Concept of the Day: Mere-Exposure Effect – You like it just because you've seen it?

Heineken reportedly paid $45m to have their product appear in the James Bond movie, Skyfall.

Another James Bond movie, The World is Not Enough, reportedly earned over $100m in product placement fees alone.

As you read the word Intel do you hear something else alongside it?

What about those words on that football shirt, positive or negative towards the organisation they represent?

Ever wondered why businesses are willing to pay so much to have their product appear in people’s consciousness?

One of the explanations is the mere-exposure effect.

The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them.


There are some really subtle experiments behind this one. Back in 1968 Robert Zajonc conducted a set of experiments including one where  people were shown pictures of faces – some were given high levels of exposure, others with less exposure. They were then asked to rate the faces positively or negatively. The ones who received more exposure to a face rated it more positively. These people didn’t know anything more about the face other than that they were familiar with them.

In another experiment Charles Goetzinger had a new student bring a black bag into a classroom. Although nothing about the bag changed, people’s attitudes to it changed positively as they became more familiar with it. The only thing that changed was the number of times they had seen it.

Imagine how many screen advert you see a day. Mere-exposure effect says that, even though you don’t look at them, or interact with them, they are still having an effect on your attitude towards the product or service being advertised.

Consider the effects of the mere-exposure effect alongside confirmation bias and you have two effect which when working together explain a lot about the ways in which we make decisions.

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