Why We Buy the Products We Buy

Consumers tend to go with what (little) they know

James Keyser / Time Life Pictures / Getty

When given otherwise identical samples, people say food in brand-name wrappers tastes better.

If you didn't know anything about marketing, you might think it was important to advertise what a new product does. The makers of HeadOn aren't so naive. Their commercials have an actor repeating "HeadOn. Apply directly to the forehead" while another presses what appears to be a glue stick to her brow. No one mentions that the substance is supposed to cure headaches homeopathically. Early ads did, but focus groups showed that the superrepetitive version made people remember the name the most.

It's not a bad strategy, considering how consumers respond to names that they recognize. A flurry of new research...

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