Unconscious Branding: Who Needs Facts?


Few doubt that branding messages can be powerful, but new research shows that even when consumers don’t recall the specific message, their preferences can be shaped to the point where they reject new information that conflicts with their stored brand association.

“I don’t know why I like it”

Melanie Dempsey (Ryerson University) and Andrew A. Mitchell (University of Toronto) set out to test the power of branding messages by conditioning consumers to like or dislike fictitious brand names. They exposed consumers to hundreds of images which included 20 pairing a fictitious brand with positive words or images. 20 other images paired another brand with negative sentiments. At the end of the process, the subjects were unable to recall which brands had been associated with positive or negative messages, but DID express a preference for the positively-matched brand. The researchers called this an, ‘I like it, but I don’t know why’ effect.

To further test the potency of these unconscious brand preferences, Dempsey and Mitchell carried out a second experiment in which the subjects were presented with factual product information that contradicted their conditioning. The subjects chose the products which they “knew” to be inferior but for which they had received the positive branding messages.

A subsequent experiment found that even “highly motivated” subjects were unable to overcome their conditioning. The authors conclude,

“Choice decisions of consumers are not only determined by evaluations of rational information (product attributes) but are also driven by forces that are generally outside of rational control,”

This conclusion won’t shock Neuromarketing readers, but this series of experiments demonstrates that branding messages can be remarkably powerful, even when the exposure has been brief and the messages (or even brand name) can’t be consciously recalled. (The study appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research and is summarized at Science Daily.)
Image via Shutterstock

  1. Dennis Van Staalduinen says

    Thanks for this Roger. Subconsciously I knew this all along of course, and though I might otherwise question the information, through prolonged exposure to your blog, it has become so ingrained that my internal critic has been effectively nullified. Please only use this power for good.

  2. Steve says


    Great post. Shazam!!! Got to get those favorable impressions in early.

    Call it the positive impression machine gun.


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