Familiarity breeds...success


You have to wonder why Family Health Diary is as successful as it is. The infomercial brand I created in 1997 is currently the biggest individual spender on New Zealand Television (over $17 million YTD). How does a simple - dull even - format achieve considerable results for the tenant clients?

The answer might be a phenomenon called the exposure effect: Repeated exposure to stimuli for which people have neutral feeling will increase the likeablity of the Stimuli .

How does it work? When Stimuli are repeatedly presented they become increasingly well liked and accepted. For example the more a song or slogan is repeated the more popular it is likely to become. The effect doesn't occur in every case - only in situations that are perceived as neutral or positive. Negative stimulus repeated often can amplify active dislike or negative preconceptions. FHD is quite neutral in its presentation. It defies the convention of advertising formats that rely on made up narratives or humour to for likeability. The risk is that jokey narratives or hyperbole will be misunderstood or polarising - inhibiting their effectiveness. Early research showed that FHD was well liked and accepted by viewers because the subject matter isn't inherent funny or conducive to exaggeration.

Over time the effect can weaken - people become bored with unchanging messages. Complex and interesting stimuli amplify the effect. Simple and boring tend to weaken it. The strongest effect is achieved when exposures are brief and subtle or when they are separated with delays. FHD is often varied, clients come and go but the format remains warm and familiar.

Familiarity is important. It increases aesthetic appeal and acceptance. Familiarity doesn't breed contempt. Many of the best loved works of art, design and architecture were vilified when first revealed to the public. Today Turner's paintings, the Eiffel Tower and the Guggenheim at Bilbao are widely admired. Exposure over time has familiarised us to the works whose popularity and acceptance has increased over time.

Lesson for advertising and other marketing communications?

1) Keep exposure brief
2) Repeat but have gaps between
3) The first 10 exposures will generate the greatest result.
4) Accept that there will be resistance to the something that is different to the norm.

The seminal research on the exposure effect is 'Attitudinal effects of mere exposure" by Robert Zajonc. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Monographs, vol 9(2) p.1-27

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