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Opinion: People view brands favorably when exposed, even in passing

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Even fleeting exposure to your brand will make potential customers view it more favorably, a 2021 Journal of Consumer Research study finds.

Two groups of students were asked to read an article before discussing its content with researchers. However, the purpose of the study had nothing to do with the article, but rather the display advertisements that accompanied it.

An ad for a make-believe company was among the ads served to the first group. The second group was not served the ad.

When asked about the company, neither group recalled seeing the ad. But the students who were served the ad answered that they viewed the fictional company favorably, while the control group gave no opinion.

Mere-exposure effect
The study confirms a psychological phenomenon that researchers have known for decades – people tend to prefer the familiar over the unfamiliar.

However, this study shows that this phenomenon applies even when that exposure is fleeting, and that preference is on a subconscious level.

The human brain’s main purpose is to keep you safe. Because of this, the brain tends to steer you toward things you know and away from things you don’t know. New means dangerous; familiar means safe.

This is why it is so difficult to break bad habits and develop good ones. Without a concerted effort, we always revert to our baseline of comfort and familiarity.

If consumers have to choose between two brands with comparable brand equity, mere exposure to one might “tip the balance from 50/50 to 55/45 (maybe even 60/40) in its favor,” wrote Dr. Anthony Grimes, a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Sheffield in England, in a study on brand exposure.

One common complaint from display advertisers is that “no one has told me they saw my ad.” The two main reasons for this are:

  1. Most people who have been exposed to your ad don’t even realize it.
  2. Most people won’t admit to being influenced by advertising.

Look around your home, and you will find numerous brands to which you are highly loyal. Chances are, you don’t know why you’re loyal to a vast majority of them. At some point, they just became familiar and comfortable.

Three unspoken marketing truths
There are three marketing truths that every marketer knows, but few say out loud:

  1. People tend to spend money emotionally, not logically.
  2. We have very little control over our thoughts.
  3. Attraction isn’t a choice.

In this day and age, we have access to so much previously unavailable data that we’ve lost sight of what advertising does and doesn’t do. The mediums have changed, but what works now is the same thing that worked decades ago.

Present your brand favorably, and get it seen as often as possible by the people you want seeing it.

Achieve this simple objective and everything else will fall into place. Do it consistently over a long period of time, and you will build your brand into a stone structure that will stand the test of time.

Jacob Brower is president and founder of Archer’s Bow Media and Marketing LLC in Springfield. He can be reached at


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