Boosting Brand Perception With Irrelevant Attributes

Feb 8, 2011 by Tomasz Jablonski

A recent study conducted by the University of Mannheim in Germany looks at the effects of advertising irrelevant product attributes.

The study asks whether or not the addition of irrelevant elements makes products and brands more appealing.

THE RADIANCE COLLECTION: The Gold Standard for De-Aging. Source: La Prairie SA.

“This is the way that La Prairie, for example, differentiates its face treatment product Cellular Radiance Concentrate Pure Gold from competing brands through the addition of micro-particles of 24-karat gold extracts. The face serum really contains particles of gold (La Prairie, 2008), but the addition of gold has no medically proven effects on its performance, namely to nourish and treat the skin as well as to maintain the moisture of the skin (Öko-Test, 2005.)”

Kerasilk line by Goldwell differentiates itself through the addition of silk proteins.

“Another example is Goldwell, which differentiates its shampoo brand Kerasilk through the addition of silk proteins (Goldwell, 2008). However, it is not silk proteins that straighten hair and make it shine, but artificial additives like silicon (Öko-Test, 2005).”

A very interesting and random fact about silk that has nothing to do with the product. Source.

In order to see if irrelevant attributes makes products more appealing, the German scientists created a fictitious shampoo brand with 3 different treatments. The first was Shampoo X Suprema with Kurkumin additive. The second contained the same additive but was accompanied by a test report proving that Kurkumin holds no clinical value. The third treatment was Shampoo X Suprema with no additives.

After being presented with the shampoo, all study participants completed a questionnaire on 5 key aspects of the brand. Ratings were based on a five point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree). The responses were averaged and the results were staggering:

Mean Values of the Constructs:
Construct IA Group with Irrelevant Attribute IA Group with Irrelevant Attribute & Revelation IA Group without Irrelevant Attribute
Attention toward the brand 3.08 3.10 2.69
Perceived uniqueness 2.62 2.65 2.12
Perceived price fairness 4.30 4.29 3.88
Attitude toward the brand 3.67 3.61 3.35
Intention to buy 3.25 3.15 2.81

Surprisingly, even when study participants were made aware that the advertised attribute was irrelevant they are still more likely to buy the product. This goes to show that consumers are always looking for a little extra even, if it has nothing to do with the performance of the product itself.

The entire study, titled “The relevance of irrelevance in brand communication,” can be found in the Jan 2011 issue of the journal Psychology and Marketing.

Tomasz Jablonski - Contributor

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