Choose your words carefully…

Dalibor Šumiga Behavioral marketing/Neuromarketing, Marketing

In 1974, psychologists Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer did an experiment where they were showing videos of a car accident to a group of 45 students.

After looking at the footage, the students were asked to describe what they saw. The main question in this experiment was, “About how fast were the cars going when they ______ each other?”

In place of the blank line, 5 different options were inserted: smashed, collided, bumped, hit or contacted.

The task of the respondents was to assess the speed at which the vehicles were moving, after filling out the questionnaire. Depending on which of the above options was inserted in the question, respondents rated the vehicle speed differently. The “stronger” the word used to describe the strength of the collision was, the more the estimated speed increased (see the picture below).

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In the second experiment, a sample of 150 respondents were shown a video of driving lasting 1 minute and a traffic accident lasting 4 seconds.

In this case, the same question was asked as in the first experiment with the variation of the word “smashed” in one group and the word “hit” in the other group. The third, the control group, was not asked any questions.

A week later, the same group of respondents was asked “Did you see broken glass at the crash site?”

Twice as many respondents in the “smashed” group confirmed that they saw broken glass than the respondents in the “hit group” and the control group. There was no broken glass at all in the video of the accident they watched a week ago.

Although this is a laboratory experiment and some research later on has failed to replicate the results in the actual situation (in people who witnessed an armed robbery), it is not a negligible fact that one word in a question (or marketing message) can make a significant difference in customer perception.

We don’t need to go so far into the past to see some of the examples where it is obvious that there was no malicious intent in the communication, but one unfortunate word made a difference.

One example of a branding campaign is this H&M campaign that turned out to be racist because of one wrong word on the T-shirt.

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But the search engine marketing is not spared of such situations either, here’s one example:

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Source: AdFailure

Anyhow, behavioral experiments, but also the experiences of real marketing campaigns show that “look at the campaign through the eyes of your customers” is not just an empty phrase…