Misguided marketing: Using imagery can backfire

November 14, 2005

Imagine yourself on a warm, sunny beach. Nothing in your in-box, no laundry to fold, no pending bills. Imagine a life of no worries at all...

Did you fall for it?

A commonly used advertising method, imagery can have the unintended effect of turning consumers away, says a new study forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"The present investigation revealed circumstances under which asking consumers to imagine their future experience with the product may be not only ineffective but can decrease the likelihood of purchasing the product," explain the authors of the study, Petia Petrova and Robert Cialdini, both of Arizona State University.

For consumers with low imagery abilities, or when a product isn't presented very vividly, the appeals were not only ineffective but elicited a negative effect.

"Marketers are often told: To persuade individuals into buying your product, ask them to imagine their future positive experience with the product," explain Petrova and Cialdini. "This may be entirely wrongheaded for large subsets of the population that do not develop images easily. And it may be wrongheaded for certain kinds of messages that are not vivid in their nature in the first place, which makes them difficult for everyone to imagine. The use of imagery appeals in such cases may be not only ineffective, but it may be detrimental to the bottom line."
Petrova, Petia K. and Robert B. Cialdini. "Fluency of Consumption Imagery and the Backfire Effects of Imagery Appeals." Journal of Consumer Research, Dec 2005.

University of Chicago Press Journals

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