The Impact of Mere Exposure
Mere Exposure Effect is, according to PsychCentral, “a psychological phenomenon whereby people feel a preference for people or things simply because they are familiar.” Since we spend our days helping familiarize audience with brand and business messages, this phenomenon is of particular interest.
Spurred by curisoity and a touch of skepticism, we decided to explore it with an informal experiment, considering along the way what it might mean for the work we do.
We gathered the troops (a smattering of GOXD employees) for a 15-minute experiment in three parts:
- First, we exposed the group to 10 abstract images, each shown twice in random order, and asked the them to identify whether each shape was circular or angular.
- As a distractor task, we asked participants to attempt Sudoku puzzles for five minutes.
- For the final task, we showed them six images and asked them to rate the favorability of each. Of the six images, one was an “old” image (an exact copy of an image they had seen in the earlier set), two were “hybrid” images that combined two old images, and three were completely “new” images.
With a small and self-selected sample size, we certainly weren’t expecting to draw conclusive or formal results. We did, however, uncover a few interesting things of note:
There’s something to Mere Exposure, but more exposure seems to enhance the effect.
The image that received the highest average score was the only exact replica from the first task. While the hybrid images didn’t rise to the top, perhaps the limited amount of prior exposure — each image was shown for just a cumulative 16 seconds in the initial exercise — wasn’t enough to overcome the effects of mixing imagery.
Good design is still at the heart of the matter.
Since our hypothesis was that the “old” images would rank higher than the new, it was noteworthy that the image with the second highest raking was an entirely new image, and the lowest scoring image was a hybrid. It seems that even without the familiarity, good design was still recognized as such — and while there was something to Mere Exposure, it wasn’t about to turn bad design good.
Familiarity in any form, from number of commercial views to number of product trials, plays a role in the associations we make with brands. Understanding the potential, the limitations, and the complicating factors, however, is key. Experiential marketing creates opportunities for an increasing number of real-world brand interactions; by not only increasing the amount of exposure but also ensuring the excellence of that exposure, brands can reap rewards.