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How the Science of Expectations Can Sell Your Products Or: Boy, That Super Bowl Stunk, Didn’t It?

  • How the Science of Expectations Can Sell Your Products

How about that Super Bowl?

When I ask people what they thought of the big game, I get the same responses: Boring game … I fell asleep … Worst halftime show in years … Commercials were terrible …

I actually liked the halftime show, but it’s hard to disagree with the rest of the comments. The game was boring. The commercials were…uneven. For many in our industry, the Super Bowl is, well, the Super Bowl of Advertising. This is where the best-of-the-best commercials are supposedly displayed, where marketing legends are made and products soar because of them … or crash (who remembers the Just for Feet commercial in 1999? Anyone?).

One of the reasons for this year’s mass ad disappointment isn’t because many commercials are bad, but that our expectations are so huge. We all expect the next Apple 1984 commercial or Air Jordan spot, and we get … a confusing Planters peanut commercial with a Charlie Sheen cameo. Scientific studies repeatedly reinforce the notion that our impressions are not only affected by our actual experiences, but also our expectations going in.

For products, and advertising, this can be a good thing. Almost universally, studies show that people give higher impressions of products in which they are predisposed to like. For example consumers give Coke higher ratings when they drink it from a cup with the brand logo, as opposed to a regular cup. Studies have shown that someone’s preference for beer often disappears if the label is hidden or removed.

This is similar to the well-known placebo effect, where someone is magically ‘cured’ of an ailment by eating sugar cubes if he or she thinks those cubes are medicine.

Here’s one more example. A few years ago, MIT served coffee to different target groups–same coffee, different packaging. The fancier and nicer the packaging, the higher the tasters rated their coffee.

So, can you raise the price of your product by putting it in fancier packaging? Maybe. But, more importantly, this reminds us that most people raise or lower their expectations by what they expect. If someone tells us “this coffee is the best,” we’ll adjust our cognitive impressions to align with that thought. These marketing-adjusted impressions aren’t limited to consumer products, but to any B2B product as well.

We also tend to think higher of products we know and use. It’s human nature to gravitate towards the familiar. That’s why name recognition is such an important part of marketing. The well-known is safer, less risky, and must be well-known for a reason, right?

That’s called the science of expectations­–how what we expect controls what we say and how we talk about products, what we think about them and, ultimately, which we buy. Those expectations are established through name recognition, through packaging, through word-of-mouth, through longevity, and more.

Advertising and marketing are a big part of setting those expectations. Which is why I’m sure I’ll be watching the Super Bowl next year–the marketing will be huge and I’ll expect greatness, even if I’m likely to be disappointed once again.

 

Allan
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