Professors Dina Mayzlin and Jiwoong Shin have identified ways in which advertising that is deliberately devoid of any attribute information can (sometimes) help to promote sales.
This can happen, according to the researchers, because consumers seeing the uninformative ads are encouraged to search via the internet to find the crucial missing info. Thus the consumer is “active”, and can dig up reassuring positive information about the product on offer.
To consolidate their conjecture, the authors perform a series of highly complex Bayesian equilibria analyses based around theoretical informative and non-informative ads – revealing the strategic benefits of under-informing consumers.
And in the real world, many companies are already reaping the advantages of under-informing – the authors cite the series of purposefully uninformative ads for Microsoft’s Windows Vista® as an example.
“While most of the previous literature has focused on the decision to advertise (the mere fact that the firm is willing to burn its money) as a signal of quality, we show that message content, coupled with consumer search, can also serve as a credible signal of quality.”
Uninformative Advertising as an Invitation to Search is published in the journal Marketing Science, July 2011 vol. 30, no. 4 666-685. (And can also be found in full here)
BONUS Quote attributed to John Wanamaker, considered by some to be the father of modern advertising :
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”