Cognitive Dissonance And Marketing

Cognitive dissonance is the state of mind where you’re conflicted to choose between two similar products with slightly different features. It’s a state many customers find themselves in, and it’s what many brands strategize on to increase their sales. One of the major examples of cognitive dissonance is the rivalry between Android and iOS that has fans across the globe conflicted between choosing the best software. Though the two tech giants are not the only ones benefiting from the fruits of cognitive dissonance. In this blog, we discuss how marketers and advertisers use Cognitive Dissonance to their advantage to gain results.

Cognitive Dissonance is Used to Manipulate Our Consumption Choices

Cognitive Dissonance occurs when a person faces conflicting thoughts and has to make a decision that contradicts their belief system. And it’s something marketers use to their advantage. Marketers tend to create an idealized version of you that uses their brand and compares it with the real-life version of you who doesn’t invest in that brand. Through this, they try to impose that your life will be incomplete without consuming that particular product or service, even if it seems complete on the outside. This creates a conflict in your head because even though you feel fine, you still want to conform with that idealized version of yourself the brand showcased.

Cognitive Dissonance Example

We can explain this through an advert for a beauty product, e.g. lipstick. You see an independent woman going through different parts of her day where she’s struggling, from work to social life. The next day, she decides to use a particular brand’s lipstick to gain more confidence in herself. As she does that, all the struggles disappear, her projects become successful, her social life gets back on track. This advert promotes the idea that lipstick worked its magic on the woman’s problem and hence you need to use that brand if you want the same to happen to you.

Now, we all know applying lipstick won’t make your problems go away (although we all wish it could). But the idea promoted by the brand is that it gains you the confidence you need to deal with your struggles. This creates a conflict in our head i.e. our life seems to be going okay without the brand’s involvement. Yet, now we’re attracted to the colour of lipstick they’ve showcased and, let’s admit it, all of us could use a little more confidence in our lives. When it comes down to choosing, you could either reject the idea promoted in the advert (a trait of the strong-headed). Or you could accept the message, comply with this belief, and invest in the product. That is what the marketer would want you to do in the end. Besides, even if you choose the former, your mind will likely go back to thinking you don’t possess certain qualities that you could if you just bought the lipstick!

How It Can Lead to Good Behavior

Cognitive Dissonance is not something you can avoid. It’s bound to happen in your life, with or without marketing. You face the phenomena daily in even personal choices without realizing it. And marketers know the fact very well that you can’t run away from it. Hence, they maximize their utility of the process. But it’s not always a bad thing. At times, marketers create a dissonance to promote the idea of a healthier you. Just think about the ads of all the nutritious products or gyming and exercise materials. That is good for your health and investing in those products is going to make you fit eventually.

Furthermore, creating a dissonance to make you invest in charities and donations is not a bad thing either. Even if you feel conflicted at first because the idealized version of you seems far more privileged than your real self, providing even a tiny helping hand makes your behaviour more optimistic and can even add to your mental health because you feel good about yourself for helping out.

When It Becomes Problematic

Talking about cognitive dissonance being a positive impact, it can easily turn negative as well. Seeing conflicting advertisements all the time can be stressful and lead to exhaustion and burnout. If you’re required to buy products all the time and you lack the resources, you start feeling inadequate. And this adds to your already existing stress.

In times like these, you need to remind yourself that we live in a world built around marketing. Hence, instead of feeling conflicted and frustrated, resolve the issues your mind seems to be facing. Only something as simple as reminding yourself that it’s the advert asking you to buy a product, not your immediate needs, can be a good way to decrease tension.

Examples of Cognitive Dissonance from Real Life

Everywhere around us, we face dissonance in the form of our favourite brands. The brands create an Us vs Them argument to lure our support, and we comply without realizing it. And even if we do support certain brands more than others, there’s always that underlying conflict making us consider what we’re missing out on when we invest in one product and not the other. And this conflict creates cognitive dissonance which results in making big brands the success they are today. May it be a software, a food outlet, a comic-book choice, or professional players, cognitive dissonance creates a conflict in our head and makes us choose between what we should or shouldn’t invest in based on our needs and preferences.

1. Android and iOS

The age-long conflict of which software is better, people have indulged in the argument over and over again. Android users face the conflict of choosing what’s better and more convenient for their day-to-day functioning and hence make their choice based on this argument. iOS users, on the other hand, have the perception that they’re investing in more sophisticated and elite software that makes them look better when it comes to branding.

2. Marvel and DC

If you’re a comic book fan, you likely have a favourite among the two even if you invest money and energy on both of these cosmic giants. The conflict people face is old yet evergreen. Of course, who would you choose when one side has the detective abilities of Batman, the inhumane strength and power of Superman, and the inspirational skills of Wonder Woman compared to the resources and talents of Iron Man, the determination and strength of Captain America and the superhuman powers of Captain Marvel.

3. Messi and Ronaldo

Both are brilliant for their teams and both will go down as the greatest legends in the world of Football, yet their fans can not support one without bashing the other. The conflict between the two players may not be as intense as what it is between their supporters. As a Real Madrid fan, one can find it difficult to say a good word about Messi as he always ends up making the club suffer one way or another, and being a Barcelona fan means supporting Ronaldo isn’t even a choice to ever consider. This can end up as a conflict for a genuine football fan and results in choosing to either support one or the other based on their interest. And the dissonance arising from this conflict has resulted in so many arguments and has gained so much popularity that even if people don’t watch or care about football, they know the names of these two players.

4. Coke and Pepsi

Convinced that both the soft drinks have different tastes (which is true) the die-hard supporters of the drinks have already made their choice without conflict. But the mediators still face a dissonance when it comes to making a choice. It’s not a stressful conflict, but it does produce the thought of what people would be missing out if they choose one and discard the other.

By this point, you need to accept that cognitive dissonance is human nature. It’s not something you can always ignore, if ever. But you can make choices that lessen the conflict’s impact on your life. Just the simple awareness of recognizing it’s the brand creating your conflict and not your real-life needs can end up lessening the conflict’s significance. Besides, you are more aware of what you do and don’t need in your life at any particular time. Make your choices aligned with those needs, even if you keep the brand’s suggestions in mind for later use. Cognitive Dissonance is a good tactic by marketers to make their audience buy their product. If you know how to use it in your strategies, you will be capable of influencing your audience’s choices.

Maha Abdul Rehman

A content writer and a psychology major, I procrastinate for 6 months or write consecutively. And I occasionally watch (see: obsess about) Football.

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