Have you ever heard of the mere exposure effect? It’s a psychological artifact first studied by Robert Zajonc. Professor Zajonc found that simply exposing experimental subjects to a picture or a piece of music briefly led those subjects to later rate it more positively than other, similar stimuli which they had not been shown earlier.
This psychological effect is well known to advertisers. In fact, many advertisers have taken Zajonc’s “discovery” – that people express undue liking for things merely because they are familiar with them – and use it to rationalize blowing limited resources plastering their names and logos all over the place. Some even manage to piss off potential customers while wasting their money (e.g. advertisers who pollute the experience of a particular environment).
Think about Zajonc’s experiment for a minute. Subjects were exposed to a bunch of meaningless stimuli and preferred the more familiar meaningless stimuli to the less familiar. So, I suppose if two stimuli are equally meaningless, one should employ the mere exposure effect.
That’s why local politicians continue to litter landscapes with “Vote for Our Candidate” signs. Since most voters are more informed about what products they buy than whom they vote for, these meaningless signs do have an effect. When faced, on a ballot, with a choice between two meaningless names, voters will vote for the more familiar one.
But what about advertising goods and services? Does the principle work in the same way? Perhaps for low involvement, commodity products: ones that the customer has ascribed little meaning to, like gum. But for those that are truly differentiated and ones with values associated with them, like status, identity, affiliation, social relations, etc., mere exposure is simply that . . . mere exposure. It does nothing to convey meaning, and in some cases may become an irritant, like a buzzing insect in a quiet room.
So before you shell out good money to incessantly repeat your name, jingle, or tag line via advertising (including social media), make sure that you are selling meaningless products and/or services. And even then, you had better beware (be aware). Because your competitors may be hard at work trying to add some actual meaning to theirs.