Consumer Perception Matters. Inkblot Analytics Shows How Perceptual Attitudes are Important Consideration in Market Research

Consumer perception matters. Some of the biggest fails in modern marketing are the result of a poor understanding of consumer perceptions. Think about Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad, which drew a massive amount of criticism in 2017. While Pepsi acknowledged that it was trying to execute on a message of “unity, peace, and understanding,” they failed to ask themselves how their consumers would perceive the ad.


Some consumers saw it as a tone-deaf trivialization of the Black Lives Matter movement. Others saw it as being anti-law-enforcement. No matter who you ask, most consumers perceived it to be inauthentic and offensive, and went to social media to tell Pepsi how they felt.


Situations like this teach us a few things. For one, ads should always be tested before being put into market. Secondly, these ads need to be tested in a way that focuses on the number of ways consumers can perceive the ad. Lastly, the number of ways consumers can perceive an ad depends on the types of perceptual attitudes consumers have.

What is a Perceptual Attitude?

A perceptual attitude is a “personal outlook on the world” (Klein, 1951, p. 331) that is “the flavor of an act of perceiving, the organizing theme, or leitmotiv of perceptual sensitivity” (Klein, 1951, p.333). This personal outlook is regulative in the sense that it helps organize incoming perceptual stimuli by determining what should and should not be ignored. 

For example, two opposing perceptual attitudes are “levelers” and “sharpeners.” In the former, individuals focus on the details, while in the latter, individuals focus on the bigger picture. Strategically, how a brand executes on the message in their ads should depend, in part, on the whether your target audience is predominantly Levelers or Sharpeners.

For example, if your audience is predominantly sharpeners, they are more likely to take the ad literally, focusing on the details. Running Pepsi’s ad through our Brand Blots technique helps show that sharpeners focused more on the details of the ad and how they were incongruous with reality. For example, everyone protesting in the ad was having fun. This was not the case with the Black Lives Matter protests at that time, where stories were being written about the clashes between protesters and police. You can even find social data that illustrates how “sharpeners” felt:


Levelers are more likely to focus on the big picture—the core message in the ad. By using our proprietary Brand Blots technique, we were able to show that levelers’ focus on the main message was also perceived negatively. Take these examples from social media:


By testing this ad, we would have been able to determine how different perceptual attitudes perceive this ad. Since both sharpeners and levelers saw both the details and the big picture as negative, a recommendation would have been made to change aspects of the creative execution.

What are Some Types of Perceptual Attitudes?

In addition to “Levelers” and “Sharpeners” there are two other prominent types of perceptual attitudes: (1) Instability tolerance versus instability resistance, and (2) Physiognomic perceivers versus Literal perceivers.

Instability tolerant versus instability resistant applies to discrepancies between what we perceive and what we know to be true. Those who are “tolerant” have an easier time accepting this discrepancy and living with it, whereas those who are “resistant” must “smooth” over the discrepancy. This is often activated with discrepancies between advertising claims and personal experience. If a brand claims to be the detergent that “cleans the cleanest,” but this product failed to work for you the other day, then those who are instability resistant might discount the brand and never purchase them again because they cannot trust the claims they make.

Physiognomic perceivers versus Literal perceivers deal differently with the fact that percepts are often projected as having emotional or expressive qualities. For example, seeing a flickering flame can be interpreted and described as “dancing.” Similar attributions are made to colors used in branding, often times being ascribed an emotional value. For example, most insurance companies have blue logos because blue is said to be a “trusting” color. Physiognomic perceivers see their world in such emotional terms, ascribing emotional qualities to the things they perceive. On the other hand, literal perceivers take their percepts literally.

These two perceptual attitudes can have a direct effect on the way ads are interpreted and judged. For example, consider the following ad:


Showing a visual metaphor might be understood and interpreted quickly by a Physiognomic perceivers, whereas a Literal perceiver might not know how to make sense of it at first. This is important since we have a very short period of time to catch the attention of a consumer. If the consumer is not able to comprehend the ad in the first few seconds, they are not likely to watch or retain any of the information.

How Are Perceptual Attitudes Used in Market Research?

Not many firms today use perceptual attitudes in their research—Inkblot Analytics does. At Inkblot Analytics we know that the perceptual attitudes consumer have can greatly affect how your brand is seen.

How Does Inkblot Analytics Measure Perceptual Attitudes?

In this article, we’ve reviewed some of the more well-established perceptual attitudes. However, in our research, we have begun to identify other perceptual attitudes that greatly affect behavior in the context of consumption. To isolate these perceptual attitudes, we use our proprietary Brand Blot technique. This technique, developed with a similar intent to the traditional Rorschach inkblot test, provides the consumer with an ambiguous stimulus and allows the consumer to project into the brand blots. Through careful analysis by hand coders and by our proprietary algorithm, we’re able to identify the attitudes that are affecting the way consumers see your brand.

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