Cognitive Dissonance in Marketing: Definition and Examples

Updated March 10, 2023

Cognitive dissonance is an internal conflict that people have when their differing beliefs and opinions collide. A marketer who can resolve such conflicts may help consumers choose their brand's products. If you're a marketer, understanding cognitive dissonance can be a significant factor in helping you create effective brand messaging. In this article, we discuss what cognitive dissonance is, how it applies to marketing and ways a marketer can use cognitive dissonance in marketing campaigns, including examples.

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What is cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is when two ideas or beliefs conflict. When cognitive dissonance arises, people usually want to resolve the conflict. In many instances, people can resolve these conflicted feelings by themselves.

Here are the primary kinds of cognitive dissonance:

  • A logical and internal inconsistency

  • A conflict between a person's attitude and their behavior

  • A strongly held belief that proves false

Cognitive dissonance can occur in many situations. For example, perhaps you're a frugal person, but you want to buy an expensive new car. In this instance, the desire to save money conflicts with the desire to buy a new car. Similarly, someone might be a lifelong supporter of a sports team, but also like a player on a rival team.

Related: Learn About Being a Digital Marketing Manager

What is cognitive dissonance in marketing?

In marketing, cognitive dissonance relates to consumers' expectations, feelings about brands and internal logic when deciding to buy something. Marketers try to be aware of potential conflicts or expectations that might affect buying decisions. For a marketer, if cognitive dissonance involves purchasing their product, they typically want to resolve the conflict in favor of what they're trying to sell.

Related: 10 Common Careers in Marketing (Plus Salaries and Tips for Success)

How to resolve cognitive dissonance in marketing

Marketers can seek to resolve cognitive dissonance in consumers through a variety of strategies. Sometimes, those strategies involve resolving anxiety, boosting consumer confidence or differentiating their product from competitors' products. Here are five steps to using cognitive dissonance in marketing:

1. Encourage consumer beliefs

Appealing to a consumers' strongly held beliefs is one tactic that a marketer can use to overcome potential cognitive dissonance. By reinforcing an internal belief, a campaign can resolve potential challenges regarding consumer decisions. The belief could be one of self-image, such as appealing to a person's view of themselves as smart and then positioning a company's product as a suitable choice for a savvy consumer.

2. Use a consistent tone

If the tone of a marketing campaign is consistent with consumer expectations, it may have a positive effect on the customer. For example, if a brand typically uses a friendly, casual tone in its marketing materials, creating an upbeat advertising campaign may appeal to consumers and help them overcome any cognitive dissonance. Logos, colors and messaging can all contribute to the tone of a campaign.

3. Include relevant facts

Providing consumers with factual information that appeals to their beliefs is another way you can attempt to resolve cognitive dissonance. Testimonials, independent studies and the opinion of experts are all methods that a company can use in its marketing campaigns. This tactic appeals to the rational decision-making side of consumers and may convince them that a particular company's brand is the right choice.

4. Appeal to emotions

Marketers typically want consumers to have positive emotions associated with their products. They may also want to address any doubts or anxiety that consumers have. An emotional appeal can allow them to counter rational decision-making that might be an obstacle to a consumer's purchasing actions. For instance, a campaign might seek to make a consumer feel more positive about a product by highlighting its unique features. This may lead consumers to disregard feelings of anxiety over price and purchase the product.

Related: 20 Types of Emotional Appeals in Advertising

5. Solve a pain point

A pain point is something that might keep a consumer from making a decision. Usually, a pain point is some form of anxiety about a product, concerning issues like its price or longevity. Through research, marketers often learn what's preventing consumers from buying a certain product. Marketers can then attempt to solve those concerns through the brand's messaging.

Read more: Your Guide To Finding and Responding to Customer Pain Points

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Examples of cognitive dissonance in marketing

Here are five examples of cognitive dissonance in marketing:

1. University courses example

A university is expanding its online course options. The demographic that the university would like to appeal to is adults over the age of 45. This demographic is less comfortable with online education options and might not choose to enroll, even though they want to and it's easier than in-person options. The university focuses its marketing campaign on the ease of its technology, includes testimonials from people within the targeted age demographic and highlights the positive aspects of its online courses, like price and quality instructors.

2. Electric car example

A new, fully electric car appears on the market. Consumers are interested in buying the car, but they worry about how many miles they can get from the car. The car manufacturer creates a marketing campaign that seeks to address this anxiety by using studies to demonstrate how many miles the car can get.

3. Health care example

A home health care company has a choice of two potential marketing campaigns. One campaign has a humorous tone, while the other takes a more serious and sentimental tone about caring for loved ones. Each makes an emotional appeal, but the second is tonally consistent with consumer expectations. Using the second campaign allows the company to prevent cognitive dissonance from occurring in consumers because the campaign aligns with customers' brand expectations.

4. Self-image example

A company is going to release a new four-wheel drive, off-road vehicle. The company creates a marketing campaign that seeks to reinforce a person's self-image of themselves as adventurous. The campaign showcases the vehicle as the kind of product an adventurous person would own.

5. Athletic sneakers example

A shoe company's athletic sneakers cost slightly more than competitors' products on the market. This is because the company creates its sneakers using better materials and provides more color options. Consumers consider both price and quality when purchasing sneakers, so the shoe company creates a marketing campaign that emphasizes the quality differences to resolve any internal conflicts about high prices.

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