One person sees a Cadillac as a mark of achievement; another sees it as ostentatious. This is the result of perception —the process by which an individual selects, organizes, and interprets information to create a meaningful picture of the world.
Selective Perception Because the average consumer operates in a complex environment, the human brain attempts to organize and interpret information with a process called selective perception, a filtering of exposure, comprehension, and retention. Selective exposure occurs when people pay attention to messages that are consistent with their attitudes and beliefs and ignore messages that are inconsistent with them. Selective exposure often occurs in the postpurchase stage of the consumer decision process, when consumers read advertisements for the brand they just bought. It also occurs when a need exists—you are more likely to “see” a McDonald’s advertisement when you are hungry rather than after you have eaten a pizza.
Selective comprehension involves interpreting information so that it is consistent with your attitudes and beliefs. A marketer’s failure to understand this can have disastrous results. For example, Toro introduced a small, lightweight snowblower called the Snow Pup. Even though the product worked, sales failed to meet expectations. Why? Toro later found out that consumers perceived the name to mean that Snow Pup was a toy or too light to do any serious snow removal. When the product was renamed Snow Master, sales increased sharply.18
Selective retention means that consumers do not remember all the information they see, read, or hear, even minutes after exposure to it. This affects the internal and external information search stage of the purchase decision process. This is why furniture and automobile retailers often give consumers product brochures to take home with them when they leave the showroom.
Because perception plays an important role in consumer behavior, it is not surprising that the topic of subliminal perception is a popular item for discussion. Subliminal perception means that you see or hear messages without being aware of them. The presence and effect of subliminal perception on behavior is a hotly debated issue, with more popular appeal than scientific support. Indeed, evidence suggests that such messages have limited effects on behavior.19 If these messages did influence behavior, would their use be an ethical practice? (See the Making Responsible Decisions box.)20
Perceived Risk Perception plays a major role in the perceived risk in purchasing a product or service. Perceived risk represents the anxiety felt because the consumer cannot anticipate the outcomes of a purchase but believes there may be negative consequences. Examples of possible negative consequences are the size of the financial outlay required to buy the product (can I afford $500 for those skis?), the risk of physical harm (is bungee jumping safe?), and the performance of the product (will the whitening toothpaste work?). A more abstract form is psychosocial (what will my friends say about my tattoo?). Perceived risk affects a consumer’s information search. The greater the perceived risk, the more extensive the external search stage is likely to be.
Why does Clorox tout the Good Housekeeping Seal for its Fresh Step cat litter? Why does Mary Kay, Inc., offer a free sample of its Velocity brand fragrance through its website? The answers appear in the text on the next page.