Product Choice: Are You Paying Attention? - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #218

Product Choice: Are You Paying Attention?

This is one of our free-to-access content pieces. To gain access to all Ideas for Leaders content please Log In Here or if you are not already a Subscriber then Subscribe Here.
Main Image
Main Image


Product choice is linked to the amount of prior attention or conversely, inattention, that we give to something before encountering it again at a later date, when we either choose or reject it. Leaders should ask themselves what their organization can do to guard against the risks of its brand or products being overlooked.


When we choose products, it is easy to assume we are doing so because of the benefits – or perceived benefits – they offer us. Whether it is the newest generation smartphone, our safe and reliable family car, or our favourite wine, do we not base our choices on the value a particular product holds for us? Or is it the case that we have simply focused our attention on that product at an earlier time, or indeed many times?

Recent research suggests that before we decide what we like about a product, we make selections based on sources of preference, which are independent of perceptions of benefits. Before you have even had time to say “I want that one”, your brain has been whirring away, processing the myriad images it has seen way before you arrived at the decision-making process.

Have we seen something before, and how much have we seen it? By noticing a particular product, the neurons or ‘chips’ in our brains have primed us automatically to prefer what we have seen to other competing products. In our ‘mind’s eye’, we have processed our preference, so that when we come across the product again, we choose it because of that subconscious processing. We have already noticed it, and confirmed its relevance to our needs. It explains why, for example, one might always prefer Coke to Pepsi (or vice versa) because the neural memory makes one ‘see’ the Coke can and ‘fail to see’ everything else.

This hypothesis was borne out by an experiment that was conducted as part of the research. Various unfamiliar brands of cheese, shampoo, and chocolate were presented to consumers and they were asked to locate a specific brand in a display of competing products. When they were later asked to select, more people chose the brand that their attention had been focused on during the sorting task. The effect was even noticeable where there were many competing items, suggesting that a more confusing visual environment only makes for a stronger selection effect in the future.


Given the power of visual stimuli to attract our attention, companies need to be aware of the opportunities to influence buyers by repeatedly grabbing that attention. Whether it is banner advertising, eye-catching vouchers, online promotions, or visually stimulating packaging, your products need to stand out against the competition.

When a consumer is looking for a particular product in a shelf display, all other products around it receive ‘inattention’. Your objective should be to create a strong and eye-catching impression in the minds of your customers, and not have your product subsumed by the brand power of competing products.

Challenge your marketing director to create brand distinction in the marketplace. Are you playing second fiddle to more established brands? Is your advertising original and innovative or are you apeing your competitors? Differentiate your brand by promoting it in places where it does not compete with stronger brands. 



The Influence of Selective Attention and Inattention to Products on Subsequent Choice, Janiszewski. C, Kuo. A, Tavassoli. N, Journal of Consumer Research, pp. 1258-1274 DOI: 10.1086/668234

Ideas for Leaders is a free-to-access site. If you enjoy our content and find it valuable, please consider subscribing to our Developing Leaders Quarterly publication, this presents academic, business and consultant perspectives on leadership issues in a beautifully produced, small volume delivered to your desk four times a year.


Idea conceived

April 1, 2013

Idea posted

Sep 2013
challenge block
Can't find the Idea you are after?
Then 'Challenge Us' to source it.


For the less than the price of a coffee a week you can read over 650 summaries of research that cost universities over $1 billion to produce.

Use our Ideas to:

  • Catalyse conversations with mentors, mentees, peers and colleagues.
  • Keep program participants engaged with leadership thinking when they return to their workplace.
  • Create a common language amongst your colleagues on leadership and management practice
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest thought-leadership from the world’s leading business schools.
  • Drill-down on the original research or even contact the researchers directly

Speak to us on how else you can leverage this content to benefit your organization.