Social Groups Influence Teens Almost as Much as Family Groups

Found on: People Identify With an Online Community Almost as Strongly as With Their Own Family

ScienceDaily (Aug. 23, 2010) — Teenage online community users feel part of their online community almost as much as they feel part of their own family.

An international study of the users of teenage online community Habbo reveals that users identify more strongly with the online community than with their neighbourhood or offline hobby group. The study is based on a survey with 4299 respondents from United Kingdom, Spain and Japan. All three nationalities yielded similar results.

The study was authored by Dr. Vili Lehdonvirta, a researcher at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT (currently a visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo), and Professor Pekka Räsänen from the University of Turku, Finland.

The authors point out that peer groups are important for the development of adolescents’ identity and values. The study addresses the question of whether online groups are standing in for traditional peer groups that are thought to be weakening in some developed countries. The results confirm that online groups can act as strong psychological anchoring points for their members. The authors conclude that games, social networking sites and other online hangouts should be seen as crucial contexts for today’s youths’ identification and socialisation experiences.

The results also suggest that in relatively young information societies such as Spain, online groups are more often “virtual communities” consisting of relative strangers. In mature information societies such as Japan, online groups are more likely to be a way of keeping in touch with family and friends. This may influence the experiences that youth receive from online groups in different countries.

The study, titled “How do young people identify with online and offline peer groups? A comparison between United Kingdom, Spain and Japan,” is published by the Journal of Youth Studies, the leading international scholarly journal focusing on youth research.

Habbo is a popular teenage virtual world developed by Sulake Corporation. It has 15 million monthly unique visitors from over 150 countries, according to Sulake. The site is available in 11 local language versions and recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. 90 percent of Habbo users are between 13 and 18 years old



How Genetics Affect Consumer Choice“heritable and other hard-wired inherent preference components play a key role in behavior and deserve much more attention in marketing and decision-making research…”

In their study, “On the Heritability of Consumer Decision Making: An Exploratory Approach for Studying Genetic Effects on Judgment and Choice”, researchers Itamar Simonson and Aner Selaa find that many consumer behaviors related to judgment, choice, and decision making are influenced by genetic factors.

The authors studied twins’ consumer preferences to determine whether or not certain behaviors or traits have a genetic basis. “A greater similarity in behavior or trait between identical than between fraternal twins indicates that the behavior or trait is likely to be heritable,” the authors explain.

They discovered that people seem to inherit the following tendencies:

  • To choose a compromise option and avoid extremes
  • Select sure gains over gambles
  • Prefer an easy but non-rewarding task over an enjoyable challenging one
  • Look for the best option available
  • Prefer utilitarian, clearly needed options (like batteries) over more indulgent ones (gourmet chocolate).

The researchers also found that some tendencies did not seem to be heritable like a preference for a smaller versus larger product variety or likings for mustard and tattoos.

The authors believe their work may reveal some important information on the genetics of “prudence.” “Some people may be born with a tendency to ‘be in the mainstream’ whereas others tend to ‘live on the edge,” the authors conclude.

Full Article

Itamar Simonson and Aner Sela. On the Heritability of Consumer Decision Making: An Exploratory Approach for Studying Genetic Effects on Judgment and Choice. Journal of Consumer Research, April 2011

Advertising Voodoo #3: The Exposure Effect

Found On: Exposure Effect

It’s a fact. We like the things we see the most. It’s called The Exposure Effect. It states that people prefer, or feel more positively toward, the things to which they have been repeatedly exposed – even when they aren’t aware of the exposure.

The exposure effect probably originates as a component of the deeply rooted social phenomenon known as in-group favoritism.  It is an evolved mechanism that exists to instill strong bonds among our immediate family and social groups. In short, we have the most positive feelings toward those we are most closely associated with.  “In-groups and out-groups” are powerful psychological mechanisms that have implications far beyond the exposure effect. We’ll certainly be covering them in future posts.

The exposure effect is one of the most common findings in psychology, and as the study below describes, it even holds true when we aren’t aware we’re being exposed to something.

Research: Banner Ads Work — Even If You Don’t Notice Them At All

Research has shown that banners don’t have to be flashy (no pun intended) to be effective. Actually, they don’t even need to be noticed at all to sway attitudes positively.

Banners sit in the periphery on the typical web page. The majority of online ad exposure occurs when the viewer’s attention is focused elsewhere on the page – like on the content they’re actually on the page to see.  Studies show that even this incidental, passive exposure to banner advertising positively effects consumer attitudes.

“Regardless of measured click-through rates, banner ads may still create a favorable attitude toward the ad due to repeated exposure.”

The researchers investigated whether “mere exposure effect,” a condition in which people develop a positive perception of stimuli not presented to them on a noticeable level, was also applicable to incidental advertising.

In a series of experiments, they discovered that even if people couldn’t recall the ad content, repeated exposure led to familiarity, which then led to positive feelings. Participants had more positive evaluations toward the target banner ad as exposure frequency increased.

Participants also showed high levels of tolerance for banner ads on which they were not directly focused. According to the researchers, even after twenty exposures, common wear-out effects were not apparent.

Full Article:

So, this research isn’t an excuse for delivering underwhelming ads or letting your ads get stale, but it does show how consistently repeating certain branding elements in your ads helps build and reinforce positive attitudes towards that brand.

Advertising VooDoo Series

Advertising VooDoo is a series of articles that explore neuroscience and psychology of what makes advertising work.

Advertising Voodoo #2: Information Incongruency Applied

found on
In, “Advertising Voodoo #1: Incongruous Information = Stopping Power“,  I explained the concept of Information Incongruency, but how does it work in practice?

Information incongrunecy has to do with expectations of your target audience – in this example, the readers of a magazine. One expectation has to with general look and feel of a magazine. Another has to do with the expected style of an ad in that magazine.

Each magazine has an overall style set by the editors. There also tends to be a general style of ads within any particular industry. For example, ads in technology trade publications almost stereotypically employ imagery that is serious; quasi-futuristic (bonus term borrowed from Austin Powers); analogous to sports, animals or high-performance machinery; composed of serene vistas and landscapes that attempt to covey some secret knowledge of the “big picture”; or completely technical with graphs and schematics.

A magazine is a noisy environment. Each publication has a unique style that readers learn to expect in terms of content and ads. Ads that “fit the mold” can just disappear into this white noise.

Magazine layout contributes to the noise with the predominance of full page ads on right-hand pages. With most of the full-page ads on the right, readers eyes – out of habit – tend to be drawn to the magazine’s content on the left.

Getting Their Attention

Incongruous information comes into play when your ads do not conform to reader expectations. Readers of electrical engineering publications are used to seeing stereotypical engineering ads with schematics, graphs and technical illustrations. They are not used to coming across and ad with a bold image of a masked, shirtless pro wrestler diving off the top ropes of the wrestling ring about to land on the product being advertised.

Imagery that is unexpected gets the reader to stop turning the page momentarily to try to identify what it is he is looking at and its information relevancy to the magazine. The reader has to “make it fit”. To do so, he has to examine, read and comprehend the ad in addition to making a judgment regarding its information value.

Tie it Together and Make It Relevant

But stopping power alone isn’t the only measures of an effective ad. You have to close the deal. Unexpected images need to be combined with short, relevant and resonating copy that ties the image and the product you’re selling together in an appealing way.

Relevancy, in this case, refers to the degree to which an item or a piece of information contributes to the identification of the primary message communicated by the ad.

Research has shown that ads composed of unexpected imagery combined with relevant information score higher on attention getting ability, believability, information value, and elicited more favorable attitudes towards the product or company than did ads with expected imagery and relevant information. Additionally, adding humor to the mix boosts ad recall.

Don’t confuse this with shock-value. Shock value alone doesn’t work. Ads with unexpected imagery and irrelevant information yield the least favorable attitudes. You have to combine these unexpected images with additional content that reinforces your message and drives cognition in your audience.

  • Unexpected/Relevant = Good
  • Expected/Relevant = Not as Good
  • Unexpected/Irrelevant = BAD


The process of resolving the cognitive dissonance can open a reader to new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs about a product. Ads that can create cognitive dissonance with imagery AND help the reader resolve that cognitive conflict with information that both makes sense to the reader and relates to the image in a clever way get results.

Advertising VooDoo Series

Advertising VooDoo is a series of articles that explore neuroscience and psychology of what makes advertising work.

Advertising Voodoo #1

Incongruous Information = Stopping Power

Incongruous information is a powerful tool for successfully achieving the first element in ad effectiveness – stopping power.

Time is a scarce resource and advertising media are inherently noisy environments. You have only a second or two – at best – to grab a the attention of your audience long enough to deliver your message and achieve understanding. It is the same for print, broadcast and online media, but I’m going to primarily focus on print advertising as the example in this post.

Incongruous information involves hitting your audience with information or imagery that doesn’t quite jive with their expectations. This causes readers to stop turning the page and spend time on the ad to try to understand and classify it. We are all familiar with the concept of “standing out”, but this post takes a shallow dive into the psychology and neuroscience behind ads that stand out effectively.

Classic use of incongruous information in TV ads is the Energizer Bunny campaign. You think you seeing just another boring ad when suddenly, a pink rabbit banging on a drum enters the room.

The Technical Explanation (or pay-dirt for consultants)

The definition of incongruous information gets a little technical. I’m sorry, but at least you’ll have some complicated-sounding bonus terms in your pocket you can use to dazzle your client or boss and sell them on your shiny new ad concept.  If you’re a consultant, you’ve just hit pay dirt.

Incongruous information (bonus term) is information characterized by inconsistency. A more common explanation is information that is unexpected or doesn’t fit with a person’s preconceptions. Those preconceptions can relate to any current knowledge, attitude, emotion, and most importantly for advertising, expectations.

Information incongruency causes cognitive dissonance (another bonus term). Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term that describes the uncomfortable, but unconscious, tension that comes from holding two conflicting cognitions (bonus term meaning thoughts) at the same time. This theory holds that these conflicts compel the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, in order to minimize the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.

Now here’s the non-technical explanation:

  1. The brain doesn’t like when it encounters things that don’t fit into one of it’s buckets.
  2. When something doesn’t fit, your brain is compelled to spend time on it either to figure out why it doesn’t fit or to convince itself that it does fit.
  3. Either way, whatever that “it” is, your brain has to focus attention on it to comprehend it and make it fit.

To make “it” fit, your brain has to modify it’s preconceptions to accept the new information.  You can see the value here – after all, the goal of advertising is to modify preconceptions and get our audience to accept our new products. In advertising we call this “gaining mind share.” (duh)

Go to part two: Advertising Voodoo #2: Information Incongruency Applied

Advertising VooDoo Series

Advertising VooDoo is a series of articles that explore neuroscience and psychology of what makes advertising work.

Further Technical Reading:

Neural correlates of incongruous visual information. An event-related fMRI study.

Role of Incongruity and ‘Aha’ Effect in Positive Affect Experienced from Visual Metaphors

Advertising VooDoo

Advertising VooDoo is a series of articles that explore neuroscience and psychology of what makes advertising work.

One definition of advertising is “… a form of communication used to persuade an audience (viewers, readers or listeners) to take some action with respect to products, ideas, or services.”

Advertising is everywhere. Sometimes its recognizable – commercials on TV and radio; ads in magazines; text, banner, and video ads online. Some its less recognizable. Menus, signage, store layout and design, landscaping, location are all advertising in that they communicate information in an attempt to persuade an audience to take an action.

Our culture is so drenched in advertising that it has become invisible to us – like the individual leaves on a tree. We are so habituated to all its elements that advertising has become just another part of the background noise of our everyday lives. But it affects us. Often in profound ways.

Advertising Is A Mind Hack.

Advertising can exert such a fundamental influence on us that it can change behavior, ideology, and beliefs. How/ Why? Because it takes advantage of common, hard-wired psychological mechanisms that have evolved over eons to help our species survive. Successful advertising hacks into these mechanisms, hijacks them, and puts them to use to influence behavior.

The series of posts that will follow will offer insights into how this works. Some of the posts will be more practical, others will be more academic, but all will relate to the psychology and neuroscience of advertising.

Advertising Voodoo Articles

Advertising VooDoo #1: Incongruous Information = Stopping Power
Advertising VooDoo #2: Information Incongruency Applied
Advertising Voodoo #3: The Exposure Effect
Advertising Voodoo #4: Right Isn’t Always Right


The Quality of Your Site = The Quality of Your Company

 We’ve heard it all before.  Your website is often the first contact a potential customer has with your company.  Here are five studies that confirm the importance of that first encounter and the effect your site’s quality has on your brand.

Perception is Everything

“Testing of our model shows that the most important constructs for increasing initial trust in our experimental context are branding and website quality.”
Journal of Management Information Systems (JMIS), Vol. 24, No. 4, pp. 199-224

“Retail brand trust, off-line patronage, clothing involvement and two factors of website quality (usability and information quality, visual appeal and image) were found to significantly influence online apparel shopping intention. ”
Influences of retail brand trust, off-line patronage, clothing involvement and website quality on online apparel shopping intention

“The hypotheses predicted that IT-mediated signals of quality, coupled with expectations and attitude, would affect a consumer’s perception of organizational quality and influence their behavioral intention (i.e., whether or not they would do business with the organization). Results from this study indicate that students expected more from the websites  of IT proficient organizations and were more accepting of websites from organizations with a low IT proficiency. These results further develop signaling theory and have significant implications for IT-proficient organizations that must meet a higher standard when creating a website. Such an organization may unknowingly send a signal of low quality if consumers believe its website does not meet expectations.”
Investigating IT Proficiency and Website Characteristics as Signals of Quality: Guilt by Association?

“A survey of 701 eBay users is conducted which compares the price premiums of two nearly identical online auction businesses, one that has online auction listings with a perceived high quality and the other that has substantially lower perceived quality. Results of this study indicate that website quality can explain 49% of the variation in the trust for eBay sellers. In fact, it shows that sellers with good website quality are all perceived to be equally trustworthy regardless of their eBay reputation; whereas sellers with poor website quality are not perceived to be trustworthy even if they have a high eBay reputation score. The results also show that the trust resulting from increased website quality increases intention to transact and results in price premiums of 12% (on average) for sellers with higher quality listings.”
Journal Electronic Commerce Research Published online: 24 February 2010

“This study concludes that website information quality is the most important factor in enhancing relationship length, while website system quality and service quality contribute a lot to relationship depth and breadth.”
Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, Volume 20, Issue 9 2009 , pages 971 – 988

“Website quality has a direct positive impact on the satisfaction dimension of relationship quality; (2) satisfaction dimension has a direct positive impact on both trust and commitment dimensions”
The Impact of Website and Offline Quality on Relationship Quality