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Emotional “Lock-in” and Consumer Perception

How marketers can manipulate the way consumers’ moods affect purchase decisions.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

When Do Incidental Mood Effects Last? Lay Beliefs versus Actual Effects (Subscription or fee required.)

Anastasiya Pocheptsova and Nathan Novemsky

Journal of Consumer Research (forthcoming)

Date Published: 
September 2009 (online version) 

Will your opinion about the restaurant you visited last night or a television commercial you watched last week be influenced by the mood you were in at the time? According to this study, that depends on whether you discussed your feelings about the experience immediately after it occurred — and this phenomenon has implications for advertisers. If, for example, you’re upset about something before you sit down to watch a movie, and then you tell a friend about the movie shortly afterward, the authors believe your preexisting mood (being upset) will affect your opinion of the movie, and the act of talking about the experience while in that mood will “lock in,” or permanently influence, your opinion of the film. 

To test how and when mood affects perceptions, the researchers asked a group of more than 100 subjects to view a Cezanne painting. Half were subjected to “mood manipulation” beforehand by being required to read and discuss an upsetting article; the other half were not. Within each group, some participants were then immediately asked to evaluate the painting (by being asked if they would want the painting to hang on a wall in their home), while the others were not queried. Five days later, all participants were asked to complete the same evaluation.

Those subjects who evaluated the painting immediately after reading the disturbing story gave the painting less positive reviews than those in the neutral group. But there were some interesting differences in the responses from the two subgroups in the negative mood group: Subjects who evaluated the painting immediately after seeing it were more likely to have unfavorable impressions than those who were not asked to evaluate the painting until five days later. The authors conclude that incidental emotions have an effect on people’s perceptions, but only when the emotion is locked in at the time of the event via sharing of the experience, either through casual conversation or more formal mechanisms, such as writing a review or filling out a survey.

The findings are particularly relevant to advertisers. The authors argue, for example, that advertisers might benefit from encouraging consumers to make immediate judgments when viewing upbeat commercials — going so far as to include a prompt in the ad itself to evaluate the product. In this case, positive impressions of the product will be locked in and have a longer-lasting effect that could help influence consumer choice at the point of sale. The researchers also recommend that advertisements avoid reminding consumers of a time in the past when they might have used the product. This common strategy may actually reduce the influence of the ad by shifting the evaluation of the product to a past event that may elicit a bad memory. 

Bottom Line:
Customers’ moods play a role in their impressions of a service, product, or advertisement, but the effect of the mood dissipates unless it is locked in at the time.

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