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Imagery is a powerful persuasive tool used by marketers to encourage consumers to imagine future experiences. Recent surveys show that most consumers tend to stay with their existing brand choices. Marketers spend valuable dollars trying to get consumers to switch brands, but little is known about what imagery is best to use to get buyers to make a change.

Ali Besharat, associate professor at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, investigated how consumers react to a first-person or third-person perspective. Consumers can view themselves using the product through a first-person, actor perspective (e.g. seeing the watch on their arm through their own eyes as they are out for a jog) or a third-person, observer perspective (e.g. observing themselves looking at the watch while jogging in the park). While in imagery perspectives the main character within each scenario is the same (i.e. the consumers view themselves in both events but from a different perspective), these subtle differences in imagery perspectives may influence consumers’ judgment and decisions.

Ali Besharat

“Our results indicate that while actor/first-person imagery tends to perpetuate the default product and brand choice, observer imagery increases consumers’ tendency to change and switch to new products and brands,” Besharat says. “Our findings show that imagery perspective influences processing style, which in turn determines the use of an abstract, high-level, outcome-focused mindset (why we do the things we do) or a concrete, low-level, process-focused mindset (how we do the things we do). Thus, we find that consumers resist less to the habitual inertia and switch brands more when evaluating each brand under the observer imagery perspective rather than the actor perspective.”

Besharat and colleagues from three other universities, set up four experiments to test their hypotheses. Study 1 tested that an observer’s perspective reduces the status quo bias. Study 2 replicated the effects observed in the first experiment with a less inferior status quo in the choice set. Study 3 provided further evidence of the underlying process by using cognitive load as a moderator. And, Study 4 expanded their empirical evidence of status quo bias through the actual consumption of a food product rather than through computer simulated purchasing.

“Marketers spend a considerable amount of resources in an attempt to get consumers to switch products and brands,” Besharat says. “We now know that consumers are more likely to switch brands when using an observer imagery perspective. Furthermore, when choosing between a status quo and other alternatives, the reaction time in the choice task will be shorter for those using an actor imagery perspective than those using an observer imagery perspective.”

For the full study, visit:

About the author:
Ali Besharat is an associate professor in the Department of Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. His areas of research interest include consumer behavior; behavioral judgment and decision making; and marketing communications and branding. Read more.