Change Your Audience’s Irrational Beliefs About Your Brand

How you learn about various goods and services comes from a variety of sources. Sometimes it’s the brand’s own advertising, sometimes it’s from your friends or family, and sometimes you just hear from a random source.

The source also plays into how you feel about the brand. Perhaps if you learn about a brand from someone you might not have a positive association with, that association may rub off on the brand and years later for some reason, you “just don’t have a good feeling” about that brand. Why is this?

Behind The Blinders 

For brand marketers, the real concept here is not just the message itself, but how the message is delivered and what pre-existing beliefs your target audience garners about your brand. The well-studied confirmation bias is not just seen in psychology circles, but also finance, education, and advertising.

According to Critical and Creative Thinking: A Brief Guide To Teachers, confirmation bias “refers to our tendency to see only the evidence that supports our way of thinking while avoiding any and all evidence that contradicts it.”

In short, confirmation bias is what happens when you put blinders on.

Consumers Love To Fall In Love With Their Own Ideas

From TV commercials to their own experiences with your brand, consumers will develop their own biases and beliefs about what a brand means to them. These experiences are communicated to friends and family and before you know it, no amount of advertising can change the consumer’s beliefs about that brand. In some cases, this is good since it results in brand loyalty and super fans. On the other hand, confirmation bias can make it difficult to launch a new product or execute a re-brand.

How do you get consumers to think differently?

We can take a look at other industries to see how other professions address confirmation bias. In finance, confirmation bias can lead to irrational behavior when investors seek information that perpetuate their beliefs about a stock. In order to combat this bias, Warren Buffet has invited hedge fund managers who are betting against his company to speak at his annual meeting. By introducing opposing views and ideas, Buffet says he improves his own flaws about rejecting information that contradicts his beliefs.

Native Advertising Introduces New Information To Consumers

Most forms of advertising reinforce confirmation bias, and introducing new ideas about your brand can be difficult since consumers only focus on the part of your story that has elicited positive feelings for them in the past. You may expand your product line, or entered a new market, but consumers might miss that part of the story unless the message is in their face 24/7.

Consumers think they perceive more of the world than they actually do. Doing the same type of advertising as your competitors can lead to the brand message being ignored (i.e. banner ads). The Invisible Gorilla test demonstates this concept: Half of all viewers to the video say they cannot spot the gorilla.

Native advertising and brand storytelling has the ability to reframe the conversation about your brand when a trusted 3rd party produces the story. With the glut of content out there, producing the same type of advertising that your consumers have already grown accustomed to see will not change their beliefs about your brand.

Challenging Beliefs

The Wall Street Journal’s latest sponsored story, Cocainenomics, with Netflix for the Narcos series shows how beliefs can be challenged. If it weren’t for Netflix, you probably wouldn’t have seen a story about drug trafficking in this much detail on the WSJ, but the WSJ Custom Studios team was able to tie economics and politics into a story that made sense for their audience.


Studies have shown that once consumers have processed conflicting views and overcome their confirmation bias, this can lead to reduced prejudice and increased creative thinking. The Narcos series is more than a show Netflix wants its viewers to binge watch, it is supposed to challenge people’s views about a famous drug trafficker and how he altered international policy. The only way Netflix could present this new information to its target audience was through an ad format that, in of itself, is challenging the way advertising is created and delivered.

We are seeing slow but steady adoption for the sponsored story format from outlets like the New York Times to the Atlantic to smaller bloggers as brands understand the power of these publications to get their brand in front of their target audience.

In addition, by utilizing a well known voice, a known perspective and an understood opinion, sponsored stories can redirect some brands into a positive confirmation bias trajectory, possibly even changing hardened opinions. Don’t be surprised then if you see more sponsored storytelling especially from those brands that rely on a deep emotional response like Narcos.

This story first appeared on the Native Advertising Institute blog.