Fast Logos Promote Fast Behavior

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If you have been doubting the ability of a logo to influence behavior, a recent scientific study may convince you. Researchers have found that a logo seen for just a few milliseconds can affect the way you and your consumers act and the type of financial decisions that you make. This study looked at the effect of a group of logos that are nearly ubiquitous in the United States: fast food logos.

You would expect a fast food logo to present speed, but they have a subtle effect on the customer’s mind as well. Fast food logos and other symbols actually increase how quickly customers act, including how fast they read. You don’t even have to see the logo design to be affected; the study found that merely thinking about fast food logos increases how quickly you react. More important, they increase the consumer’s preference for time saving products and cause them to choose immediate rewards over long term ones.

How did researchers make this determination? They asked students to stare at a computer screen and ignore a series of images flashing at the side. In some cases, these flashing images included the logos of popular fast food joints. The flashes were too fast for students to discern the images, and none of them consciously recalled what the images represented. The researchers then tested the students’ reading speed. Those who saw the fast food images were measurably faster.

In another trial, the students were subjected to the same series of flashing images and then asked to choose between two different products. Students who saw fast food images were more likely to choose products offering time efficient goods than ones offering higher quality or delayed gratification. If students first were asked to think about the last time they visited a fast food restaurant, they were even more likely to choose the immediate gratification.

There are two implications to this study. First, logos have a larger effect than even a graphic designer might have guessed. While a professional logo design is created with the aim of influencing customer preferences and behavior, few people would expect them to have this far reaching of an effect. Obviously it is more important to have a professional logo design than we ever could have thought, because a well designed logo will have subconscious effects that are difficult to measure but nonetheless quite powerful.

Second, fast food affects our culture more than we ever could have thought. If just viewing a logo out of the corner of your eye for a mere few seconds can cause you to make less financially sound decisions, how are we affected by seeing them almost constantly on every street corner and the commercials that fill our radio, television, and magazines? How do these images in combination with each other affect our behavior and our culture? Hopefully this study will encourage other behavioral scientists to examine how our commercial culture is affecting our behavior and how people can be encouraged to make good decisions in the midst of it.