Getting on Cognitive Easy Street

Are we achieving our goals? It’s something we, as an industry, talk about all the time. It’s how we justify our budgets and our plans. It’s what guides us as we optimize our campaigns and evaluate how they performed – sometimes even after just one month. But does marketing really work like that? Are we disregarding how humans behave so that we can get organizational alignment and justify our marketing spend?

What we are trying to do, regardless of the end goal, is create Cognitive Ease, the state of mind where someone feels familiar with a concept. People identify the familiar element as safe, happy and comfortable, while people approach unfamiliar concepts as skeptical, feeling less safe and more likely to identify information as false. More complex questions such as “will this product be good for me?” even without any information from a consumer report, can be answered “yes” with sincerity solely based on familiarity with a brand. If the Brand is familiar, safe and good, the product is more likely to be identified as “safe” and “good.”

Associations of a statement or concept as truth, even if it is not true, can be artificially made. Repeated exposure (frequency) generates the feeling of cognitive ease. Seeing a person’s picture repeatedly can even make them be perceived as more likable. How we get information in repeated exposure also has significant impact. Crisp, high contrast images, clear bold copy that’s easy to read, or just seeing an outline of an image just before you see the full details supports cognitive ease. We hear the impact all the time in idioms such as “I listened to my gut” or when people talk about intuition. These idioms are declarations of cognitive ease.

As with every new concept I research, I turn to a familiar, statistically insignificant study of one, myself, to assess if I have unknowingly been affected. I realized that when grabbing milk at the store as a child, I’d identify the “right” brand by a mascot and the “right” container of 2% milk by the blue cap. This association of blue as “correct” was cognitive ease at work, the effects of which can be seen all over my apartment today. Open my fridge or cabinets and all packaging has blue somewhere on it. Walk into my bathroom and my shower curtain, bathmat, mouthwash, toothpaste, and contact solution is blue. Even my fabric softener, though I’m not in love with the scent, was bought because it’s blue. Everything I own is BLUE. Walk into my housemate’s bathroom and it’s all green.

When starting your next marketing initiative, try finding the core element of your product or brand that can be consistent across varying campaigns and begin testing impact. The more familiar your message is when delivered correctly, the more impactful it will be for the end goals in the long run.

J O N A T H A N  M O N R O E
Associate Media Director





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