- Global and Strategic Marketing Research Centre
Imagine a long-standing producer of sauces and condiments announcing a chocolate mayonnaise. Now imagine a European brewery known for its pilsners to launch a beer brewed with frozen pizza and banknotes. How about a discount supermarket chain releasing a collection of designer sneakers, or a leading fast-food chain selling burger-scented candles? Did that make you curious?
All these examples are indeed real cases of brands announcing new products on social media. With the increasing importance of digital marketing channels, brands such as Heinz, Lidl and McDonald's are taking more drastic measures to stand out from the competition and generate brand engagement (i.e. the liking, commenting, or sharing of posts on social media). Producers of fast-moving consumer goods, in particular, are struggling to catch consumers’ interest.
But are announcements of such “weird” products the way to trigger consumers' curiosity? Prior research identifies three main triggers of curiosity: information gaps, ambiguity, and novelty. So, announcing a novel product that does not fit into the current product line-up of a brand may be a way to intrigue and engage consumers. However, the existing branding literature suggests that consumers react negatively towards such unusual new products, as they do not align with existing brand schemas.
We set out to examine how consumers react to announcements of incongruent new products on social media.
In a set of three experimental studies, we presented consumers with fictitious and real product announcements that were posted on Twitter. We then asked consumers to indicate their attitudes towards the products, how curious they were about the products, and their likeliness to engage with the post on social media.
The results consistently showed that the less congruent new products (e.g. ketchup caviar or a doughnut flavoured beer) triggered consumers’ curiosity more than their more congruent counterparts (e.g. organic ketchup or a dark version of a lager beer). Interestingly, social media posts about unusual new products also generated higher levels of engagement—with consumers willing to like or share the posts regardless of their attitudes towards the products.
We also found that announcements of “weird” new products may not always drive the same outcomes. Specifically, we identified differences based on the background of a brand.
If a brand is more traditional and has a track record of launching congruent new products, the introduction of a more unusual new product may be a double-edged sword. While consumers may be more curious about the new product and show higher levels of brand engagement, product attitudes may suffer - at least in the short run.
In contrast, brand managers of non-traditional brands may be advised to stick to their brand’s essence and continue to release products that are different from other products in the category. Such an approach would not only increase brand engagement and curiosity for a non-traditional brand, but it would also be unlikely to harm consumers' perceptions of the new products.
Companies should consider whether they are positioned as a more traditional brand or not before launching quirkier products within a product range.
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