Situationist contributor Grainne Fitzsimons and her research on the effects of popular company logos on human behavior are the subject of an interesting article by Joseph Brean of the National Post. We excerpt portions of his article below.
* * *
The personality of corporate brands, such as the creativity of Apple or the honesty of Disney, is so psychologically powerful that the mere sight of their logos, even subliminally flashed on a screen, is enough to make people behave more creatively or honestly, according to new research.
In the current issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, University of Waterloo social psychologist Grainne Fitzsimons writes that the psychological effect of brands might “extend to behaviours unrelated to the products the brand represents…. If a consumer drives past a FedEx logo, will he drive faster? If he drinks from a can or Pepsi at a work meeting, will he behave more youthfully?”
Prof. Fitzsimons — whose work is in the area of social psychology that deals with “priming,” in which a person’s behaviour is shaped by the thought of other people in their lives, such as a student who concentrates harder and does better on a test when primed to think of his mother — wondered whether the most successful brands might have a similar subconscious power.
“We were thinking they might, because marketers spend a lot of time trying to cultivate these brand personalities,” she said in an interview. “They work really hard to convince us that Apple is about being creative and Levi’s is being all-American. And we started wondering whether that on its own might be sufficient, so if you are primed with one of these brands, you might actually start behaving like the personality you associate with the brand.”
To demonstrate these effects are real, Prof. Fitzsimons and her co-authors– her brother and sister-in-law, both professors at Duke University in North Carolina — prepared three experiments, which were designed to measure how long a brand’s behavioural effects lasted.
Temporary effects are thought to be like the unconscious mimicry of stereotypes, and studies have shown, for example, that people tend to walk slowly and even display poorer memory when primed with images of old people.
Longer-lasting effects are thought to be motivated by personal goals, such as aspiring to the athleticism of the Nike spokesmodel.
The first experiment showed that subjects who had been exposed to subliminal images of the Apple logo performed better on a standard test of creativity (listing possible uses for common items, with points for the number of uses and their creativity, as judged anonymously by a panel). In support of the goal-oriented hypothesis, subjects were in fact more creative after a slight delay of a few minutes.
In the second experiment, subjects who had just completed a survey about the design of the Disney logo performed better in a standard honesty test than those who had done a survey about the E! Channel logo. The third showed that subjects who did not value the goal “to be a creative person” were unaffected by the Apple logo, thereby showing that “goal-based processes drove the behavioural effects observed here.”
* * *