James Swift and Lauren Perry

19 March 2020

Strategist’s Digest: March 2020 

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.

In this month’s Strategist’s Digest:

1) When boasting about your green credentials is not a good idea

2) Debunking the theory that people pay more attention to ads from brands they buy

3) When playing peekaboo with your products pays dividends

4) Why exciting brands should embrace asymmetry

5) Testing people’s fondness for brand content  

Photo by Photo Boards on Unsplash

How Downplaying Product Greenness Affects Performance Evaluations: Examining the Effects of Implicit and Explicit Green Signals in Advertising 

By Bryan Usrey, Dayananda Palihawadana, Charalampos Saridakis and Aristeidis Theotokis

Give it to me in one sentence.

Tone down ‘environmentally friendly’ marketing on products that aren’t typically considered ‘green’.

Give me a little more detail.

People often think buying green products means compromising on quality. These researchers tested the limits of those beliefs.

The first study (showing participants print ads for a fictional laundry detergent) demonstrated that when people view a category as environmentally friendly, they react well to ads that explicitly stress a product’s green credentials. But when the category is not typically seen as eco-friendly, people react better to implicit messages (i.e. less prominently placed than messages about the product’s performance benefits) about its ‘greenness’.

The second study (showing participants print ads for a fictional washing machine with an ‘eco’ setting) demonstrated that when a product’s green attributes are optional, it’s better to play down these attributes in ads, because an optional function is not viewed as a core part of the product.

Why is this interesting?

In the words of the authors of this report (from the Universities of East Anglia and Leeds in the UK), the study demonstrates that ‘firms would do well to tailor their advertising to meet the expected benefits associated with a given product category. 

‘For example, when developing a green sports car, firms could use an implicit signal approach to reduce incongruity between environmental attributes and product performance. While it may seem at odds with a firm’s desire to promote its newest green products via its environmental attributes, we show that doing so may have negative consequences.’

Beyond advertising, it lends support to the notion that people are more likely to adopt sustainable or other prosocial behaviours when it also benefits them personally.

Any weaknesses?

The report stops at purchase intent. It might be good to see the effect of these variables on sales.

Where can I find the whole report? 

Here, but it’s not free.

Photo by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash

Moderating effects of prior brand usage on visual attention to video advertising and recall: An eye-tracking investigation 

By Lucy Simmonds, Steven Bellman, Rachel Kennedy, Magda Nenycz-Thiel and Svetlana Bogomolov, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

Give it to me in one sentence.

People don’t pay more attention to adverts from brands that they buy, but they do remember those ads more easily.

Give me a little more detail.

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute conducted an experiment on nearly 700 participants representative of the US population, showing them ads and then measuring their attention (with eye-tracking tech) and recall.

When non and light users of a brand were shown one of its ads, there was a correlation between attention (paid to the ad) and recall. But this dynamic did not apply to heavy users: Whether they gave the ad their full attention or merely glanced at it made no difference, recall was the same.

Why is this interesting?

A previous theory (from Andrew Ehrenberg himself) was that people were more likely to remember ads for their favourite brands because they paid them more attention. This latest research rebuffs that idea.

Any weaknesses?

The experiment was conducted in a laboratory and participants were told to keep their heads still while watching the ads (so as not to interfere with the eye-tracking headsets). Even if the researchers disguised the true nature of the experiment by showing participants a TV show in between the ads, and accounting for things like primacy and recency effects, it’s still a long way from a natural environment.

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, but it’s not free. (Hat tip to Les Binet for highlighting this piece of research on Twitter).

The Effect of Visual Concealment in Advertising on Preference 

By Julio Sevilla (Terry College of Business, University of Georgia) and Robert J. Meyer (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

Give it to me in one sentence.

Partially concealing products in peekaboo-style marketing can make them even more attractive to people, but only if they are nice to look at anyway.

Give me a little more detail.

This research tested the ‘tip of the tongue’ theory – that people are more interested in remembering a word when they feel like it’s at the tip of their tongue – on visual stimuli.

The researchers conducted six studies (five in a lab, and one live Facebook marketing experiment) by showing people cars, people and trainers in varying degrees of concealment and then asking them how keen they were to see the whole image, how attractive it was and how much they liked it.

They discovered that moderate concealment of attractive items (people are less curious about unattractive images) enhanced both curiosity and positive affect. 

The magic number for concealing attractive items is between one half and two-thirds. Conceal any more or less and curiosity drops off.

In case you were wondering, the unattractive faces used in this experiment were computer generated.

Why is this interesting?

The authors of this research are quite taken with the irony that the best-looking products (the ones that marketers would not think needed concealing) are most likely to benefit from the curiosity boost.

Also, as the authors state: ‘The present research…shows that curiosity may directly result in higher aesthetic preference even in cases when the possibility of obtaining additional information is not available. Our results demonstrate that this boosting effect of curiosity on aesthetic preference is influenced by positive affect about what the object would look like if viewed in full.’

Any weaknesses?

They’re not clear on what is attractive, and the study was conducted with a limited number of images. Also, as the authors point out, it would be interesting to know how this applies to non-aesthetic goods, where the thing being concealed is functionality (for instance, with software).

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, but again it is not freely available.

Photo by Alex on Unsplash

The Visual Asymmetry Effect: An Interplay of Logo Design and Brand Personality on Brand Equity 

By Jonathan Luffarelli (Montpellier Business School), Antonios Stamatogiannakis (IE Business School) and Haiyang Yang (Johns Hopkins Carey Business School)

Give it to me in one sentence.

If your brand is supposed to evoke excitement, choose an asymmetrical logo.

Give me a little more detail.

The authors of this study analysed 423 brands and found 95% had symmetrical logos. They then showed 526 participants symmetrical and asymmetrical versions of the same logo and asked them to choose fitting adjectives for them, or rate how exciting they were. 

They found that participants exposed to a symmetrical logo chose 11% fewer ‘exciting adjectives’, and that symmetrical logos were rated 17% less exciting than asymmetrical ones, on average.

Other tests (they did five in total) showed that people preferred exciting brands with asymmetrical logos. They didn’t care about the symmetry of logos for other kinds of brands.

Why is this interesting?

According to the researchers, brands and designers had no idea about this link; you may still be able to gain a sneaky advantage.

Any weaknesses?

They’re measuring ‘excitement’ and ‘liking’ and not sales, which is what really excites marketers.

And this isn’t a weakness per se, but the research was published in 2018. It just came to our attention now because the authors of the study have written about it in Harvard Business Review (HBR).

Where can I find the whole report?

Here. But you might as well just read the HBR piece (that’s what we did).

Building our knowledge of branded content 

By Peter Hammer, the Marketing Science Group

Give it to me in one sentence.

People like branded content just as much as regular editorial, and a combination of branded content and video advertising improves brand recall.

Give me a little more detail.

The Marketing Science Group used likeability to evaluate branded content against editorial articles (including written pieces, videos, and social posts) on 1500 adults in Australia.

Perhaps surprisingly, participants liked both types of content equally. In fact, the branded content video scored 10% higher than the regular video content (the author adds that this was probably luck of the draw, however). The reasons people liked the content differed, though. People valued regular content when it was entertaining or interesting, and branded content when it was informative.

The study also showed that when participants are shown both branded content and advertising (in this case, pre-rolls) work together, they more often recall the brand.

Why is this interesting?

As The IAB Online Advertising Expenditure Report, prepared by PwC, states, advertisers spent almost AUS$1.2bn (US$687,000) on branded content in Australia in 2019, making up 35% of the general display market.

Any weaknesses?

The report doesn’t contain a lot of detail about the experiment, nor does it say much about the content that participants were shown.

Where can I find the whole report?

We don’t know. But you can find a blog piece by the author of the report here, and it’s free.

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