Advertisers have long tried to tap into the senses of consumers to sell their products and services. New research, however, shows that the specific senses they try to appeal to have different effects on when purchases are actually made.
The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research, discovered that advertisements that highlight touch and taste prompt people to make more immediate purchases, while highlighting sight and sound leads consumers to delay their spending.
"Advertisers are increasingly aware of the influence sensory cues can play," said Ryan Elder, one of the study's authors and an associate professor at Brigham Young University, in a statement. "Our research dives into which specific sensory experiences will be most effective in an advertisement, and why."
The authors came to their conclusions after conducting four lab studies and a pilot study involving more than 1,100 subjects. In one experiment, subjects read one of two reviews for a restaurant. One of the reviews focused on taste and touch, while the other emphasized sight and sound. The participants were then asked to make a reservation to the restaurant over the next six months. [Want to try video marketing? Here are some tips to get started.]
The study's authors found that the subjects who read the review focusing on taste and touch were much more likely to make a sooner reservation.
In another of the experiments, the participants read an ad for a summer festival that was taking place during either the upcoming weekend or a weekend in the next year. There were two versions of the ad. One emphasized taste and the other sound.
When the participants were asked when they would like to attend, those who read the ad about taste had a higher interest in attending a festival during the upcoming weekend. Those who read ads emphasizing sounds were more likely to be interested in attending the festival next year.
Overall, all of the studies found that participants who were subjected to the taste or touch of a product or event were more likely to have a more immediate interest in it.
"If an advertised event is coming up soon, it would be better to highlight the more proximal senses of taste or touch – such as the food served at the event – than the more distal senses of sound and sight," said Ann Schlosser, one of the study's authors and a professor at the University of Washington. "This finding has important implications for marketers, especially those of products that are multi-sensory."
In an age when sensory marketing is increasingly important, the researchers believe advertisers should pay close attention to their results.
"Our research suggests new ways for marketers to differentiate their products and service, and ultimately influence consumer behavior," Elder said. "Marketers need to pay closer attention to which sensory experiences, both imagined and actual, are being used."
The study was co-authored by Morgan Poor, an assistant professor at San Diego State University, and Lidan Xu, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois.