Look at the Apple logo to the left. Do you feel more creative? You should if you can believe a recent study by Duke University and the University of Waterloo, Canada. Researchers found that even brief exposure to established brands can cause people to inherit the behaviors championed by those brands.
Professors Gavan Fitzsimons and Tanya Chartrand of Duke, and Grainne Fitzsimons of Waterloo, in an article published in the April issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, claim that a mere 30-millisecond exposure to famous brand logos can influence view behavior.
In the study, the researchers pitted two distinct brands against each other — “nonconformist, innovative and creative” Apple versus “traditional, smart and responsible” IBM:
The team conducted an experiment in which 341 university students completed what they believed was a visual acuity task, during which either the Apple or IBM logo was flashed so quickly that they were unaware they had been exposed to the brand logo. The participants then completed a task designed to evaluate how creative they were, listing all of the uses for a brick that they could imagine beyond building a wall.
People who were exposed to the Apple logo generated significantly more unusual uses for the brick compared with those who were primed with the IBM logo, the researchers said. In addition, the unusual uses the Apple-primed participants generated were rated as more creative by independent judges.
This study reminded me of the claims of “subliminal advertising” during the 1960s. Advertisers flashed messages like “drink coke” or “eat popcorn” for just 1/3000 of a second during the screening of a movie. Supposedly, the “message” would not be recognized on a conscious level, but would cause a desire for the product on a subconscious level. Subliminal advertising was popularized in the book, The Hidden Persuaders, but the claims were later found to be fabricated.
It turns out I was right about the connection. This latest study suggests that subliminal advertising is making a comeback. A 2006 paper by the same researchers, “Beyond Vicary’s fantasies: The impact of subliminal priming and brand choice,” claims that the subliminal priming of a brand-name drink can influence consumer drink choice, provided the consumer is thirsty to begin with. “The work we’re doing is really studying what we call incidental brand exposure,” said Gavan Fitzsimons in a video presentation. “What that means is very short exposure to brand logos.”
“Certain brands are associated with different personality traits,” said Chartrand. “So for instance, the Apple brand has really cultivated an image of creativity and innovativeness. So we thought being exposed to the Apple brand might lead individuals to become more creative or to have a goal to be more creative.”
I have no problem with product logos making me more creative, but I am concerned if the “powers that be” decide to make us all more submissive and obedient. I wonder what brand logos might be able to do that?