Conventional wisdom tells us that experience is the best teacher. But a new study of virtual marketing strategies finds that this isn't always true. Ann E. Schlosser (University of Washington) tested how well people used a camera after learning about its functions two different ways: either through an interactive virtual rendition or through text and static pictures. She found that though virtual experiences improved people's memories of the camera's functions, it also increased false positives – that is, more people believed it could do things that it couldn't do.
"Although object interactivity may improve memory of associations compared to static pictures and text, it may lead to the creation of vivid internally-generated recollections that pose as memories," Schlosser writes in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
In addition, though the virtual experience was better for retaining information, it didn't help test subjects recognize the actual items when presented in real life: "The benefits of learning via virtual experience may come with costs: the ease of generating mental images may create later confusion regarding whether a retrieved mental image was perceived or imagined," she writes.
Schlosser also warns that while it might seem advantageous if consumers think a product has features it doesn't actually have, this can actually lead to customer dissatisfaction. She explains, "Consumers who discover that the product does not have these attributes will likely feel misled by the company."
Ann E. Schlosser, "Learning Through Virtual Product Experience: The Role of Imagery on True Versus False Memories." Journal of Consumer Research: December 2006.
Journal of Consumer Research