researching consumer perception and their interpretation of new ideas

03May07

In the discussion of some qualitative research today I was interested by the strong level of conviction reported amongst a group of consumers who hadn’t correctly reported back the facts as portrayed in a new TV ad they viewed and discussed. They mistakenly perceived that they remembered some events in the ad that hadn’t actually occurred.

This defect in recall wasn’t related to a general shortcoming in the test sample. It was, I believe, more related to the will of these viewers and their wish to defend their personal view of how a situation should be portrayed in the advert.

A proportion of the researched viewers made a modification, either in what they remembered or how they their interpreted what they had seen. This affected their perception of the ads content slightly, but measurably.

It sounded as if the consumers had edited a memory tape, so the TV ad had a better fit with their expectations and outlook on what they would prefer it to have contained. They were left with a strong, positive impression, but not all factual. Perhaps further repeated viewing will correct this anomally over time.

It seemed that when the narrative of the advert didn’t live up to their preconceptions, the mind of some consumers edited the idea portrayed to a degree that they felt more comfortable with.

The anomaly was consistently misreported within a minority, but the perception shift was not detrimental to their positive response to the ad or perception of the brand. I may be over-emphasising the reported factual dissonance to a degree here, but it exists in most research where consumers express opinion. I’ve always preferred research based on what people do, rather than what they say.

My wish to measure consumer actions, rather than only their perceptions, are guided by 2 thoughts.

Akio Morita: ‘How do you expect consumers to understand what they do not know?’

Henry Ford: ‘If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse’

Why research ideas that significantly break conventions and innovate? Are consumers qualified to comment before they experience them in real life?

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