Marketing Faculty Publications and Presentations

Symbolic Sequence Effects on Consumers’ Judgments of Truth for Brand Claims

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We introduce symbolic sequence effects—the consequences of whether the sequence of the initial letters of a pair of words (e.g., a word representing a putative cause and another word representing a putative effect) conforms to the structure of symbolic sequences that are stored in the mind as overlearned natural language traces (“natural sequence”). We synthesize insights from psychophysics as well as numerical and natural language symbolic representations to demonstrate that consumers are able to unconsciously perceive the mere sequence of symbols contained in a brand claim, and that this sequence information influences judgments of truth. Across three experiments, we showed that when a brand claim is structured in a way that is consistent with the natural sequence of symbols (“A causes B” rather than “B causes A”), people experience feelings of sequential fluency, which in turn influences judgments of truth. This occurs despite the inability of participants to attribute the true source of the feelings. Our results suggest that carefully designed brand claims are likely to benefit from this natural sequencing. These findings provide important contributions to the literatures on processing fluency, branding, and advertising. These findings also have sobering societal implications and warn that fake news might be more persuasive if the perpetrators understand symbolic sequencing techniques.


© 2019 Society for Consumer Psychology

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Journal of Consumer Psychology