The Curious Case of Benjamin Backlash

Juliano Laran, Amy N. Dalton and Eduardo B. Andrade conducted a study titled The Curious Case of Behavioural Backlash. The study examines the priming, or reverse priming effects of persuasive stimuli. There were three different categories of stimuli in the study: brands, slogans and sentences. For each of these categories, Laran et al hypothesized that brands were not perceived to carry intent to persuade, whereas slogans were perceived to be persuasive, and sentences were neither, thus serving as a control.

The way participants perceived these stimuli plays an integral part in the research. Laran et al based their research on three hypotheses. The first hypothesis states that “consumers do not perceive brands as persuasive tactics, [thus] exposure to brands evokes consistent behaviour consistent with behaviour implied by the brand (i.e., a priming effect)” (Laran, Dalton and Andrade 1001). The second hypothesis looks at slogans. Laran et al believed that slogans were perceived as persuasive tactics by consumers, influencing consumers to exhibit behaviour opposite to the behaviour suggested by the slogan. Slogans therefore serve as a reverse prime. The last hypothesis examined in this research explores the possibility that “[e]xposure to slogans activates a nonconscious goal to correct for bias [and that] [t]he correction goal can be satisfied and its behavioural effect eliminated” (Laran, Dalton, and Andrade 1002).

To explore these hypotheses, Laran and his colleagues used a series of five studies. The first two studies measured evaluated the priming, or reverse priming effects of slogans and brands on participants. The third study manipulated the participant’s perception of brands making them appear more like persuasive tactics. The fourth and fifth studies investigate how participants correct for bias unconsciously in reaction to persuasive tactics.

In conclusion to the five studies, Laran et al discovered that the results of the five studies were consistent with their three hypotheses. The participants in their studies exhibited behaviour congruent with behaviour implied by stimuli that were not perceived as persuasion tactics. The opposite held true for stimuli that appeared persuasive. Stimuli perceived as persuasive served as reverse primes, due to a subconscious goal for correction. That is, the mediatory correction process can occur without conscious processing.

The results of this research can benefit both sides of a persuasion interaction. Copywriters possessing this knowledge can focus on manipulating consumers’ interpretation of brands to elicit actions that benefit the brand. Similarly, slogans, due to their reverse priming characteristic can be manipulated to bring forth desirable actions from consumers by implying actions opposite to what the company wants. Consumers educated on the results of these studies can prepare themselves when they are exposed to advertising. Understanding this subject matter can be beneficial to both the persuader and listener.

Sources:

Laran, Juliano, Amy Dalton, and Eduardo Andrade. “The Curious Case of Behavioral Backlash.” The Journal of Consumer Research 37.6 (2011): 999-1014.

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