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Recognition can be stronger than perception

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The recognition heuristic makes a prediction that in specific domains, recognized (previously-encountered) items will be chosen over unrecognzied (completely novel) items. Wayne D. Hoyer and Steven P. Brown ran studies in 1990 to see to what degree brand recognition affected consumer choice.

They found two brands of peanut butter, one which was rated as being significantly higher quality in a pre-test. Without knowing which peanut butter was which, people could identify the higher-quality peanut butter from a set of 3 samples 59% of the time. Just guessing would lead to 33% correct, so it seems people can taste the difference.

With another group, the experimenters then put labels on the peanut butters. Two were brands the participants had never heard of before, and one was a nationally recognized brand. Sometimes the scientists put the higher quality peanut butter in one of the unrecognized-brand jars. In this situation, would people still be able to identify the best tasting peanut butter 59% of the time?


No. They chose the highest-quality product 20% of the time when it was labelled as an unrecognized brand. They preferred the one labelled as the recognized brand 73% of the time, despite it being lower quality. Recognition can be more influential than taste perception.

In their next genius manipulation, they gave people the exact same peanut butter in 3 different jars, two with unrecognzied brand labels and one with a recognized brand label. Which did people prefer?


75% chose the recognized brand despite it being the same as the other two jars. Amazing.

About the authors:

Wayne D. Hoyer

Steven P. Brown


Hoyer, W. D., & Brown, S. P. (1990). Effects of Brand Awareness on Choice for a Common, Repeat-Purchase Product. Journal of Consumer Research, 17(2), 141-48.