Ambient Rubbish: The attitudinal impact of incidental exposure to brand litter (findings)

Anthony Grimes, Tom Stafford, S Roper

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Ambient rubbish: Examining the attitudinal impact of incidental exposure to branded litter Dr. Anthony Grimes (University of Manchester, UK) Dr. Tom Stafford (University of Sheffield, UK) Professor Stuart Roper (University of Bradford, UK) Purpose Roper and Parker (2013) found that consumers encountering a brand in a litter context (i.e. surrounded by, or associated with, litter) formed a less positive attitude towards that brand than consumers encountering it a non-litter context (i.e. in the absence of accompanying litter). Those seeing the brand in a litter context also emphasised negative brand personality items, indicated that they were less likely to try the brand and were prepared to pay less for it than those who saw it in a non-litter context. Taken together, these findings support the conclusion that being consciously seen in a litter context is bad for the brand. However, the question arises as to whether similar results might be expected when respondents are incidentally exposed to brands as litter, and focal attention to the littered brand pack is neither extensive nor emphasised. There is evidence from both psychology and marketing research that incidental exposure to a brand stimulus can improve attitudes to the brand. In particular, the mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1968) is a robust psychological phenomenon whereby brief, repeated, unreinforced exposure to a stimulus results in more positive affective response when that stimulus is subsequently encountered. These conditions would appear to be particularly apparent in common forms of littering where brand packs are left relatively intact and in isolation in public places (see Williams, Curnow and Streker, 1997). The purpose of this study, therefore, is to examine the impact of mere exposure to relatively intact brand litter on subsequent attitudes towards the pack itself and the brand it depicts. Theoretical background Within the psychology literature, the mere exposure effect (hereafter, MEE) has been the subject of over 300 experimental demonstrations, usually with respect to unfamiliar stimuli (e.g. Kimura figures and irregular polygons) that are presented fleetingly and in isolation (for reviews see Bornstein, 1989; Bornstein & Craver-Lemley, 2004). The vast majority of these studies have focussed upon improving affective response (e.g. liking or preference), although there is some evidence to suggest that mere exposure can also influence cognitive response to the stimulus when it is subsequently encountered ( e.g. judgments of brightness; see Mandler et al., 1987). In the marketing literature, demonstrations of the MEE have been extended to products, brand names and brand logos, which are encountered in isolation or peripherally as part of a wider scene (e.g. Janiszewski, 1993; Shapiro, 1999; Vanhuele, 1995). Furthermore, marketing studies of the MEE have found that the enhancement of attitude extends beyond mere liking of the stimulus to factors such as brand liking, brand choice, and inclusion in a consideration set (e.g. Janiszewski, 1993; Lee, 2002; Shapiro, 1999). On this basis, we distil the following hypotheses: H1: Compared to no prior exposure, mere exposure to a novel, unfamiliar brand pack abandoned “as litter” will lead to greater liking of the brand pack H2: Compared to no prior exposure, mere exposure to a novel, unfamiliar brand pack abandoned “as litter” will lead to the brand it depicts being perceived to be of a higher quality H3: Compared to no prior exposure, mere exposure to a novel, unfamiliar brand pack abandoned “as litter” will lead to greater willingness to try the brand it depicts H4: Compared to no prior exposure, mere exposure to a novel, unfamiliar brand pack abandoned “as litter” will lead to a willingness to pay more for the brand it depicts Methodology/approach: Participants: 311 adult consumers in the USA. Stimuli: 8 brand packs were selected from familiar product categories (chocolate bars, soft drinks, fast food, and snack bars), but were pretested and selected to ensure they would not be familiar to participants (this removes any influence of prior brand experience on our measures). Each of the 8 brand packs was photographed as a piece of isolated, relatively intact litter in three different naturalistic street scenes. Procedure: In an online experiment, participants were presented with four repetitions of three different street scene photographs, with each photograph visible for 7-seconds. Each of the 12 photographs contained the pack for one of four different brands. Two of these brand packs were presented as isolated, relatively intact litter in each of three street scenes, while the other two were presented as being in-use by a (disembodied) consumer in separate photographs of the same three scenes. The order of presentation was randomised. The conditions for incidental exposure were created by the adoption of a paced visual search task in which, during the 7 seconds for which each photograph was presented, participants were variously asked to determine the dominant colour, the number of people depicted and whether the picture contained any animals. This allowed for exposures to brand litter that were repeated, brief and incidental (i.e. ‘mere’); the target stimuli being repeatedly presented for a limited time, outside of the participant’s focal purpose but within their visual field. Each participant was thus first exposed to four brand packs (2 ‘as litter’ and 2 ‘in-use’) and then required to evaluate these packs/brands, and the four packs/brands to which they had not been previously exposed. This crossed-design allowed all participants to contribute data in both the treatment and control condition. Following the exposure phase, and for each of the 8 brands, participants indicated the extent to which they liked the pack (following Stafford & Grimes, 2012), how willing they would be to try the brand, and their perceived quality of the brand (following Roper et al., 2008; Roper & Parker, 2013). In addition, participants were asked to indicate whether they remembered seeing any of the 8 brands earlier in the experiment (following Stafford & Grimes, 2012), whether they believed they had consumed any of the 8 brands previously, and whether they perceived the packs they had seen in the photographs to be ‘litter’. Findings The mean judgments made in each of the three exposure conditions (i.e. exposed ‘as litter’, exposed ‘in-use’ and not exposed) were analysed by way of repeated measures ANOVA. The means and standard deviations are presented below. Figure 1: Brand evaluations (lower = more positive) Figure 2: Willingness to pay for target brands ($) Brand pack liking Willingness to try Perceived brand quality Willingness to pay ($US) N Exposure condition Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD Not exposed 3.21 1.01 3.53 1.18 3.46 1.08 1.90 0.92 311 Exposed as litter 3.04 1.15 3.37 1.32 3.27 1.16 2.01 1.08 311 Exposed in-use 3.06 1.18 3.40 1.31 3.35 1.15 2.00 1.11 311 There was a significant effect of exposure with respect to brand pack liking (Wilks’ Lambda= 0.966, F(2,309)=54.51, p<0.01), willingness to try the brand (Wilks’ Lambda= 0.971, F(2,309)=47.49, p<0.05), and perceptions of quality (Wilks’ Lambda= 0.967, F(2,309)=53.48, p<0.01).The results of pairwise comparisons for these three variables are presented below. Brand pack liking Willingness to try Perceived brand quality (I) Exposure (J) Exposure Mean Diff. (I-J) Std. Error Sig. Mean Diff. (I-J) Std. Error Sig. Mean Diff. (I-J) Std. Error Sig. Control Litter .171 .056 p < 0.01 .155 .057 p < 0.05 .193 .059 p < 0.01 Control In-use .174 .061 p = 0.05 .131 .060 p = 0.09 .117 .060 p = 0.16 Litter In-use -.027 .063 p = 1.00 -.024 .067 p = 1.00 -.076 .058 p = 0.58 While on average participants indicated they would be willing to pay more for the brands when these were previously exposed as litter ($2.01) than when they were not previously exposed at all ($1.90), the difference between these means was not statistically significant (Wilks’ Lambda= 0.989, F(2,304)=1.640, p<0.196). The data thus supports the hypotheses that repeated mere exposure to the brand pack ‘as litter’ improves pack liking (H1), willingness to try the brand (H2) and perceptions of brand quality (H3). It does necessarily support the hypothesis that mere exposure to the brand pack ‘as litter’ increases the amount that consumers will be willing to pay for the brand (H4). Discussion and theoretical implications Overall, we conclude that mere exposure to the brand pack as litter improves affective attitudes to both the pack and the brand it depicts. The findings of this study provide further support for the mere exposure effect in applied marketing settings. Whilst the size of the observed exposure effects are relatively small ( =0.03), this is not unusual in experimental demonstrations of the MEE (see Bornstein & Craver-Lemley, 2004). Furthermore, the findings are notable because they challenge the assumption that brand litter is necessarily ‘bad for the brand’, indicating instead that mere exposure to brand litter does not necessarily lead to negative effects and may, in fact, result in subtly improved brand evaluations. Theoretically, our study extends current understanding of the mere exposure effect by demonstrating that it remains robust for complex, real world marketing stimuli (i.e. brand packs), even when they are presented in a form that is generally viewed negatively (i.e. as litter). From a marketing perspective, our study further demonstrates the applicability of the MEE to understanding how brand attitudes are influenced by brief, repeated, incidental exposures to brand stimuli; which often occur as a by-product of the full cycle of brand consumption and in ways that are not controlled by the organisation (e.g. as brand litter). Practical implications On the assumption that people in social spaces are inclined to adopt avoidance behaviour towards litter (e.g. by paying little attention to it, or ‘screening it out’), it is conceivable that brand litter is very often encountered under conditions of mere exposure. From a commercial perspective, the findings of this study imply that such exposure is unlikely to be problematic for organisations and, indeed, may even be beneficial. From a public policy perspective, our findings might be seen to detract from the commercial case for organisations to produce less litter, and quickly clean up that which they do produce. However, they may also serve to qualify it. For example, we would suggest that a more convincing commercial case for organisations to clean up their litter might be constructed on the basis of a reputational link with CSR, and the effective communication of this work to audiences (see Hillman and Keim, 2001), rather than the psychological principles of negative priming. Indeed, a comparison of the impact of mere exposure and consumer knowledge of CSR activities associated with litter reduction would constitute an interesting avenue for further research. With respect to the specific findings of this study, however, the possibility of a commercial rationale for not addressing the brand litter problem may imply that the onus could ultimately be on public policy to prevent an exposure-induced drift towards a littered society. Limitations First, we focussed on the type of litter that was most likely to provide the conditions for the mere exposure effect; i.e. that which is abandoned in isolation and relatively intact (and is thus perceptually similar to the packs that are subsequently encountered). Further tests of the boundary conditions of the mere exposure effect in this domain might be conducted with other forms of litter (e.g. that which is more highly degraded). Second, that mere exposure was not necessarily found to result in significant increases in the price that consumers are willing to pay for the brand may reflect a boundary condition of the MEE (i.e. that it is primarily an affective judgment bias which may not be expected to influence highly cognitive calculations of specific value). Alternatively, it may be a procedural artefact in that the misattribution of stimulus processing fluency to other factors (a mechanism that commonly cited as key to the MEE; see Bornstein & Craver-Lemley, 2004) does not carry through strongly enough to the last of the four sequential judgments that participants were required to make. Further research might seek to clarify this issue. Originality/value: This original, experimental study provides new insights into the impact of mere exposure on attitudes to brand stimuli that are naturally encountered frequently, incidentally and in ways that neither controlled (by the marketer) nor necessarily positive (i.e. as litter). Keywords: Brand, Attitudes, Litter, Exposure, Mere Exposure References: Bornstein, R.F. (1989). Exposure and affect: Overview and meta-analysis of research, 1968-1987, Psychological Bulletin, 106, 265-288. Bornstein, R. F. (1993). Mere exposure effects with outgroup stimuli. Affect, cognition, and stereotyping: Interactive processes in group perception, 195-211. Bornstein, R.F. & Craver-Lemley, C. (2004). Mere exposure effect. In Cognitive Illusions: A handbook on fallacies and biases in thinking, judgment and memory, Edited by R.F. Pohl, pp. 215-233, Hove , UK: Psychology Press Hillman, A.J. & Keim, G.D. (2001). Shareholder value, stakeholder management and social issues; What’s the bottom line? Strategic Management Journal, 22, 125-139. Janiszewski, C. (1993). Preattentive mere exposure effects. Journal of Consumer Research, 20 (3), 376-392. Lee, A.Y. (2002). Effects of implicit memory on memory-based versus stimulus-based brand choice. Journal of Marketing Research, 39 (4), 440-454.Shapiro, 1999 Mandler, G., Nakamura, Y., & Van Zandt, B. J. (1987). Nonspecific effects of exposure on stimuli that cannot be recognized. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 13(4), 646. Roper, S. & Parker, C. (2006). ‘How (and Where) the Mighty Have Fallen: Branded Litter,’ Journal of Marketing Management, 22 (5), 473-487. Roper, S, Parker C & Michael Bosnjak, (2008). ‘Negative influences upon brand evaluations: The litter effect’, Australian-New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference (ANZMAC), Sydney, December 2008. Roper, S. & Parker, C. (2008), 'The Rubbish of Marketing', Journal of Marketing Management, 24 (9-10), 881-892. Roper, S. & Parker, C. (2013). ‘Doing Well by Doing Good; A Quantitative Investigation of the Litter Effect,’ Journal of Business Research, 66 (11), 2262-2268. Shapiro, S. (1999). When an ad's influence is beyond our conscious control: Perceptual and conceptual fluency effects caused by incidental exposure. Journal of Consumer Research, 26 (1), 16-36 Stafford, T. & Grimes, A. (2012). Memory enhances the mere exposure effect. Psychology & Marketing, 29(12), 995-1003. Vanhuele, M. (1995). Why familiar stimuli are better liked: A study on the cognitive dynamics linking recognition and the mere exposure effect. Advances in Consumer Research, 22, 1, pp. 171-175 Williams, E., Curnow, R. & Streker, R. (1997). Understanding littering behaviour in Australia. A beverage industry environmental council publication. A community change consultant report. Victoria. Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9 (2p2), 1.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2016


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