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Reason to Believe or Reason to Not Doubt? A Behavioral Science Perspective on Brand Communication

February 11, 2015

In branding and, more specifically, brand communication there is the concept of reason to believe.


In a nutshell, reason to believe is the argument supporting a (the) claim made by a brand.


For example, a product line from the cosmetics brand Nivea claims to help women to prevent / reduce wrinkles. This sub-brand is Nivea Q10 or Nivea Q10 Plus.


The claim of helping with wrinkles is supported by the argument (reason to believe) that these cosmetic products have the Coenzyme Q10.



If we see people (consumers) as rational agents, the marketing / branding communication endeavor should go as follows:


The brand makes a claim – promises a benefit for the consumer. In the example above this is dealing with wrinkles.


Next, the brand backs this claim with a very strong (rational) argument:


The brand helps you with wrinkles because it contains the Coenzyme Q10.


It is (more or less) assumed that the consumers know what Coenzyme Q10 does and acknowledges its benefits.


In behavioral science jargon, this communication endeavor is focused on convincing System 2 that the brand claim (promise) is genuine and supported by strong arguments.


At first glance and holding in mind an idealistic view of human nature, this logic makes sense. Our consumers are rational agents and we (the marketers) need to convince them that what we promise will actually happen to them.


Nonetheless, this is (almost) completely wrong.


We know that people have two systems of judgment, quite unappealingly named System 1 and System 2.  We also know that the default way of reasoning is System 1 which is based on relatively simplistic rules of judgment (heuristics). System 2 is the number crunching, rational arguments and effortful reasoning way in which we process information. And System 2 is called “2” because it is the secondary judgment system. To put things simply, it needs to be activated.


What is often ignored in presentations, talks, books etc. on System 1 and System 2 thinking is how these judgment modes interact. I will not develop the topic here (I did it in my book It Makes (No) Sense).


What is relevant for this post, is that System 1 and 2 work together in detecting serious anomalies in the information processed. They work like a smoke detector. If things are within tolerable boundaries, nothing special happens. However, when there is smoke, the alarm is activated and System 2 starts checking for problems.


Going back to branding communication,