The mere exposure effect is a phenomenon that occurs in our daily lives whether we are aware of it or not. As you go through this article you will get a deeper understanding of this concept and why it holds great value for marketing and communications strategy.
To begin our little adventure into the mere exposure effect and how it can be applied in brand communications, I will provide us with two (2) basic examples that show this effect in action.
- Have you noticed that there are times when you hear a song for the first time and do not like it, but when such a song is played over and over again, it tends to “grow on you”, and before you know it you are in love with the song?
- Have you also noticed that there are situations where you meet a person for the first time and because you don’t know the person before, you tend to not like him/her, but after seeing such person again and again, your initial reaction to them changes, your feelings and behavior becomes more positive.
The above examples describe what is known as the mere-exposure effect. By definition, the mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon or process by which people develop a preference for things merely because they have encountered such things before. In other words, you become familiar with something and fall in love with it simply because of frequent exposure. The mere exposure effect is a social psychological concept that was first conceptualized and popularized by the Polish Psychologist Robert Boleslaw Zajonc in 1968.
WHAT HAS THE MERE-EXPOSURE EFFECT GOT TO DO WITH MARKETING AND STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS?
Obviously, the mere exposure effect is quite important for marketing strategies when it comes to advertising and strategic communications. The effect seems to be helpful especially when a company or a product is new and unfamiliar. Mere exposure affects consumer choice and the way consumers relate with brands. It has been observed severally that most people choose certain brands over others simply because such brands are familiar and have been seen earlier. “Mere exposure” speaks directly to the subconscious of the consumer, and this plays a major role in decision making. This is the major insight that guides brands into making attempts to take advantage of mere exposure. Successful businesses have managed to take people’s desire for the familiar and use it to increase sales. A prime example of this can be seen in football stadiums or malls, were brands place simple brand elements such as logo or tag line without any further message, all in the hope that their brand “grows on consumers” and when its time to make actual decision the mere exposure effect will kick in and do the magic.
As much as mere exposure can be extremely helpful to brands, it has been noticed that “over exposure” makes certain brands seem less likeable – what economists refer to as “law of diminishing returns”. Some studies suggest that becoming too familiar with something can have a detrimental effect, Robert Bornstein a Professor of Psychology found that mere exposure reaches its maximum effect between 10 and 20 exposures and then after that the effectiveness can decline. Using the song analogy again, when a song is played over and over again for too long, the initial love for the song tends to diminish, and the next time you hear the song, your hand reaches for the next button.
Having understood the mere exposure effect the value it holds for advertising and strategic communications, here are few a ways brands can infuse it into their communication strategy;
Have a Simple, Unique, Easy to remember and Relatable Brand identity (Look and feel)
The brand identity of a company is an essential tool if the desired effect of mere exposure must be derived. The unique identity of a company includes the logo, colours, tonality of message, culture, philosophy etcetera. This identity should always be projected on all communication platforms. It is important that brands make their identity easy to remember, so it can easily be recalled by their target audience. This will help the brand stay top of mind and easily recalled when buying decisions are to be made.
Maintain consistency and uniformity across all platforms
Consistency and uniformity are the main currency of mere exposure. For any brand to be noticed, recognized and identified with, it must be consistent with its message and projection of its identity and must be uniform across all platforms. This will help such brands to be easily spotted out and patronized by consumers. At every step of the sales funnel, the brand should introduce and reintroduce the brand to the consumer. The earlier and more frequently a consumer identifies a brand, the more likely such consumer will buy products of that brand.
Sponsor/partner with events/activities of interest to your target audience (Display of Brand elements)
Every opportunity to get the brand in front of consumers should be seized; however, this should be done in a way that the consumers’ encounter with the brand will be memorable. To achieve this, companies should sponsor or partner in events that consumers naturally have interest in. for instance, if a brand has young and fun seeking people as its target audience, it should consider sponsoring events and activities such as musical concerts and activities that are associated with pop culture. This way the brand can strategically roll out its brand elements. By that way the brand is sub consciously registered in the minds of the audience.
Creativity and innovation
One of the major challenges of the mere exposure effect is the possibility of “diminishing returns” due to over familiarity. Remember how a song you once loved, turns into a song you do not love anymore because you have heard it repeatedly, this happens with brands too. In display ads, there is a phenomenon referred to as “banner blindness”, when web users become blind to your ad because they have seen it enough. When the same thing about a brand is experienced or seen for too long, it begins to be taken for “granted”, the mind notices it less and eventually attaches less importance to it.
To tackle this, brands in their communication strategies must be creative and innovative in the way it projects and present its unique identity. Brands must be able to excite the consumer and make the brand identity seem new but familiar every time it is encountered.
Consult Professionals To achieve business communication goals and automatically increase sales and patronage, mere exposure is essential. However, its execution is not always easy, as such outsourcing your communication and marketing to experts and professionals helps to a large extent.