A common tool in advertising involved the use of the “mere exposure” effect to increase awareness of a brand/product. This works particularly well when consumers are repeatedly presented with a brand name or slogan, which they sub-volcalise when silently reading it to themselves.
In relatively quiet relaxed environments such as the cinema, this is almost irresistible to audience members passively awaiting the start of the main feature and, indeed, advertisers are well aware of this – next time you go to see a movie, just watch out for the high levels of repetition among commercials, you’ll see what I mean!
Because the mere exposure effect is a function of sub-volcalisation, psychologists have long been interested in the accompanying potential for “oral interference”. Basically, if you give the mouth something else to do, the theory goes that this will make sub-vocal reading/repetition much harder and so the potency of the mere exposure effect will be blunted.
An interesting series of experiments conducted by Sascha Topolinski and her colleagues, reported in latest issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, has taken this line of reasoning a step further. In the first stage of the experiment, consumers eating recalled less brand names than their fellow movie-goers who weren’t eating; no real surprise there. However, what sets this study apart from most others is the observation that some foods are more effective at blocking mere exposure advertising than others. Specifically, while chewing gum is a better “vaccination” against advertising than a sugar cube, Topolinski et al found that popcorn had the strongest oral interference properties of all the cinema snacks available.
Mmmnnn….. given this is probably the best-selling food product in movie theatres across the globe, I wonder how long it will be before popcorn vanishes from sale and we go back to the days where good old ice cream was often the only choice available – easier to eat, so better for the advertisers!