Three Essential Marketing Campaign Components

man in green room

How a 50-year-old psychological theory holds the key.


Let’s begin with a historical perspective. In 1945, Arthur C. Clarke, the writer famous for “2001: A Space Odyssey,” proposed a worldwide satellite communication system. The first satellite, the Sputnik-1, was launched in 1957. Some ideas are way ahead of their time.

Similarly, in 1957 Leon Festinger published his book “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance,” in which he proves that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system or by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements.

In short, it’s about reducing tension. The theory goes: Either you adjust your beliefs to fit reality or you adjust your perception of reality to fit your beliefs.

Cognitive dissonance is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology. And now that we have the most fragmented media map ever, we can apply it to our messaging.

My proposal: Every campaign needs three messages: retain, retry, try. And they should coexist.

The Three States of a Consumer

If you think about it, there are only three consumption states for anything: You are either a consumer (a company wants to retain you), an ex-consumer (a company wants you to retry its products or services) or a never-consumer (a company wants you to try it).

But that creates an interesting strategic problem: Just as in the game of “Go,” you need to attack and defend at the same time, and you need to do it on all fronts, so your advertising has to do four things:

  • Keep your consumers from defecting
  • • Increase consumption from current consumers (i.e., make light users heavier ones)
  • • Get consumers who abandoned the brand to come back
  • • Get consumers who’ve never tried your brand to give it a try

Applying Cognitive Dissonance to Everyday Purchasing Behavior

Let’s say you are a customer of our Mythical Burgers joint. Most of my advertising will be geared to keeping you coming back (reminder) and perhaps buying something extra when you’re here (upsell), such as a dessert.

If you are not already a customer, chances are that you won’t be tempted to try Mythical Burgers. After all, you’ve seen the same message a dozen times and still haven’t made the switch.

What would it take for you to make the switch? If you are a guy, perhaps it’s that my burgers are cheaper.

Or a better value (extra ounce for the same price)? Or the service is faster?

Or we give you a complimentary bib so you won’t ruin your tie?

Bottom line: There needs to be a message that will be different enough from the “regular” ones that a non-Mythical Burgers customer would consider changing.

Next page- Cognitive Dissonance


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