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Design Comparative Ads to Fit Shopper Psychology

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on January 19, 2011

In media advertising and store-based signage, we might choose to market a product by comparing it with alternatives. "Buy our house brand because you get a larger package size for the same price." "Choose our service because it offers superior safety features compared with what others offer." Here are a few research-based tips about comparative advertising:

1. Include tables and charts that make the differences easy to recognize. Remember the shopper will spend a lot less time looking at the ad or sign than you spent designing it. What you can figure out from looking at the comparison might be too complicated for shoppers who are generally in a hurry.

2. Include a picture of the product you are recommending. If the product comes in a package, show the package, not the product itself. You want shoppers to feel comfortable with the product package when they see it on the e-commerce page or store shelf. University of Chicago researchers found that familiarity—even recent familiarity—breeds comfort. This is especially important when what you are recommending is a product type or brand name unfamiliar to your customers.

3. Do not show pictures of the products, or product packages, with which you’re comparing the recommended item. Those other pictures would dilute the memory of the target product package. We want the shopper to keep the comparative advantages top of mind without picturing the competing products.

4. And here’s one you might find surprising: In comparative ads, do not show pictures of people using the product. University of Maryland researchers discovered such pictures lead shoppers to start thinking about using the products themselves, and when they do this, they put too much mental energy into thinking about just the recommended product. They forget to pay attention to the comparative advantages, so the power of the comparative ad fades away.

Bruce D. Sanders
Consulting Psychologist
Vacaville, Calif.

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