What is the ‘Sleeper Effect’, And How Can Marketers Leverage It?

The Importance of the Message

Simply put, we are in the business of persuasion. If we do not inform and persuade consumers or businesses or buy our goods and services, we are failing at our job as advertisers and marketers.

As communications professionals, we hold ‘the message’ in high regard. Public relations practitioners meticulously put together press releases and media advisories. Investor relations professionals spend hours putting together annual reports that contain the exact word or phrase they are looking for, so as to keep shareholders calm and happy about the performance of the business. Advertisers and marketers spend large amounts of resources to create the right ad or brochure that will catch the consumer’s eye and start the decision-making process.

While all these parties dedicate time and energy to ‘the message’, it is even more important┬áto know the latest research about messaging and credibility.

The ‘Sleeper Effect’

Some professors of psychology out of the University of Illinois decided to look at the “sleeper effect” when it came to communications. The Sleeper Effect, as it was commonly defined, happens when a strong message or argument is delivered by a non credible source, that the persuasiveness of the message grows over time. The audience would discount the message early due to the source. But research shows that over time, the audience remembers the strong message more, and pays less attention to the source.

Very interesting concept! If the professors already knew that, then what else needed to be studied?

They wanted to know if the opposite was true: what if a credible source delivered a weak argument? Is the ‘sleeper effect’ still present?

The researchers ran the study, and the results suggested the affirmative- yes, a weak message can benefit from the sleeper effect if it came from a credible source, a source that the audience would readily believe.

The Implications

Why is this a big deal? We always knew that we needed a strong brand, and that strong brands needed strong messaging to not only keep customers, but to continue to win customers over. This study suggests that we need to pay additional attention to the “carryover” of our messaging to see how our messages affect consumers over time.

Example: Let’s say Brand A is a very strong brand. It decides to try a new message or slogan as it attempts to reposition a product. As the campaign develops, the team sees that the message isn’t as strong as they previously believed.

Now, what should these marketers do? If they did what every other marketing team does these days, they would immediately scrap the campaign. However, if we examine the results of this study, one should hesitate to immediately change course. If Brand A has a strong brand and established brand loyalty with a core group of customers, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say to wait out the initial results, continue the messaging, and watch the ‘sleeper effect’ run its course.

As fast as the business environment likes to work, this suggestion would be incredibly hard to implement. But, if the results of this study can be replicated, it is definitely something to think about.

 

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