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During his reign in the 1700s, Frederick the Great of Prussia wanted to introduce the potato to his subjects as a secondary crop to wheat, and he initially went about it as kings do – by enforcing the order to plant potatoes. But there are few things stronger than resistance to new ideas. The peasantry refused to grow and eat them, declaring them unfit even for dogs. The infuriated monarch considered punishing these rebellious plebeians with amputation, but reconsidered in favour of reverse psychology. The potato was declared to be a royal crop, planted in the king’s private garden, and watched over by a troop of guards who were secretly instructed not to do their jobs too well.

Inevitably, the potato crop was stolen and soon an underground potato-growing operation was underway. As advertising man Rory Sutherland remarks in his TED talk, the potato had been rebranded to create consumer interest and eventual adoption.

Sutherland’s hilariously self-effacing talk contains many more gems like these, focusing on how intangible value is often a matter of perception, and how companies can use that to influence consumer behaviour.

A new angle

Sutherland cites the famous example of Diamond Shreddies and how the company marketed the square cereal as a diamond without altering the shape in any way, other than turning it on a 45 degree angle. Unbelievably, the campaign was a roaring success for Shreddies, resulting in a significant jump in sales. Focus groups even reported that the diamond shape made the Shreddies taste better. The power of perception is an immense one.

Further examples include Horlicks, which in the UK is marketed as an evening drink and is credited with aiding sleep. In India, it’s marketed as a morning drink and believed to aid concentration at school, so Indian mothers send their children to school with a flask of Horlicks. Similarly, Airbnb, having failed to take off in China on its first try, rebranded itself as “Aibiying” – which translates as “welcome each other with love” – and is intended to be easier to pronounce. In this case, a brand connected with its audience by understanding what was most relevant and emotionally affecting to users.

The companies that came up with these creative advertising campaigns carefully targeted them toward a specific audience. Your message should do the same.

The power of perception

The creation of intangible value has the power to make tangible change – either to the profit margin or international market of a company, or to effect powerful social change.

The best modern example of this would be Apple. Its laptop doesn’t perform most basic functions significantly better than its competitors; however, Apple doesn’t focus its marketing efforts on necessarily being better, but more on “doing business with people who believe what you believe.” Therefore, consumers perceive it as higher value, and are willing to pay higher prices for it. This intangible value is the result of years of clever marketing by Apple, which justifies the price in the mind of consumers.

Discount retailer Lidl has also harnessed the power of perception in its regional marketing, particularly in the UK. Its 2014-15 #LidlSurprises campaign has done much to raise the profile of the brand in the UK marketplace, where as recently as five years ago, big supermarkets like Tesco dominated and Lidl wasn’t perceived as high quality. Lidl decided to embrace it, and displayed banners in stores and online that expressed surprise from customers at the quality of their food. As a result, consumer perception of the quality of Lidl’s food has changed dramatically, and into 2016 the brand continued the theme of changing consumers’ perceptions about Lidl through a TV ad campaign which taps into consumer concern about buying local.

The ability to change perceptions is a truly powerful thing. The question is: how will you use it?

This guest post was written by Presentify, a Showpad partner organization.

Presentify is dedicated to driving business forward through presentation storytelling. Our unique presentification process offers a consultative, creative approach to visualising your company’s message and can really help your presentation material stand out from the crowd.

For more information, visit, email, or call 03330 116655.

Last update: May 16, 2017
The power of perception is an immense one.

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