Perception and Sensation in Marketing

From Sensation To Perception

Sensation is the immediate response of our sensory receptors (e.g., eyes, ears, nose, mouth, ringers) to such basic stimuli as light, colour, and sound. Perception is the process by which these stimuli are selected, organised, and interpreted.  Like a computer, we process raw data (sensation).  However, the study of perception focuses on what we add to or take away from these sensations as we assign meaning to them.

The subjective nature of perception is demonstrated by a controversial advertisement developed for Benetton by a French agency.  The ad features a black man and a white man handcuffed together.  This ad was the target of many complaints about racism after it appeared in magazines and on billboards around the United States, even though the company has a reputation for promoting racial tolerance.  People interpreted it to depict a black man who had been arrested by a white man.’ Even though both men are dressed the same, people’s prior assumptions distorted the ad’s meaning.

Such interpretations or assumptions stem from the schemas, or organised collections of beliefs and feelings, that a person has.  That is, we tend to group in our memories the objects we see as having similar characteristics, and the schema to which an object is assigned is a crucial determinant of how we choose to evaluate this object at a later time.

Stages In The Perceptual Process

Perceptual process can be broken down into the following stages:’


1.   Primitive categorisation, in which the basic characteristics of a stimulus are isolated.

2.   Cue check, in which the characteristics are analysed in preparation for the selection of a schema.

3.   Confirmation check, in which the schema is selected.

4.   Confirmation completion, in which a decision is made as to what the stimulus is.

Sensory Systems

External stimuli, or sensory inputs, can be received on a number of channels.  We may see a billboard, hear a jingle, feel the softness of a cashmere sweater, taste a new flavour of ice cream, or smell a leather jacket.


The inputs picked up by our five senses constitute the raw data that generates many types of responses.  For example, sensory data emanating from the external environment (e.g., hearing a song on the radio) can generate internal sensory experiences when the song on the radio triggers a young man’s memory of his first dance and brings to mind the smell of his date’s perfume or the feel of her hair on his cheek.


Sensory inputs evoke historic imagery, in which events that actually occurred are recalled.  Fantasy imagery is the result when an entirely new, imaginary experience is the response to sensory data.  These responses are an important part of hedonic consumption-the multisensory, fantasy, and emotional aspects of consumers’ interactions with products.’ The data that we receive from our sensory systems determine how we respond to products.

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