In psychological terms, context is almost everything. Much as we like to think that we know how we will act and react in a given situation, without the richness of...
Following on from my post on the unconscious nature of advertising, Duane Cunninghamasked whether it was fair to say that any exposure was good for a brand? The old chestnut of “there’s no such thing as bad PR”.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, when it comes to consumer behaviour and the workings of the consumer mind, there isn’t a clear cut answer in my opinion. Let me explain…
For the most part exposure to a brand works positively. As I’ve mentioned previously, the unconscious (largely visual) detection of brands builds unconscious familiarity and this alone is preferable to nothing. When the brand is encountered consciously, it feels slightly familiar, safer and therefore slightly preferable to a previously unencountered rival.
Often there will be some associations with that brand. It might be a high street sign, in which case the associations are with the environment of that high street (perhaps upmarket, perhaps skanky!). Even without contextual associations, a brand logo may be redolent of another business or may use colours that carry particular associations, which will also shape the feeling created.
It is perfectly possible that mildly bad publicity will, over time, serve as a positive. If all that is remembered is that the brand has been encountered before then, at an unconscious level, that is beneficial. Where the bad publicity fails to stir up an appropriate level of emotion in the person, they may well quickly recall the negative component.
On the other hand negative labels have been shown to be very strong influencers of opinion. Where a customer hears a story about a brand that is compelling and emotionally engaging (in other words, when it’s a good story), and particularly if that story emanates from a friend, it will be a prime association with the brand.
This bad association works at an unconscious level like the advice from a parent not to eat the poisonous berries on a bush; you’ve never tried the berries, nor have you ever seen someone eat them and fall to the ground clutching their stomach, but you have a reflexive reaction that they feel unappealing, which you will recognise (and post-rationalise) as a reason not to want to eat them.
Another element to consider is how confirmation bias fits in with bad publicity. If someone was very critical of your favourite musician you wouldn’t attach anywhere near the same weight to it as if the same criticism was levelled at a musician you didn’t like. Similarly, criticism of a brand you love may be perceived as an unwarranted attack that causes you to want to support that brand, rather than reappraise or reject it.
The strength of affinity for the brand will also determine how long bad publicity has an impact. If the brand is really liked and the competitors are relatively weak (in terms of brand strength and distribution) customers will gravitate back to the brand relatively quickly. The bottled water brand Perrier had a major health scare several years ago, but managed to survive the experience.
Another brand of water, Dasani, marketed by Coca Cola had an ill-judged launch, bad publicity about it being filtered tap water that was associated with a famous and hugely popular comedy series (where the characters also marketed tarted up tap water) and then experienced a similar health scare. Without a credible brand to support it the product was pulled and never sold again.
So, it’s certainly possible to have bad publicity that can damage your business.