Point of view: The end for end-lines

John Woodward
Publicis Worldwide

For all those that think that marketing communication is simple, there was a fascinating article in this month's Harvard Business Review. Researchers at the University of Miami tested end-lines that told people what to do and seemed to discover that people, on average, did pretty much the reverse of what they were told to - what the researchers called a 'Reverse Priming Effect'. When people were offered the chance to 'Dress for Less', they immediately spotted the risk of being picked out as cheapskates, and upped the amount they were prepared to pay.

This is a very post-modern phenomenon. People know very well when we are trying to manipulate them, and they don't like it. Anyone who has tried to dress a small child will be familiar with this. 'Why don't you wear this one?', 'No'. 'What about that one, then?' 'No'. In fact, small children's greatest desire is to assert their independence, so the very fact that you are influencing their choice makes the choice unacceptable to them. Those of us with small children quickly run through the potential influence techniques. We try reverse psychology, offering up the outfit we don't want the child to wear. That works, for about a fortnight. The University of Miami researchers suggest that a good number of end-lines and slogans work like this, with people taking out almost exactly the opposite meaning from the literal one.