Buyer Perception – Stimulus Factors

Stimulus Factors

Stimulus factors are physical characteristics of the stimulus itself.  A number of stimulus characteristics tend to attract our attention independently of our individual characteristics.

Size and Intensity

The size of the stimulus influences the probability of attention being paid to it.’ Larger stimuli are more likely to be noticed than smaller ones.  Therefore, a full-page advertisement is more likely to be noticed than a half-page advertisement

In addition, advertisements with longer copy have been found to be more effective in attracting the attention of industrial buyers than advertisements with shorter copy.’

Insertion frequency, the number of times the same advertisement appears in the same issue of a magazine, has an effect similar to advertisement size.  Three insertions generate more than twice the impact of one insertion.

The intensity (e.g. loudness, brightness) of a stimulus operates in much the same manner as size.

Colour and Movement

Both colour and movement serve to attract attention, with brightly coloured and moving items being more noticeable.  A brightly coloured package is more apt to receive attention than a dull package.  A study on the impact of colour in newspaper advertising concluded that ‘median sales gains (on reduced-price items) of approximately 41 per cent may be generated by the addition of one colour to black-and-white in retail newspaper advertising’.”

However, the impact of contrast can reverse this.  That is, if all the advertisements in a magazine are in colour, a black-and-white advertisement may attract substantial attention.  Moreover, since colour is usually more expensive, marketers should be aware that it could become less cost effective than monochromatic ads.


Position refers to the placement of an object in a person’s visual field.  Objects placed near the centre of the visual field are more likely to be noticed than those near the edge of the field.  This is a primary reason why consumer-goods manufacturers compete fiercely for eye level space ingrocery stores.  Research conducted by News Limited in Australia indicates that advertisements are less noted when located in the final quarter of the issue.  This research also seems to contradict prior belief that the right-hand side position would foster advertising effectiveness.  Instead it found that right-hand page ads were only very marginally better noticed than their left-hand-page counterparts (34 per cent versus 33).


Isolation means the separation of a stimulus object from other objects.  The use of ‘white space’ (placing a brief message in the centre of an otherwise blank or white advertisement) is based on this principle.


Format refers to the manner in which the message is presented.  In general, simple, straightforward presentations receive more attention than complex presentations.  Elements in the message that increase the effort required to process the message tend to decrease attention.  Advertisements that lack a clear visual point of reference or have inappropriate movement (too fast, slow or “jumpy’) increase the processing effort and decrease attention.  Likewise, audio messages that are difficult to understand as a result of foreign accents, inadequate volume, deliberate distortions (computer voices), loud background noises, and so on, also reduce attentions However, format interacts strongly with individual characteristics.  What some individuals find to be complex others will find interesting.  Format, like the other stimulus elements, must be developed with a specific target market in mind.

Compressed Messages

Initial research indicated that speeding up a message could increase attention.  Such messages are termed compressed messages.  In one experiment, 30-second commercials were reduced to 24 seconds via a device that did not produce sound distortions.  The compressed commercials were found to be more interesting than, and to generate at least the same level of product recall as, standard commerc’als. Research also suggests that compressed commercials do not distract from attention, and may even increase attention.  Moreover, attention level will vary with the type of message, the product, and the nature of the audience.

Information quantity

A final stimulus factor, information quantity, relates more to the total stimulus field than to any particular item in that field.  Although there is substantial variation among individuals, all buyers have only a limited capacity to process information.

Information overload occurs when buyers are confronted with so much information that they cannot or will not attend to all of it.   Instead, they become frustrated, and either postpone or give up the decision, make a random choice, or utilise a sub-optimal portion of the total information available.

There are no general rules or guidelines concerning how much information buyers can or will use.  Marketers, federal and state governments and various consumer groups all want product labels, packages and advertisements to provide sufficient information to allow for an informed decision.  One approach is to provide all potentially relevant information.  This approach is frequently recommended by regulatory agencies, and is required for some product categories such as drugs.  However, problems can arise with this approach.  For example, a relatively simple one-page advertisement for an over-the-counter medicine would require a second full page of small type telling of dosage, precautions and warnings, in order to comply with full-disclosure regulations.

The assumption behind the full-disclosure approach is that each consumer will utilise those specific information items required for a particular decision.  Unfortunately, buyers frequently do not react in this manner, particularly for low-involvement purchases.  Instead, they may experience information overload, and ignore all or most of the available data.

For this reason, the regulations should be concerned with the likelihood that information will be attended to, rather than simply its availability.  Marketers generally try to present the key bits of information, and use message structures that make complete processing easy.

Individual factors

Individual factors are characteristics of the individual.  Interest or need seems to be the primary individual characteristic that influences attention.  Interest is a reflection of overall lifestyle as well as a result of long-term goals and plans (e.g. becoming a sales manager) and short-term needs (e.g. hunger).  Short-term goals and plans are, of course, heavily influenced by the situation.  In addition, individuals differ in their ability to attend to informational

Individuals seek out (have exposure to) and examine (attend to) information relevant to their current needs.  For example, an individual contemplating a holiday is likely to attend to holiday-related advertisements.  Individuals attending to a specialised medium are likely to be particularly receptive to advertisements for related products. Parents with young children are more likely to notice and read warning labels on products such as food supplements than are individuals without young children. Recent studies also show that a group of buyers, with the coined name ,adversarial shoppers’, is becoming increasingly suspicious of many marketing activities, including advertising claims of superiority, health benefit or environment friendliness.  Found in all age groups, these buyers do not believe that price Is still a valid indicator of quality.

Situational factors

Situational factors include stimuli in the environment other than the focal stimulus (i.e. the advertisement or package) and/or temporary characteristics of the individual that are induced by the environment, such as time pressures or a very crowded store.

Obviously, individuals in a hurry are less likely to attend to available stimuli than are those with extra time (for example, if you have ever been on a long flight without a book, you may recall reading even the advertisements in the airline magazine).  Individuals in an unpleasant environment, such as an overcrowded store  or a store that is too noisy, too warm or too cold, will not attend to many of the available stimuli as they attempt to minimise their time in such an environment.


Contrast refers to our tendency to attend more closely to stimuli that contrast with their background than to stimuli that blend with it.  Contrast has been found to be a primary component of award-winning headlines.  A major contrast to expectations, or to other material surrounding the advertisement, may cause many to attend to advertisements

Over time, people adjust to the level and type of stimulus to which they are accustomed.  Therefore, an advertisement that stands out when new will eventually lose its contrast effect.  There is a body of knowledge called adaptation level theory that deals with this phenomenon.

Adaptation level theory is advanced as a major explanation for a decline in the impact of television advertising.  In 1965, 18 per cent of television viewers in the USA could correctly recall the brand in the last commercial aired; that figure dropped to 7 per cent by the 1980s.  Viewers have adapted to the presence of television and increasingly use it as ‘background’ while doing other things.” In Australia, a 1990 phone survey of 1024 homes immediately after television commercial breaks showed that two-thirds of those with television sets had not watched the advertisements and that, of the 34 per cent who did, only 4 per cent could recall either the advertiser or the product advertised in the break! Adaptation level is also the reason the commercial break is accompanied by an increase in volume.  Viewers are accustomed to a particular noise level, and increasing this will ‘force’ their attention unless, of course, it causes them to hit the ‘mute’ button!


3 thoughts on “Buyer Perception – Stimulus Factors

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