Mere Exposure Effect In Google Display Is The Secret Sauce For Digital Branding

The Power of Mere Exposure Effect in Display Advertising

In 2016, digital display ad spending has surpassed search ad spending, accounting for 61% of all digital ad spending in the US. Although industry experts expect this trend to continue in 2017, many of the same experts advise against digital advertising and consider search ads the king of PPC. Digital display campaigns are considered less effective due to their low click-through rate and very low conversion rate, but, there are many less known benefits to having display ads visible across the web at all times: Exposure, building brand awareness and brand liking.

Think about it. Why do we stand in line in the middle of the night and compete with other Apple enthusiasts for the right to receive a new iPhone on the very first release day? Is it because we need a new phone with all those new and amazing features? Or maybe it’s because we are constantly exposed to images and information on various websites, blogs, and social media, encapsulating us in the conceptual framework that Apple has created. A framework that predisposes fans to do whatever it takes to be first in line — literally and figuratively — to maintain an iPhone.

The Familiarity Bias

In a nutshell: the more you expose people to something, the more they will like it.

At first, you didn’t like that song. The lyrics made no sense, and the music wasn’t your style. Somehow that song grew on you, and you started liking it more and more each time you heard it, maybe you even started shamelessly humming in public. Or maybe you hear a song, and can’t shake off that sense of Deja Vu. Something just sounds, warm, fuzzy and familiar, and keeps playing in your mind although you have no idea where or when, or even if you’ve ever heard it.

This phenomenon is known in cognitive psychology as the Mere Exposure Effector the familiarity bias. It suggests that one (mere) exposure to a stimulus is enough to create familiarity, which increases liking simply because we prefer things that we already know. Repeated exposure increases said liking even more. Whether it is a song, product, a trend, an image, or a brand, positive feelings will increase with repetition.

Mere Exposure Effect Definition

The earliest known research on mere exposure effect was conducted in 1876 but became well known behavioral bias in 1968 thanks to a series of experiments by Robert Zajonc. Zajonc demonstrated that simply exposing people to a specific stimulus led them to rate it more positively. His experiments showed similar results with a wide variety of stimuli such as words, shapes, Chinese letters, pictures, facial expressions, and even nonsense words. Zajonc has found that single exposure is enough for creating positive feelings and subsequent preference and choice. Moreover, repeated exposure led to even stronger liking, which became known as the “repeated exposure effect.”

In 1980, Zajonc expanded the mere exposure theory and proposed that positive reactions elicited by a mere exposure do not require an active attention, meaning that you don’t need to notice that you had been exposed to something to like it and choose it among other options.

Zajonc tested his theory by repeatedly presenting an image at a high speed that made it impossible for participants to consciously notice the image and then, asking them whether they had ever seen the image. Although participants could not recall seeing the image they continued showing positive feelings and preference toward the image. Moreover, images that were shown briefly prompted even faster positive responses, an important finding that led him to the conclusion that attention and awareness aren’t required in the decision-making process. In fact, Zajonc added, we all rationalize our beliefs, decisions, and choices by finding justifying reasons and explanations instead of acting on our rational, well thought, reasons. First, we like a product and only then find rational reasons as to why we like it.

As you can see, one important application of mere exposure effect in advertising can be creating constant awareness and nurturing liking. Simply put, the more frequently you show the product, brand, or message to people — at numerous times and in different forms — the more people will become familiar and comfortable with your product and will become much more likely to buy. All this without consciously noticing your ad or being able to recall it.

Brands and ideas need a repeated, constant, exposure to be successful. For this reason, businesses should invest in developing digital strategies that ensure their brand has a wide reach and maintains a strong, ongoing presence to their target audiences. The brand and the core message must be cohesive across all customer touchpoints so the customer can identify with the brand within a matter of microseconds without conscious consideration or formation of counter arguments.

Mere Exposure Effect in Google Display

The Google Display Network allows to you connect with people with a variety of ad formats across the digital universe. This network spans over two million websites that reach over 90% of people on the Internet. It can help you reach people while they’re browsing their favorite websites, showing a friend a YouTube video, checking their Gmail account, or using mobile sites and apps. All of these channels have agreed to run Google display ads, which means your ads could appear in the sidebar or even front and center when your ideal customer is perusing other websites. Display ads can be placed virtually anywhere where your ideal customer is browsing online.

Mere exposure effect allows you to reach new customers through display advertising. Although these people may not be clicking your ads or converting, they will be exposed to your ad and your message in some way. Repeated exposure will establish brand familiarity which in turn, would eventually lead to a click or a direct interaction on your website. People will learn about your website or brand implicitly simply because they have repeatedly been exposed to your ad with an effective ad placement strategy.

Google Display placement targeting

Our brain stores information in a conceptual framework of connections and associations, not as a disjointed assortment of facts, figures, words, and colors. We store meaning and contextual frames. And this is why it’s so important to create the right context for your brand. Luckily, Google allows you target your audience contextually on websites and even specific pages. Through analyzing page content, keywords and information about the user’s digital interest and behavior, only the most relevant ads will be served to users in the right context.

For example, if you are building or promoting a natural and organic chocolate brand, you probably don’t want your consumers to remember you in a context with junk food so you should avoid websites promoting such content. In that case, you can target specific websites that you consider the right context for your brand or in places where you know that your audience regularly visits through specific placement targeting.

Google Display placement targeting allows you to select specific websites or specific pages where you would like your ads to appear. Let’s say that you offer high-end hiking gear and you know that your audience is relatively affluent and interested in nature, green living, and plant-based nutrition. You would want to conduct a research and create a list of blogs and websites that concentrate on these subjects and target those sites specifically. You can essentially create a custom audience to be exposed to your ads regularly.

Mere Exposure Effect in Digital Strategy

There are many different ways you can incorporate the mere exposure effect in your online marketing campaigns. Whether this involves tactics like display advertising and remarketing, or having more face time with people through blogs and relevant websites to spread your brand presence, with each exposure you’ll be enhancing positive feelings toward your brand.

The more frequent the exposure is, the higher are the chances that you will rank high as the brand of choice in the customer’s consideration set. This strategy is especially useful for new brands seeking awareness and niche brands that are looking to create exposure within their target audience since they can focus on strategic ad placements and repeated exposure to elicit positive results.

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Helen Evenchen

Digital marketing strategist, wanderer, insighter, foodie, a mom. I’m also the marketing psychology geek behind Insightout Digital.
I have an MBA in consumer behavior and have been helping businesses big and small and teaching MBA students since 2004. I love helping entrepreneurs and eComm businesses just like you grow exponentially using systematic methods rooted in real human psychology and behavioral economics research.