Essay: Sensory Thresholds

Have you ever blown a dog whistle and watched pets respond to a sound you cannot hear, that happens because the sound emitted is too low to be detected by human ears so in this case the stimulus is below our auditory absolute threshold but not below the dog’s absolute threshold. There are some stimuli that people simply are not capable of perceiving. Some people are better able to perceive things than are others. The science that focuses on how the physical environment is integrated into our personal, subjective world is known as psychophysics. By understanding some of the physical laws; Pavlov law, that govern what we are capable of responding to, this knowledge can be translated into marketing strategies.
The stimulus is classified using the mental concepts and categories stored in memory. How a stimulus is categorized is important because the particular mental categories to which a stimulus is assigned affect the opinions formed about the stimulus.
Absolute Threshold
Marketing stimuli must reach the absolute threshold if they are to affect consumers. The absolute threshold may increase for physiological reasons, such as increasing age. Physiological factors may reduce the likelihood of some persons receiving sensory input. Thus, younger people tend to be more sensitive to olfactory sensations than elderly people. The absolute threshold also varies with demographic factors. One Analyst estimates that people are exposed to about 5,000 ads every day. It is impossible for a person to pay attention to all these stimuli. Consumers adapt to this sensory environment in part by “distending”, by applying perceptual filters to screen out most of the information to which they are exposed ‘ meaning that marketers have to work especially hard to attract the consumer’s attention.
Absolute threshold is the smallest level of energy required by an external stimulus to be detectable by the human senses, including vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch. It is more precisely defined as the degree of intensity of a stimulus necessary to correctly detect that stimulus 50% of the time. Stimuli at or above the absolute threshold – those that can be detected – are called supraliminal.

The absolute threshold is an important consideration in designing marketing stimuli.
Since we use our senses the entire time, absolute threshold plays a part in everything we do. Here are examples of absolute threshold for each of the five senses:

Sense Threshold

Vision A candle flame 30miles away
Hearing A watch ticking 20 feet away
Smell A drop of perfume in a six-room house
Taste A teaspoon of sugar in a gallon of water
Touch A wing of a fly on your cheek, dropped 1cm

In an effort to cut through the advertising clutter and ensure that the consumers realize what they are seeing and make them actually notice the advert in front of them, marketers try to increase sensory input for example; Apple computer once
Bought all the advertising space in an issue of Newsweek magazine to ensure that readers would note its ads. From time to time various advertisers have taken all of the bus cards on certain bus routes to advertise their products ensuring that who ever is on that bus will be exposed to the ad.
Other advertisers try to attract attention by decreasing sensory input for example some print ads include a lot of empty space in order to accentuate the brand name or product illustration and some TV ads use silence the absence of audio sound to generate attention.

Differential Threshold

Weber’s Law states that the change in stimulus that will be just apparent is a permanent quota of the rudimentary. It has been shown not to hold for extremes of stimulation

Another important sensory threshold is the just noticeable difference (JND), or differential threshold. This conveys the idea of the minimum change in sensation necessary for a person to detect it. Note that JND differs from “absolute threshold” in that the former focuses on changes in sensations, not minimum sensation.

Any unfamiliar touch or change in touch e.g. from gentle to stinging. Sends the brain into an outbreak of activity. However, an additional dose of stimulus at the same level results in a much lower level of excitation of sensory preceptors. To explain this phenomenon, a theorem known as Weber’s Law states that the stronger the initial sensory stimulus, the greater the additional intensity needed for the second stimulus to be perceived as different. A corollary of this theorem is that an additional level of stimulus equivalent to the JND must be added for the majority of people to perceive a difference between the resulting stimulus and the initial stimulus.

The most important implication of Weber’s Law for marketers is the necessity of determining the JND to optimize any changes in the marketing mix. Sometimes it will be optimal to introduce stimuli or changes in the marketing mix that are equal to the JND. In this case, the challenge for marketers is to determine the amount of change necessary in a given component of the marketing mix, in particular marketing environments for particular market segments. Change less that the JND is wasted because it is not perceived. According to Weber’s Law, the level of a just noticeable difference will depend on the strength of the initial stimulus. Sometimes a marketer’s objective is to change the product without the consumer noticing. In this case, the key is to stay just below a noticeable difference.
Often, firms want to introduce changes in products and services that are not readily perceptible to customers, but save the firm money or else alter the brand e.g., devaluation in product size, changes in package design.
The strategy of downsizing the package or decreasing contents is a popular way of enforcing price increases. Packaged-goods marketers frequently change the package design but usually do so in small stages. As a result, consumers often do not notice these illusive changes in package design, color, or wording.

Subliminal Perception
Interestingly, although most marketers worry about whether their offers will be perceived at all, some consumers worry that they will be affected by marketing messages without even knowing it. The concept of the perceptual threshold is important for another phenomenon ‘ subliminal perception. Suppose we are sitting at a movie and are exposed in this case through a ‘subliminal advertisement’. In 1957 a researcher announced that he had flashed the phrases ‘Eat Popcorn’ and ‘Drink Coca-Cola’ on the theater screen every 5seconds for 1/300th of a second.
Numerous studies by psychologists and consumers researchers have found no link between subliminal messages and consumer behavior. It appears that subliminal advertising simply doesn’t have the power attributed to it by it’s critics. Such stimuli have found that these ads. Won’t arouse motives like hunger, nor the subliminally presented sexual stimuli affect consumer’s attitudes or preferences.

Source: Essay UK -

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