The Latest Neuromarketing Insights

Consumers Don’t Like To Be Told What To Do, Especially By Brands They Love

Relevant topics Archive, Advertising

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Assertive ads from consumers’ favourite brands make them suspicious of the brand’s intent, resulting in liking the brand less.
  • Application:
    Discover how effectiveness of assertive ads depends on consumers’ relationship with the advertising brand.
  • Nowadays we are more individualistic than ever. We are encouraged to make our own decisions, live the life in a way that we like. And yet, 72% of ads contain assertive language. Brands tell us what to do quite explicitly - “visit our Facebook page”, “floss daily”, “eat healthy”.

    How do people react when brands tell them what to do?

    Ineffectiveness of assertive ads

    When consumers have a favorite brand, they form a committed consumer-brand relationship.

    In such a relationship, consumers feel obligated to support the brand by reacting to its communication, because committed brand relationships involve stronger compliance norms. 

    Brand communication sometimes comes in a form of assertive ad language. Such language encourages consumers to perform specific actions, such as “buy now” and “visit us on Facebook”. The aim of such language is to evoke compliance. 

    Neuromarketing explains that bossy language actually wakes a motivation to protect one’s freedom. Assertive ads create greater pressure to comply with committed consumers. Greater pressure is too much to handle and it will elicit a negative emotional response. Such emotional response is called reactance. 

    Reactance is powered by non-compliance guilt. Normally, non-compliance guilt motivates people to show support – “I will feel guilty, if I don’t do what I am asked to do”. However, if they feel they are being pushed too hard, it will backfire. In this case, non-compliance guilt will reduce customers’ compliance as the assertive ads make them doubt the brand’s intent. 

    Most loyal and valuable consumers react most negatively to assertive ads. Negative reactions include disliking the ad and the brand as well as spending less money on the brand.

    Don’t be a bossy brand!

    Neuromarketing science suggests two remedies to avoid evoking negative customer responses.

    First, affirm the relationship. Relationship affirmation involves focusing on relationship’s strengths and positive aspects of consumer facing communication. It increases confidence in the relationship and makes individuals less defensive. 

    Second, brands should direct behaviour less assertively, for example by creating a call to action that is less explicit instead of using forceful language. 

    It’s important to note that polite assertive ads with “please” still cause a negative reaction.

    Boundary conditions

    In uncommitted consumer-brand relationships, where there is no emotional connection, compliance is not a norm and consumers feel little pressure to comply with the assertive ads.

    Take away points

    • In committed consumer-brand relationships, assertive ads increase pressure to comply even more. Non-compliance guilt will reduce compliance, because it will make consumers suspicious of the brand’s intent. Reduced compliance evokes negative responses, such as decreased ad liking and money spending.
    • Most loyal and valuable consumers react most negatively to assertive ads.
    • To avoid negative consumer responses, affirm relationship first or direct behaviour less assertively.
  • Consumers Don’t Like To Be Told What To Do, Especially By Brands They Love
  • Reference:

    Zemack‐Rugar, Y., Moore, S. G., & Fitzsimons, G. J. (2017). Just do it! Why committed consumers react negatively to assertive ads. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 27(3), 287-301.

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    Further Reading

    • Why Aspirational Advertising Fails 9 Times out of 10

      Why Aspirational Advertising Fails 9 Times out of 10

      We’ve all heard it before: “buy this car and have the luxury life you always wanted”. Usually, advertising sketches a utopia; an idealistic world. This form of marketing, where a certain product offers the key to the life you always wanted, is known as aspirational marketing.

      This form of advertising builds on the principle of cognitive consistency theory, which claims that a fit between one’s self-concept and an identity-enhancing brand or product category leads to greater attraction.

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