No.35 The Third Person Effect in Advertising

No.35 The Third Person Effect in Advertising

The third-person effect determines that we tend to perceive that mass media messages have a greater effect on others than on ourselves.

One of the most intriguing things about the psychology of persuasion is how many people claim that persuasion attempts have little or no effect on them.

What is the third person effect?

We all like to think we're immune to advertising. That we only buy what we need when we need it. With that in mind, we tend to presume that mass media marketing has no effect on us. But other people, oh sure, adverts, work on them! Not you and I, though, we’re too clever for that.

In other words, people are likely to be influenced more than they think on subjects that are currently of little or no interest to them.

The third person effect in action

An everyday example would be seeing an advert for a car, when you’re not in the market for a new car. We’d probably guess it has little or no influence on us, but this research suggests we’d be wrong.

Third person effect tactics

When it comes to communication with shoppers either in-store or online, there are a number of tactics we can employ.

  1. New for how long – put a ‘New’ message in a duty-free store and it will be effective for a year or more. Why? Because most shoppers only take one overseas trip per year, so just because a message seems too old-hat for your brand, what about for shoppers?
  2. Monkey see, monkey do – it’s a positive that so many shoppers say they aren’t influenced, when they are. So, you don’t have to come up with new activations all the time; the tried and tested stuff mostly still works, shoppers just don’t admit it.
  3. Belief is key – there’s nothing wrong with shoppers believing others will be influenced more than they are because, frankly, it’s not the case! We’re all influenced more than we think.

Once we acknowledge our own thought processes are flawed, we can then understand the power of advertising and messages of influence both in-store and online.

Third person effect is no.35 in a series of 36 cognitive bias insights.Check out no.36, Zero Risk Bias.

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

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Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

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