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Setting the Wrong Product Expectations in Advertising can Lead to Disaster!

by Allen Weiss  |  
January 1, 2001

We are all familiar with those advertisers who tout their product to an extreme degree. Many companies that use consumer testimonials are guilty of such a practice. We all remember the ads for movies and plays where individuals say, for example: "That was the best movie I ever saw, I'm taking my child back to see it again and again."

But from a practical perspective, is this an effective approach? That is, by exaggerating the quality and characteristics of our product will we eventually get consumers to 1) purchase it and more importantly 2) to repurchase it? Interestingly, exaggerating product characteristics in a favorable manner may not be effective.


There is a idea in psychology, called "Assimilation-Contrast theory," which explains that consumers evaluate product characteristics consistent with what is read in an advertisement only up to a certain point of exaggeration. Once that point is reached, their evaluation of a product will dramatically move in the opposite direction. This effect is called a "contrast effect."

What does this mean in English? The idea is simply that if you exaggerate too much, then people will not believe the ad and will ultimately evaluate the product more poorly than if they had no information at all!


This question is not easily answered, since it really depends on the product and the situational characteristics of the advertisement. But here's what we know. You can use a technique that can delay the contrast effect. This technique let's an advertiser exaggerate to a greater degree without the threat of poor product evaluation.

But realize that while this might be attractive for advertisers, it can be extremely detrimental to the consumer since the consumer ends up evaluating the advertisement consistent with inflated expectations.

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Allen Weiss founded MarketingProfs in 2000 and continues to provide strategic direction for the company as CEO. He's currently a professor of marketing at the University of Southern California and teaches mindfulness in companies at InsightLA.

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