The reasons for this difference have to do with people’s needs to verify and enhance their expertise. Consumers are more comfortable looking at the product when they’re confident of their ability to evaluate it. But when there’s self-doubt, they gain confidence and thereby build interest in the ad upon seeing someone they identify with.
Of course, you might want to show representations of both the product and the potential user. Here, the proximity and positioning of the representations make a difference. Researchers at University of British Columbia and National University of Singapore showed study participants a picture of a facial cream to treat acne and a picture of the product benefit—a smooth face. The researchers found that participant groups shown the two pictures adjacent to each other were more likely to consider the facial cream to be effective than those shown the photos physically separated from each other.
As to whether you should show users at all in comparative ads, there’s been controversy in the research literature. Studies at University of Maryland concluded that pictures of people using the product in comparative ads led shoppers to start thinking about using the products themselves, and when they do this, they put too much mental energy into thinking about just the recommended product. They forget to pay attention to the comparative advantages. The power of the comparative ad fades away.
Then research findings from University of Bamberg indicated that showing a person in an ad comparing a recommended product to an alternative helps in selling the recommended choice if:
- The recommended product is complex or innovative
- Shoppers seeing the ad want to take the time to carefully analyze for the best choice
- Compared to the alternatives, the product you intend the shopper to buy has at least one powerful advantage
Ping Consumers with Cause-and-Effect
Relax Caution About Comparative Imagining
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