Brian Sternthal, Marketing
Marketing is a matter of semantics, says Professor Brian Sternthal
often analyze the advertising and consumer messages they are
bombarded with every day. Instead, they generally purchase
products they feel they need with little or no consideration
of the consumer information they have processed leading up
to their decision.
Professor Brian Sternthal, on the other hand, has spent the
better part of 30 years researching consumer information processing
and how people reach decisions to buy.
Kraft Professor of Marketing, draws on his background in social
and cognitive psychology and says there are many factors contributing
to consumer behavior — even our mood can affect the
way we spend.
by his research on context and consumer judgments, Sternthal
is a man on a mission. A popular member of the Kellogg faculty
since 1972, he remains determined and passionate about his
work. “I’m in this business to solve puzzles,”
he says. “You have to abandon your preconceptions and
often work and work to reach the solution. I love the challenge.”
current research takes his former collaborative studies on
memory and context a step further to the general understanding
of how judgment can draw on past information. He has found
that consumers’ positive judgments depend upon the ease
of the cognitive process.
For example, an
advertisement for BMW that asks its audience to think of one
reason to buy the luxury automobile will produce a more favorable
response than an ad that asks for 10 reasons, as producing
one reason is easier than producing 10. Similarly, being asked
to “imagine” these reasons results in a more favorable
response compared to being asked to “think” of
This finding of
an “ease of judgement” preference represents an
extension of Sternthal’s previous research that discovered
positive advertising to be more successful than negative advertising
— that is, focusing on what something is or does rather
than what it is not or does not. Examples include: “It’s
not an ending, it’s a beginning,” and “M&Ms
melt in your mouth, not in your hand.” Here, notes Sternthal,
the consumer’s focus remains on the key benefits of
the brand, thus aiding the ease of judgment.
hypothesis raises the question: how is a not statement
seen as positive advertising? Sternthal has the answer in
his recent study on the processing of negations.
In this study,
he found that product benefits are sometimes presented as
being “not difficult to use” (negations) rather
than “easy to use” (affirmations). Sternthal discovered
that people process affirmations first. So, even if a Nike
ad proclaims “it’s not the shoes,” most
consumers hear the message that “it is the shoes.”
This affirmation comes first, Sternthal says, “because
in most cases the goal of the message recipient is advancement
and growth — we all want to succeed.”
use of negations often makes it easier for consumers to process
key benefits associated with a product or service, which is
of course what the advertiser aims to achieve.
his new research into how people make judgments as his most
important work so far because “it enriches our understanding
that memory is a tool in making judgments, but it’s
also reflective, it looks back at how we feel about a brand.”
But, he notes,
memory is just one piece among many that influences judgments.
He believes there are several other, often subtle, components
at work, all of which can help make predictions for the effects
advertising may have on individuals.
involve so much more than just processing content,”
says Sternthal. “There are so many elements that play
a part. I see it as a picture that’s not quite colored
in. And that’s the picture I’m trying to complete.”