‘Cracking the Code’ Conference Examines Consumer Psychology

From the Fall 2010 edition of Vanderbilt Business


This past summer marketing professionals and academics gathered at Owen for the 2010 Advertising and Consumer Psychology Conference, titled “Cracking the Code: How Managers Can Drive Profits by Leveraging Principles of Consumer Psychology.” The conference attendees heard presentations on state-­of­-the­-art managerial consumer advice and reviews of up-­to-­the-­minute research on consumer behavior with the goal of ultimately improving managerial decision-­making and organizational performance.

Presenters from Owen included conference organizer Steve Posavac, the E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Marketing, and Steve Hoeffler and Jennifer Escalas, both Associate Professors of Marketing.

In his presentation called “Managing the Marketing Mix to Drive Brand Consideration and Choice,” Posavac half-jokingly referred to his selection of the conference t-shirt as an illustration of the way most consumers go about buying products. He simply called colleagues from Owen and got a recommendation for a t­-shirt company without thoroughly researching his options according to quality, cost or any other factors. Consumers, he explained, always appreciate an easy decision, and that is one reason end­cap displays in supermarkets are so effective.

“Brands are judged more favorably than warranted when judged in isolation,” he said.

Meanwhile Hoeffler focused on the area of radically new products, his marketing research specialty. He said questions need to be asked about whether these products transform the market or create a new one before a strategy can be devised.

“Does it allow customers to do something they’ve never done before?” he asked.

If a product meets that test, then there is more flexibility in advertising and more opportunity to break new ground, while communicating the basic needs met by the product. When bringing out a new product, a company can start with an abstract idea or concept, but Hoeffler said it is important to create a more concrete message at the point of adoption.

Escalas’ presentation highlighted narrative processing and storytelling in ads. She mentioned a dog food campaign that told stories about pets in need of adoption. The dog food was then associated with a good cause and a good story. Escalas went on to talk about what makes for a good story in advertising and emphasized that research has shown stories can build meaning for brands. A surprising finding was consumer data showing fictional stories persuade consumers just as much as factual narratives.

“You need creative ad execution to get through the clutter,” she said.

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