Slogans trigger resistance while logos slip through

Language Log covers a fascinating study that found that commercial logos unconsciously encourage brand-compliant behaviour but slogans do the reverse and seem to trigger automatic resistance.

It seems that while slogans are read as being deliberately persuasive, logos slip under our advertising radar and trigger a series of brain-friendly associations built up by the company.

…brand names and logos, argue Laran and colleagues, are different from other commercial messages in that they’re not necessarily perceived as inherently persuasive—despite the fact that they’re often designed with great care, we may normally take them to be primarily referential, much as any proper name might be. Slogans (or, as they say in the industry, taglines) are transparently persuasive according to the authors. Perhaps people react to these latter messages in knee-jerk reverse-psychology manner by blocking and even countering the typical brand associations.

Laran et al. found that when they had people look at cost-conscious brand names like Walmart in an alleged memory study and then later take part in an imaginary shopping task, they were able to replicate the implicit priming effect: people were willing to spend quite a bit less than if they’d seen luxury-brand logos. But when subjects saw slogans (e.g. Save money. Live better.) instead of the brand names, there was a reverse priming effect: now, the luxury-brand slogans triggered more penny-pinching behavior than the economy-brand slogans.

You can read the full study online as a pdf but Language Log has some fantastic coverage on the unconscious psychology of advertising.

Link to LanguageLog ‘Not so gullible after all’.

6 thoughts on “Slogans trigger resistance while logos slip through”

  1. According to ‘Not so gullible after all’

    “And the issue of whether and when young kids understand
    the persuasive nature of advertising is relevant to the decision
    of some European countries (e.g. Sweden, Norway) and one
    Canadian province (Quebec) to ban or restrict advertising
    aimed at kids below the ages of 12 or 13. That seems a tad
    overprotective. A skeptical view of advertising likely occurs
    well before that age, all the more so, apparently, if one has
    older siblings.”

    Exactly, even children (older than 8) are aware that advertising
    is designed to manipulate. Which is why advertising does not
    turn people into zombie automatons going out and buying whatever
    they are told to buy.

    Nevertheless, companies do spend billions on advertising
    precisely because they know it works. Not on everyone at
    all times, but enough to justify spending billions.

    As the brand versus slogan study shows, if obvious methods
    (slogans) are used, then people put their guard up. But is more
    subtle methods are used (logos), then people are suckered.

    “Effects of reducing television viewing on children’s requests
    for toys: a randomized controlled trial.”

    “The sneaky and unconscious part is that people were not aware
    that the ads had influenced them. When the adults were asked why
    they were eating, they typically reported they were just hungry.
    As with Bargh’s other research, people were not aware that their
    behaviors had been primed by their recent experiences. People were
    eating without awareness that the ads were causing them to eat.
    One possible mechanism is that the pleasure associated with eating
    presented in the ads primed eating behaviors in general. Thus even
    if people do not remember which products were advertised, the ads
    will affect their behavior. In my previous blog, I argued that beer ads
    are often a failure because people can’t remember which brand of beer
    was advertised (or at least I can’t, see Beer, Humor, and Memory).
    But what if that isn’t the goal? What if the goal is sneakier? What if
    the goal is simply more beer consumption? In that case, the ad may
    be effective. People watching those ads may drink more. Junk food
    and beer ads may increase consumption. The particular product then
    gets its regular share of that additional consumption. The ad may be
    effective even when not remembered.”

    “However, ads also do other things. One thing they do is to take
    a product and to put it next to lots of other things that we already
    feel positively about. For example, an ad for detergent may have
    fresh flowers, cute babies, and sunshine in it. All of these things
    are ones that we probably feel pretty good about already. And repeatedly
    showing the detergent along with other things that we feel good about
    can make us feel good about the detergent, too. This transfer of our
    feelings from one set of items to another is called affective
    conditioning (the word affect means feelings). The people who went
    through the affective conditioning procedure picked the pen that was
    paired with positive items 70-80% of the time. They chose this pen,
    even though they had information that the other pen was better.
    Over the two studies in this paper, the authors found that people
    chose the pen that was paired with positive objects even when people
    were given as much time as they wanted to make a choice, and even when
    the instructions specifically encouraged them to pick the best choice
    and to say why they were choosing a particular pen.”

  2. This appears all too true. Many of those without legal employment in my metropolitan area are the largest consumers of high end, expensive, brand name clothing, shoes, and bling, often denoting gang representation. Regular Jo(e)s stick to stalwarts like Nike, Adidas, sports teams, car/motorcycle brands, with any high end merch coming from nearby outlet malls. Kids through teens pretty much stick to the normal mall brands. However, parents can play a huge role in preventing/controlling brandmania without the kids feeling like total social outcasts. At least two of my sisters have done so successfully.

  3. I wonder, would this be the same case for other logos, such as those of sports teams, nonprofits and the like?

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