James Swift

25 April 2022

Strategist’s Digest: When ads boost (customer) performance 

Contagious digests the most interesting and relevant research from the world of advertising and beyond, because there’s just too much to read and too little time

It’s Gotta Be the Shoes! Performance Enhancement Effects of Novel Brand Advertising 

By Frank Germann and Aaron Garvey. Published in the Journal of Advertising.

Give it to me in one sentence.

Advertising doesn’t just improve brand performance, it can improve customers’ performance, too.

Give me a little more detail.

Performance brands are those that promise or imply they will help customers do better at certain activities.

The authors of this study tested whether people in branded sportswear exercised harder after seeing ads reminding them of their brand’s performance associations.

In the first experiment, the researchers timed people’s gym workouts and then asked them to complete a questionnaire about how hard they had just exercised. Participants who wore Under Armour clothes and were exposed to banner ads for that brand while they worked out spent longer in the gym than those who either weren’t wearing Under Armour or weren’t exposed to the ad (or both). The researchers say the participants exercised for longer because the ads boosted Under Armour’s performance brand salience in their minds, which in turn increased their motivation.

The second study was similar to the first, except participants were asked to rate the performance quality of the brands they were wearing before or after their workout. The results showed participants who completed the list before their workout – thereby increasing the salience of the performance brands they wore – exercised on average 27% longer than those who made the list afterwards. 

The final study was limited to participants wearing Under Armour clothes and was conducted at a running track over four weeks. Again, the researchers timed how long participants ran and how many laps they completed. After the first week, when researchers erected four large Under Armour banners at the track, average run times and laps increased. But in the third and fourth weeks, after the banners had been there for some time, the averages decreased, indicating that the performance boost provided by the ads wore off over time.

Why is this interesting?

Previous studies had established the existence of a ‘marketing placebo effect’, in which participants using a branded product outperformed those using an identical but unbranded product (eg, putting with a Nike-branded golf club). This latest research extends that placebo effect to advertising, apparently demonstrating that brand messages can reinvigorate the performance associations of a product, giving customers extra motivation.

The results could have interesting implications for sports sponsorship. For instance, do athletes who wear the same brands as those advertised within a stadium have an edge? But they also give advertising an extra dimension: as something that not only attracts new customers but improves the experience and satisfaction of those who have already purchased performance products, and keeps brands from ‘fading into the background of consumer life’, as the researchers put it.

Any weaknesses?

Given that behavioural priming has lost a lot of credibility amid the replication crisis, it might have been nice to see some larger sample sizes (no experiment in this study used a participant group larger than 175).

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, and it’s free to read.

See Paul Feldwick at Contagious Live 

Adland legend and author Paul Feldwick will be at our Contagious Live event on 28 April to explain what it takes to shove a brand into the spotlight. Join us for an evening of rapid-fire insights and inspiration (as well as pizza and beer) at Framestore’s Chancery Lane offices in London. Space is limited, so book your place now.

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