Question. I am the marketing director of a food manufacturer. To promote our products, we have refined the picture that appears on our packages. This picture depicts a party of excited teenagers, with Ayers Rock in the background. Unfortunately, sales have plummeted since the introduction of this amendment. What am I doing wrong?
Employees in the marketing department are often likened to Tolstoy. In both instances, their work is entirely fictional. Most customers, however, assume they are too discerning, or too cynical, to be swayed by this deception. But, customers – even the shrewdest customers - are invariably oblivious to the scheme, ruses, and artifices that marketing departments exploit to sway attitudes.
Minute details in commercials, brochures, and paraphernalia can transform the opinions and desires of customers, both swiftly and involuntarily. To illustrate, even the background of websites can influence the decisions of consumers. If the background displays white, fluffy clouds, customers tend to assign more importance to comfort than cost. They will be more likely to purchase a comfortable, rather than inexpensive, item of furniture.
In other words, brochures, website, and advertisements should display a background that emphasises the favourable attributes of the products and services they promote. If the products are perceived as durable and solid, for example, brochures could display athletes in the background.
Indeed, the background can bias the message that customers extract from a commercial or brochure. Pictures can be deciphered more rapidly than written information. For example, if a package of cereal displays a picture of slim athletes, customers will initially perceive the product as healthy. This initial impression distorts the memory of written information. Customers who skim the nutrition guide, and discover the fat, sugar, or salt content is elevated, are unlikely to remember this information later.
Employees in the marketing department, therefore, should identify the minor limitations and deficiencies of their products. Perhaps their goods are not perceived as durable or reliable or versatile. The background should then reflect scenes or images that reflect the opposite of these minor shortfalls. To demonstrate durability, for example, the same person at different ages should be displayed on the package.
Only pictures that seize attention can bias customers. But, most organisations utilise the same tactics to capture attention. These tactics become ubiquitous, and thus fruitless, over time.
Nevertheless, some artifices have seldom been applied. For instance, to highlight either billboards or commercials in magazines, employees should ensure the central image or slogan is surrounded by a smaller version of similar images or slogans. For instance, a picture of a chocolate bar should be encircled by four smaller chocolate bars. This configuration affords a visual illusion.
A picture that is surrounded by smaller images will appear more conspicuous than will a picture that is surrounded by larger images. The size of this picture is – often unwittingly - compared to the size of all surrounding images. The picture, if larger than every surrounding image, is therefore perceived as extensive and thus conspicuous.
The atmosphere also influences the attention of customers. Although unexpected, brochures that comprise pleasant or favourable environments are less likely to entice concentration in customers.
To demonstrate, some brochures comprise pictures or backgrounds that represent happiness, such as young, excited individuals. Throughout our evolution, objects and symbols that reflect happiness suggest the environment presents no obstacles or hazards. In these environments, individuals become less likely to feel cautious. They become less likely to consider all the information carefully and thoroughly. Instead, they skim the information. The content is not remembered. The products are not purchased.
Commercials and brochures that attract attention do not necessarily elevate sales. Several weeks after individuals watch a commercial, their memory of the product decays. And so, they recognise their knowledge of this product is limited. They become more cautious and less likely to purchase the item.
To prevent this decay in memory, some advertisements display an unexpected picture, such as an airline commercial that portrays an elephant sitting comfortably in first class. This incongruity tends to delay the decline in memory.
Pictures that entail some form of repetition, such as a beach ball alongside a person with a similar shaped torso, also enhance the memory of advertisements. Similarly, pictures that represent some pun, such as healthy food arranged to resemble a smiling face, also promote memory. These pictures tend to enhance memory, even if the readers had not focussed their attention upon these commercials. In contrast, clever slogans such as "can’t say no to pistachio" enhance memory only if the individuals had focussed intently on the advertisements.
Memory of commercials does not guarantee sales. Indeed, some commercials and brochures portray images that inadvertently deter sales. For example, some paraphernalia portray an icon, such as the Sydney Opera House. These icons promote a sense of attachment or bond to some group, such as their ethnicity or nationality. When individuals feel attached to some group, they feel more responsible and cautious. Therefore, they become less likely to purchase risky, unfamiliar products and goods.
Memorable slogans also do not necessarily promote sales. Many customers can recall the slogan "Safeway, the fresh food people". But this slogan is unlikely to attract any customers, apart from a few cannibals.