bracer
Have a good weekend...
("& don’t forget the Aeroguard”) insect
| Good weekend...
|| good VSD.
|| is Prince Spaghetti
Good on you mum...
Tip Top’s the one. Bread
| Where’s the beef?
|| Wendys Restaurants
The car in front is...
| Oh what a feeling...
|| USA, Australia
Ring around the collar.
|| Have a Winfield.
I feel like...
...a Tooheys. Tooheys Beer
| Who cares?
|| Boots Pharmacies
You deserve a break today
USA, UK, Aust.
| Thank you for
|| Bartles and Jaymes
the lady loves... Milk Tray
| Cross your heart...
|| Playtex Bra
|| UK & Australia
If the cue recurs in the circumstances under which the product
is likely to be consumed, such as at lunch time, all the better. The
ideal mnemonic cue is not just frequently recurring but occurs
at these strategic times.
This cueing effect is so much a part of the way we respond
to our environment that we are largely oblivious to it. As
someone once said, fish are probably unaware of water because
it is all round them.
However, most people are aware of cueing to some degree. Almost
everybody has had the experience of a particular smell evoking
special memories. Pipe tobacco perhaps reminds you of your
grandfather; the smell of new carpet may trigger a vivid memory
of the first day you moved into your new house. When these
memories pop into our mind we are then prone to reminisce
on those past days.
If you have ever had trouble getting to sleep at night because
your mind can’t switch off, you can relate to how involuntary
this process usually is. In other words, what pops into our
minds at any point in time is not totally under voluntary
When you hear the words ‘don’t leave home without......’,
the person may be referring to your keys or your coat or whatever...
but your mind is involuntarily reminded of American Express.
When a friend asks ‘Where do you want to go today?’ can your
mind help but be reminded of Microsoft? When someone says
‘just do it’ can you help but think of Nike?
|In Australia, Paul Hogan
triggered instant recall of the brand, Winfield
Celebrities, expressions and music extracts can come to be
so ‘owned’ by a brand that they automatically prompt our thoughts
in that direction. In the USA Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee)
is linked to the Subaru brand. In Australia he was traditionally
linked to Winfield cigarettes. The word ‘Anyhow*’ still makes
older Australians think of Paul Hogan and Winfield cigarettes
because it was uttered by Hogan as part of the commercial
(Anyhow* . . . Have a Winfield’). Like Joe Camel in the
USA, Hogan and the expression ‘Anyhow*’ came to stand for
the brand and automatically trigger it in peoples’ minds.
Even the classical theme music behind the Winfield campaign
came to be thought of as ‘the Winfield music’ and would recall
the brand in peoples’ memories. The Marlboro brand did the
same thing globally with the theme music from the ‘The Magnificent
Seven’ which came to be thought of as ‘the Marlboro music’.
Our minds are in a sense a ‘stream of consciousness’ —
an inexorable flow that is frequently diverted, sometimes
paused but never stopped. Environmental cues can influence
what enters the flow and what direction it takes. One type
of advertising focuses on tying a brand to one or more such
cues, so that whenever we hear, see or think of the cue there
is a high probability that we will think of the brand or notice
its presence. It pulls it into our ‘slipstream of thought’.
Advertisers want us to think of their brand, but they particularly
want us to think of their brand when we are making a decision
involving the product category. One important cue is therefore
the category itself. When we say ‘soft drink’, what do you
think of? When we say ‘lunch’, what do you think of? If our
conscious mind is in the process of being cued by a product
category (e.g. it is noon and we are thinking ‘lunch’), then
what is likely to flit into our head is not a brand of hair
spray or a car-we are much more likely to see in our mind’s
eye the first item on the mental agenda we have for the category
When our mind is cued in to a particular product category,
we almost automatically begin to think of the ‘top-of-mind’
members of that category. In the case of the category ‘lunch’,
we will think of Pizza Hut or McDonald’s or some other food
alternative rather than hair spray or cars or anything else.
The technical term for this is category-cued salience,
or the probability that the brand will come to mind whenever
its product category does.
It is possible to measure category-cued salience and assess
the influence of advertising on it. This is done by asking
people what is the first brand that comes to mind when they
hear or see the product category name, and then the next brand
and the next. 
In this way the agenda of brands can be elicited. The rank
of a given brand in the product category agenda indicates
its category-cued salience. It is a rough index of the probability
that it will come to our mind when in the normal course of
events we are prompted by the product category name.
If this questioning procedure is carried out with a different
random sample of consumers every week, the agenda and the
salience of each brand can be tracked, week by week, over
time. Market research can detect any improvements resulting
from advertising by the order in which the advertised brand
is elicited. Advertising a brand generally improves its salience.
Many people wonder why Coca-Cola, which is so well known, needs to advertise
so much and why it needs to ‘waste all that money’ on signs in grocery
stores. The answer is that if it did not have its signs in these places,
Pepsi or some other competitor certainly would. These other brands would
try to upset consumers’ mental agendas by ‘jumping the queue’
— by inducing us, at the point of sale, to consider them as well
Both point-of-sale, reminder advertising and our own mental agenda of
brands can prompt us with alternatives to consider, before we ask for
what we want. Advertisers therefore try to influence a brand’s salience
at the point of sale by not leaving it to our mental agendas alone. They
erect signs in an attempt to visually cue us into their brand.
When we walk into a convenience store to buy a soft drink, we are already
in a category-cued state. We are already thinking about soft drink and
which one we will have. If Coke is not already top of our mind when we
enter, it almost inescapably will be once we have been inside for a moment,
because Coke as a brand is likely to be prompted in our minds by a) the
product category cue and b) the numerous Coca-Cola signs in the store.
Coke may be on top of most people’s minds but if they are confronted
with a Pepsi sign they may consider both brands. So Coke tries to dominate
the clutter of mental alternatives as well as the clutter of point-of-sale
advertising. This makes it difficult for other brands to cut through into
people’s minds at the point of sale. It protects Coke’s category
salience — something that it has invested a lot of money in building
up through years of advertising.
In the supermarket, it may be thought that, because the brands are all
displayed, they are all equally likely to be noticed -and considered.
If this were so, then our mental agenda of brands would be irrelevant
to supermarket shopping. However, this is not the case.
On average people take no more than 12 seconds to select a brand and
in 85% of purchases only the chosen brand is handled.  Observation
studies of supermarket shoppers indicate that more than half of all buying
is just ‘simple locating behavior’.   That is, most
people are simply locating the brand they bought last time, or the one
that they came in to buy. They put it into their shopping cart, with little
or no attention to evaluating the alternatives.
For an alternative brand or pack to be noticed, let alone considered,
it would have to cut through the display clutter and stand out in some
way. In order to be considered it first has to cut through into conscious
In low-involvement situations many people tend to do what they did last
time unless there is something to interrupt the routine. Thus a brand
or pack has to cut through the display clutter just as an ad has to cut
through the clutter of other ads. And the two, the pack and the advertising,
can work together.
The importance of being noticed was demonstrated in another study when
regular buyers of a product category were asked if they had seen a particular
new brand on the supermarket shelves. They were shown color photographs
of the new brand’s packs so that it was a task of recognition rather
than recall. Only 45 per cent said they had seen the brand, yet it had
been in virtually every super-market for over five weeks. 
Just because something is present does not mean we will necessarily notice
it or consider it. The more cluttered the environment, the more alternatives
there are in the product category, the greater this problem is for the
advertiser. Advertising signs at the point of purchase can help considerably
here, especially when they tie in with advertising that we have already
seen. They are then more likely to ‘connect’ with us and get
us to notice the brand.
In the supermarket, it is not signs but usually the brands themselves
that are displayed. Potentially we are able to be reminded of every brand
in the display by its physical presence. So is our mental agenda of brands
still relevant? Yes, though it is now one influence among several. In
particular, it orients us by determining which brands we notice in the
To illustrate this, imagine you are in a supermarket doing the shopping.
As you approach the detergent section, what is in your mind? The category
‘detergents’. Why? Because the layout of the supermarket is
familiar to you, or because when you approach that section the category
is prompted by the display in front of you.
Even in the supermarket, then, the product category as a cue is likely
to be triggered in our minds at a particular point and to trigger in turn
expectations of the brands we are likely to see in that category. What
we see first in the display is likely to be influenced not only by a brand’s
position and shelf space but also by our expectations of seeing the brand
there. All other things being equal, we tend to notice first the brands
we are familiar with. This is of course especially true when our mindset
is that of looking to locate the one that we bought last time.
When something is heavily advertised, it is more likely to come to mind
and, other things being equal, to be noticed faster in a display. We know
from the psychological literature that people recognize the familiar more
quickly, so it will come as no surprise that familiar brands will be very
salient and be noticed more quickly. Advertising exposure of the brand
and the pack helps to make the brand more familiar and increase its salience.
Repeated exposure of the pack in advertising makes it more familiar and
hence gives it a better chance of being noticed earlier or faster than
|Visual salience - the ‘pop-out’
effect. Inclined letters ‘pop-out’ more than upside down
The importance of this marginal effect is seen in the finding mentioned
above-that more than half of all purchases made in the supermarket are
simply locating what they want. Shoppers hardly pause at the display but
simply reach out and pick up the item they are after. So in the supermarket
a brand or pack has to cut through the clutter — to stop people walking
at more than 1 mile per hour (2 km/h) — and get itself noticed.
Shelf displays, shelf ‘talkers’ and off-location displays are
all ways to help a brand ‘pop out’ and get our attention. Advertising
that we have been exposed to previously, however, also plays an important
part in increasing the visual salience of a particular brand. The aim
is to modify the degree to which the brand ‘pops out’ in the
display and engages the shopper’s notice earlier than other brands.
Advertisers can quantify the visual salience of a pack or brand through
market research in much the same way as they uncover the mental agenda.
They give each brand in a supermarket display equal shelf space and then
take a photograph of the display. They show the photo to a random sample
of consumers and ask them to name the brands they see. The order and speed
with which the brands are noticed provide a measure of their visual salience.
(Actually, researchers use several photographs and control for position
in the display by randomly changing the position of each brand.)
One reason we find it difficult to analyze advertising’s effects
introspectively and why advertising has remained a mystery for so long
is that these effects are often so simple and so small that they fall
short of outright persuasion. Advertising influences the order in which
we evoke or notice the alternatives we consider. This does not feel like
persuasion and it is not. It is nevertheless effective. Instead of persuasion
and other major effects we should look for ‘feathers’, or minor
effects. These can tip the balance when alternative brands are otherwise
equal and, through repetition, can grow imperceptibly by small increments
 Referring to this effect as a ‘feather’
is not meant to deprecate its importance. On the contrary, it
is meant to give consumers an intuitive feel for why we often
find it difficult to introspect on how advertising affects us. We don't feel
the effect because it is below the JND (just noticeable difference), but that
doesn't mean that feathers aren't important or effective. They
are! If an ad has real news to convey, it can become a very big feather,
in which case we don’t need an explanation of the effect. Mostly, however,
they are much smaller feathers.
 John Deighton, ‘The interaction of advertising and
evidence’, Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 11, No. 3, December 1984,
 Scott Hawkins and Stephen Hoch, ‘Low Involvement
Learning: Memory without evaluation’, Journal of Consumer Research,
19, Sept. 1992, pp 212-225
Scott Hawkins, Joan Meyers-Levy & Stephen Hoch, ‘Low involvement learning:
Repetition and Coherence in Familiarity and Belief’, Advances in Consumer
Research, VXXII, 1995, p63
 Even though it may be perceptibly small, a single
reinforcement/reminder exposure can have substantial effects on short term
sales and market share for well established brands with established ad campaigns.
See the pioneering work by John Philip Jones, When Ads Work: New Proof
that Advertising Triggers Sales, Lexington NY 1995 and Colin McDonald,
From “Frequency” to “Continuity” - Is It a New Dawn?, Journal of Advertising
Research, July/August 1997 pp21-25.
 M. Von Gonten & J. Donius, ‘Advertising exposure
and advertising effects: New panel based findings’, Journal of Advertising
Research, July/August 1997, p59
 S. Shapiro, D. Macinnis, & S. Heckler, ‘The
effects of incidental ad exposure on the formation of consideration sets’,
Journal of Consumer Research, vol 24, June 1997, pp 94-101.
 M. Sutherland & J. Galloway, 'The implications of agenda
setting for advertising research', Journal of Advertising Research,
1981, Sept. 1983, pp. 52-6
 Food Marketing Institute as reported in Businessweek
 Andrew Ehrenberg, Neil Barnard & John Scriven,
‘Differentiation or Salience’, Journal of Advertising Research, Nov/Dec
 M. Sutherland & S. Holden, ‘Slipstream marketing’,
Journal of Brand Management, June 1997,
 R. Fazio, P. Herr & M. Powell, ‘On the development
and strength of category-brand associations in memory: the case of mystery
ads’, Journal of Consumer Psychology, 1992, Vol I (1), pp1-13
 P. Dickson & A. Sawyer, ‘ The price knowledge
and search of supermarket shoppers’, Journal of Marketing, July 1990,
 W. Wells & L. Losciuto, ‘Direct observation
of purchasing behaviour’, Journal of Marketing Research, Aug. 1966
 M. Sutherland & T. Davies, 'Supermarket shopping
behavior: An observational study', Caulfield Institute of Technology Psychology
and Marketing Series, no. 1, Aug. 1978
 NFO MarketMind proprietary market research tracking
for a new brand introduction, 1991
 Giusberti et al 1992 as reported in C. Cornaldi
et al, Stretching the Imagination: Representation and Transformation
in Mental Imagery, Oxford University Press N.Y. 1996
Dr. Max Sutherland and Alice K. Sylvester
Copyright © 2000 M. Sutherland. All rights reserved.