Environmental Exposure

A study done by Jonah Berger and Grainne Fitzsimons explores the relationship between conceptual cues, that is, stimuli related to a particular product, and consumer choice. In their study, Berger and Fitzsimons use a series of four experiments and two field tests, providing surveys to participants in different environments, and evaluating their corresponding purchasing behaviour recorded. The result of this study provides insight for a consumer to understand the effects of high frequency exposure to environmental stimuli. This study can also benefit those aspiring to work in the marketing field as it provides information that can increase sales for a company.

Berger and Fitzsimons explore an array of five hypotheses over a string of two field tests and four experiments. The first three hypotheses state that, due to more frequent exposure to conceptually linked stimuli in the environment, a consumer is more likely to think of a conceptually linked product, more likely to favour, and thus more likely to purchase the conceptually linked product. Evaluations of the conceptually linked product are more likely to be positive, as the fourth hypothesis explains when a participant more frequently exposed to stimuli similar to the product. Lastly, Berger and Fitzsimons hypothesize that “effects to exposure to conceptually linked stimuli do not depend on conscious awareness or deliberate learning” (Berger, and Fitzsimons 3).

In the first of the two field studies, experimenters went to a grocery store on two separate days. One day before Halloween, and one day, a week after Halloween. Berger and Fitzsimons explain that in the days leading up to Halloween, participants in the study were exposed to orange coloured stimuli at a higher frequency (Eg: pumpkins), whereas in the week following Halloween, the frequency of exposure to orange stimuli drops greatly. On both days, experimenters asked participants “[to] list the first things that come to your mind…in the categories of candy/chocolate and soda” (Berger, and Fitzsimons 3). Participants approached on the day before Halloween were more likely to provide answers such as Crush and Reese (orange coloured brands). Participants approached during the week after Halloween did not produce this result.

In the first of the four experiments, participants were asked to write their choice of consumer goods, “some of which were related to the color orange (e.g., Fanta) or green (e.g., Sprite) and others of which were not linked to either color (e.g., Pepsi)” (Berger, and Fitzsimons 4). The participants were given either orange or green pens to complete the survey. Participants given an orange pen were more likely to record a preference to brands associated with orange, whereas participants given the green pen showed a preference towards green brands. Thus it appears that individuals exposed to a conceptually linked stimulus are more likely to choose a brand associated to the stimulus.

The second field study measured the likelihood of students to purchase a music player. Two separate groups of students were chosen for the purpose of the experiment. One group consisted of students who had not yet already moved onto campus prior to starting their semester, whereas the second group was already settled on campus. The first group of students would be presumably more likely to be exposed to stimuli in their environment related to travel in the preparation to move onto campus. The experimenters contacted both groups of students to explain that there was a new music player being introduced, and provided one of two slogans with the email. One slogan contained a conceptual link to travel, whereas the other was associated to dining room trays found on campus. Students in the first group reported that they were more likely to purchase the music player, and were more likely to pay more for the music player.

Experiment two and three had a very similar focus to the second field test and produced a similar result. Instead of exposure to travel, the experimenters focused on the exposure of dining hall trays. Students were categorized in two groups. One group regularly ate in dining halls with trays, the second group did not. The participants again were provided with information on the same music player, and slogans that either primed an association with travel or dining hall trays. Again, students in the first group, exposed to dining room trays and given a slogan with a link to dining room trays were more likely to purchase the music player, and again, were willing to pay more for the music player. The third experiment used the same categories for participants, but linked consumption behaviour with a slogan. Participants were exposed to one of two slogans, one that encouraged fruit consumption with trays, and one that encouraged fruit consumption without the tray association. Students exposed to trays, and those that were shown the first slogan consumed more fruit.

Experiment five aimed at manipulating conceptually linked stimuli, and measuring the participant’s ability to recognize a product associated with the stimuli. Berger and Fitzsimons hypothesized that dogs are strongly associated with cats, and so subjects could recognize Puma branded sneakers quicker if the subjects were exposed to stimuli associated with dogs. After a pretest, and two tasks, Berger and Fitzsimons found that participants identified Puma shoes quicker if they were exposed to a greater number of dog images.

At the end of the six studies, Berger and Fitzsimons found that exposure to conceptually linked stimuli enhanced the fluency of associated products. Exposure to orange Halloween fixtures influences consumers to purchase more orange products such as Reese. Individuals preparing for travel are more willing to spend more on a music player that has been primed to be associated with travelling. Conceptually linked stimuli can influence consumer behaviour.

Consumers and advertisers alike benefit from understanding the outcome this research. Consumers that understand the role of environmental cues on their purchasing habits can consciously mitigate the effect of prolonged exposure. Likewise, advertisers possessing the knowledge of this study can enhance the possibility of consumers to veer towards their products. Marketing teams can increase environmental cues in to enhance the associations of their products with consumers in a geographic region. A company can also choose to design their product to be closely associated with common environmental cues in a specified area, in which consumers already exposed to these stimuli may be more likely to purchase their product. Consumers are constantly exposed to elements in their environment and marketers should take advantage of this.


Berger, Jonah, and Grainne Fitzsimons. “Dogs on the Street, Pumas on Your Feet.”  Journal of Marketing Research (2008): 1-14.


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