Innovations by 'exciting' brands are more acceptable

Apple logo

That new smartphone you took out of the box feels differently than you had expected based on what you'd seen. Are you OK with it, or disappointed? Your reaction is tied to your perception of the brand, says the UO's Aparna Sundar.

A brand viewed as exciting has wiggle room to introduce innovations that don't match consumers' expectations, said Sundar, assistant professor of marketing in the Lundquist College of Business. Not so for a brand seen as sincere, she said.

The conclusions are based on four studies that explored brand-consumer relationships involving sight and touch. The project, done in collaboration with Theodore J. Noseworthy of York University in Toronto, was detailed in a paper recently in the Journal of Consumer Research.Marketing professor Aparna Sundar

"When you are looking at the marketing of products, a big part is the sensory aspects of the product's packaging," Sundar said. "Even though we might think of it as trivial, it is actually influential in the way we inform our consumption decisions. It's not just visual, it consists of other sensory cues such as touch."

Exciting brands are considered unique and attention getting. Sincere brands are seen as consistent and trustworthy. Exciting and sincere are important brand personalities, because they capture the intimate personal relationships between consumers and brands. Previous research has shown Apple to be creative, young and exciting; in contrast, Nokia is seen as sincere and more down to earth.

"Our early studies used fictitious brands where consumers have no prior associations," Sundar said. "We only manipulated participants' expectations of a brand’s personality. We identified samples as being from sincere or exciting brands by providing the characteristics of each brand."

In the first study, participants saw prototype packaging of a new coffee about to be introduced. The package either looked and felt like burlap or looked like burlap but felt like paper. Participants were asked how likely they'd be to purchase it and how much they'd be willing to pay.

The second study explored perceptions of authenticity that may have influenced responses in the first study; participants were shown prototype packaging for a new board game and pamphlets describing the brand and asked about their reactions.

In the third study, the participants saw three sets of stimuli. In one, expectations of sight and touch aligned; in the second set, touch revealed less quality than expected by sight alone; and in the third, there was positive sensory disconfirmation in which touch revealed more quality than expected by sight.

In the final study, people at a shopping mall saw a prototype of a smartphone introduced by Apple and Nokia. The only difference was that upon touching the phone's sleeve, which appeared to be plastic, it felt like it was either made out of plastic (a sensory confirmation), metal (a positive sensory mismatch) or cardboard (a negative sensory mismatch).

Across all studies, participants were fine with sensory mismatches involving an exciting brand, but they did not like such sensory marketing tactics when introduced by brands that were seen as sincere.

"Marketers need to think about how sensory innovation aids the narrative of the brand," Sundar said. "If you are a sincere brand, sensory mismatch may not serve you, even if it is a novel introduction. Exciting brands, on the other hand, can exploit consumer perception by conjuring surprise through sensory mismatch."

—By Jim Barlow, University Communications