VOLUNTARY AND INVOLUNTARY SELECTIVE ATTENTION IN CONSUMER BEHAVIOR
Consumers are exposed to so much marketplace information that they cannot possibly process and think about each and every product-related piece of data they encounter. If consumers had to think carefully about every ad, each package label, and every marketing communication they saw or heard, little time would be left for anything else.
According to famous researcher Daniel Kahneman,
The allocation of attention is influenced by both voluntary and involuntary factors. People voluntarily attend to information consistent with their current knowledge and expertise and to information relevant to their plans, intentions, and goals. Specifically, we manage our perceptual exposure by focusing our attention to things in the environment that are meaningful and appealing. For example, people who dislike country music avoid tuning in to country-music radio stations.
Likewise, consumers shopping for new laptops purposefully seek out marketing information about computers. One real concern for marketers today is how to win the battle for broadcast advertising exposure in this age of the remote control. With the growing popularity of digital video recorders (DVRs), consumers can mute, fast-forward, and skip over commercials entirely. Some advertisers are trying to adapt to these technologies.
Some industry experts speculate that eventually cable providers and advertisers will be forced to provide incentives to encourage consumers to watch their messages. These incentives may come in the form of coupons, patronage rewards, or in extreme cases, a reduction in the cable bill for each ad watched. Involuntary influences on attention are rooted in the very nature of the stimuli. Some marketing stimuli draw so much attention; they are difficult to tune out, even when consumers make a concerted attempt to ignore them.
A clear understanding of these involuntary influences enables marketers to more effectively design and implement marketing strategies.
VOLUNTARY AND INVOLUNTARY INFLUENCES
Salient stimuli draw consumers’ attention involuntarily. Some products, packages, and ads just “stick out” because they are different and interesting. Stimuli are salient only when they are very different from other stimuli in a specific context. From a perception perspective, when a stimulus is salient, it is figural or focal, and everything else fades into the background.
This is known as the figure-ground principle of perception.
Creation of salience stimulus: Marketers create salience through novelty, intensity, and complexity.
A novel stimulus is one that is new, original, different, or unexpected. Sometimes the product itself is novel. Placing marketing messages in unexpected places also increases novelty. For example, nova pen drives, crockery, airsickness bags, airplane tray tables, the sides of straws, and embedded in candy. Advertisers constantly experiment with novel advertising and promotional executions. New characters, themes, and scenarios are constantly under development.
The intensity of a stimulus, such as its loudness, brightness, or length, affects salience, and in turn, induces attention. Intensity can be influenced through several stimulus characteristics, including size, volume, color/brightness, odour, length, and position. Larger print ads, longer radio and television ads, and bigger retail displays tend to be more intense. Ever notice that sometimes a television ad is louder than the show you’re watching? Bright colors are exciting, and warm colors (e.g., red, yellow, and brown) are more arousing than cool colors (e.g., blue, green, and grey). Position is the place an object occupies in space or time.
A stimulus that is easy to see is more likely to be noticed, which is why suppliers jockey for the eye-level shelf or the displays at the end of aisles in stores. In magazines, ads placed either on the front or back covers or near the front of the magazine on the right-hand page are more likely to be noticed than their counterparts. While more intense stimuli generally draw more attention, the goal is to generate a level of intensity that results in that product or message standing out from surrounding stimuli.
Thus, having a silent television ad among a series of loud ones or using a black and white print ad in a colourful magazine can also create intensity based on simple contrast.
Stimuli that require substantial cognitive processing or that challenge consumers to make sense of them can be intriguing and draw attention. Dynamic stimuli—with constant change and movement—can be perceived as different and salient. Spokespersons in television commercials typically move or walk while they talk because presentations delivered by stationary speakers are much less engaging. Moving signs, like shown in the figure, draw more attention than stationary signs. Neon signs often display letters that light up one at a time and appear to move. Such stimuli are difficult to ignore. Two perceptual concepts also related to complexity are closure and grouping.
Vivid stimuli, like salient stimuli, draw attention automatically and involuntarily. However, unlike salient stimuli, vivid stimuli o are attention-drawing across all contexts. Because vividness is context independent, it does not matter what other stimuli are present in a given situation.
Vivid stimuli are:
- emotionally interesting
- concrete and imagery provoking
- proximate in a sensory, temporal, or spatial way
Let’s examine more closely these characteristics of vivid stimuli.
- Emotional Interest
Consumers’ goals, hobbies, and interests determine what information is emotionally interesting and vivid. Stimuli that are interesting to one person may not be interesting to another, but a stimulus that is emotionally interesting tends to get noticed. Stamp collectors find stamps incredibly fascinating. They spend hours studying their collections, examining watermarks, postmarks, and even perforations. Stamp collectors have been known to dream about stamps and see stamps when looking at plaid shirts (the plaid squares turn into stamps). To these individuals, stamps are very vivid and emotionally interesting.
By contrast, people who are not stamp collectors find stamps hopelessly boring. Although both salient and vivid stimuli draw attention involuntarily, what is salient in one situation may not be salient in another, and what is vivid to one person may not be vivid to another. Salient stimuli capture the attention of all of the people some of time, while vivid stimuli grab the attention of some of the people all of the time. Unfortunately, marketers can’t make their products interesting to everyone, just like stamp collectors can’t make stamps interesting to everyone.
Emotional interest is but one factor that influences the vividness of a product, ad, promotion, or package. Vividness is also affected by concreteness and proximity.
Concrete information is specific, easy to picture, imagine, and visualize, versus abstract information, which is conceptual or theoretical. For instance, the taste of a hot, juicy hamburger is more concrete than a picture the hamburger, but the picture is more concrete than a written description. Research demonstrates that making product attributes more concrete in a marketing message increases the amount of attention paid to the attribute and subsequently increases the perceived importance of the attribute.
Face-to-face communications are typically more concrete and vivid than written communications, an important advantage of a field-based sales force. One research study investigated the effects of face-to-face versus written messages on judgment by presenting subjects with a description of a new personal computer. The exact wording of the description was held constant.
However, the description was presented either in a face-to-face format or in a written format. Even though the words presented in each situation were exactly the same, the face-to-face message had a much stronger impact on subjects’ evaluations of the described product. However, results also showed that the vividness effect is weaker when subjects had a strong prior opinion about the described product and when a lot of negative information is available.
Information that is proximal, or close to a consumer, is more vivid and has more impact than information that is distant or not immediately relevant. Three different kinds of proximities are important: sensory, temporal, and spatial.
- Sensory proximity refers to firsthand (proximal) versus second hand (distant) information. Information that is perceived by consumers’ own eyes and ears is more vivid than information perceived and relayed by another person. When consumers see for themselves that a product works, they are more convincing than if they receive second hand, hearsay evidence. This is one reason marketers encourage consumers to sample products.
- Temporal proximity refers to how recently an event occurred. Events that occurred recently are much more vivid and draw more attention compared with events that occurred a long time ago. People are much more aware of and concerned about the awful flight they had the last time they flew on a particular airline than about the great flight they had five years ago.
- Spatial proximity refers to the location of events. Events that occur near consumers’ homes are much more vivid than events that occur far away in other countries.
To summarize, information can be made more vivid and draw more attention in many different ways. Vividness can be increased by making information more emotionally interesting, more concrete, or more proximal to the consumer. Obviously, information that grabs our attention has a stronger influence on judgment and choice relative to information that is virtually ignored.