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(originally published by Booz & Company)


In Marketing, a Few Bad Words Can Be a Good Thing

Another study involved 136 consumers and repeated the hiking boots scenario, but this time the negative information — a photo showing that the shipping box had broken during transit — was presented before the good attributes. This study revealed that the blemishing effect holds only when the piece of negative information follows good news.

The researchers note that the “first instinct of marketers is to hide, downplay, or mask negative reviews.” But this study suggests that when a product’s defect is minor or peripheral to the core values of the brand, marketers should consider highlighting that disadvantage in some situations. Given the flood of information that surrounds us, consumers will inevitably receive some negative tidbits, the authors point out, so the question becomes how to turn those negatives into a positive.

Marketers can present information in an order that takes advantage of the blemishing effect and seizes on customers’ divided attention, the researchers say, by placing ads on bus posters, online pop-up banners, and social media sites like Facebook, or in busy and noisy locations. In particular, marketers should exert their influence in online advertising or reviews because consumers typically scan these quickly or become distracted as they read. Sorting reviews on a company’s website strategically, rather than just by date, would allow marketers to highlight certain negative remarks after a few positive comments to elicit the blemishing effect.

Bottom Line:
Slightly distracted consumers will think more highly of a business or product when they receive a small piece of negative information after hearing about several positive attributes. Marketers should embrace, rather than fight, negative remarks by incorporating them into online advertising and other settings that target unfocused consumers.

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