The Popcorn Effect: When Do Brand Ads Fail?

Guest post by John Carvalho

popcorn effectNeuromarketing readers are likely to be familiar with the idea of fluency, and its importance in how we target, craft, and deliver marketing messages that resonate with our audiences.

Recall that human brains are wired to prefer things that are simple for us to process and we prefer that which we can easily understand. Here, we’ve looked at fluency in the context of image placement, and shown how simple things like the order and spacing of the images used in an ad can influence brand liking.

New research in the Journal of Consumer Psychology has now suggested that yet another way that the brain’s need for fluency can impact advertising’s effectiveness, especially when we encounter new brands.

Mere Exposure Effect

A major psychological principle that guides the effectiveness of advertising, especially for new brands, is something called the mere exposure effect. It sounds deceptively simple, but a tremendous amount of research over the past several years has pointed out that just being exposed to brands over time increases liking and intent to purchase. What’s the mechanism for this?

Sound it Out

Research that took place back in the 1930s has proven that each time we encounter a word, we actually subconsciously pronounce it to ourselves. This takes place below our conscious awareness, but this process of subconsciously pronouncing and repeating novel words helps drive our comfort and familiarity with them, and eventually positive feelings follow.

At The Movies

In this most recent study, researchers in Germany took movie theatregoers, whom marketers traditionally would think of as a captive audience, and disrupted this mere exposure effect in the simplest of ways: with snacks. Subjects were given popcorn, gum to chew, or a sugar cube (as a control). Then, they were shown a series of ads for new and unfamiliar brands, ensuring that the pronunciation effect would take place as subjects encountered and encoded the new brand names. However, those chewing gum or eating popcorn were disrupted from doing so, because they were preoccupied with chewing their food.

In later experiments that tested brand recall and purchase likelihood, those that first encountered ads while busy eating were in fact less likely to remember the brands, and less likely to purchase the brand they’d seen when given the choice.

As Roger Dooley noted in his post at Forbes, Can Chewing Cause Brand Amnesia?, the research suggests that if many ad viewers will be chewing (just before the start of a movie, for example), an ad slot that would work for an established brand like Coca Cola might be riskier for a new brand.

Got Fluency?

This study was limited in scope, but it’s a strong reminder that we need to think about all types of fluency when we talk to customers. In today’s marketplace, we all know that having our customers’ full attention seems impossible. That said, this is further reason to think about compelling, native, experience-based marketing that is less an interruption and more a part of everyday life. Compelling content that is fluent and “easy” in every way to process will win the day and your customers’ hearts.


This post was written by:

— who has written 4 posts on Neuromarketing.

John is a May 2012 graduate of Macalester College, where he ran research in consumer psychology, became interested in marketing, rowed crew, and avoided Minnesota snowstorms at all costs. An avid student of how brands build and maintain value and a firm believer in the power of strategy to change behavior, John began his second stint in the agency world as an Account Planning intern at Fallon Worldwide in June 2013. He can be reached via LinkedIn.

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1 response to "The Popcorn Effect: When Do Brand Ads Fail?" — Your Turn


Ragib 11. April 2014 at 3:14 am

This is great quite similar things said like in a show I recently watched in Discovery.How it effects our mind is quite outrageous!


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2 responses to "The Popcorn Effect: When Do Brand Ads Fail?" — Your Turn