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Imagine this scenario: you go a supermarket in order to buy a snack. You enter the place, look for the appropriate aisle and then and see what the offers are. You see that there’s a very good promotion for a new snack that is placed between baby diapers and cat litter. What’s your evaluation of that new snack?

Probably not a good one. Even without trying it. The culprit: poor product placement.

We humans tend to transfer qualities, or faults, of an object to others that are in direct contact with it. That’s why celebrity endorsements are so effective: we transfer the positive image and qualities of celebrities to the products they endorse.

While this effect can be manipulated, it can also happen spontaneously like in the supermarket scenario I described above. The negative images associated with cat litter and baby diapers are transferred to the snack making it less appealable to potential consumers. It’s important to note that we’re not talking about potential cases of real contagion, when for instance a bag of cat litter is ripen and some of its content spilled over the snacks.

This is an effect mainly due to perceptual and psychological transfer, without real contact between products. And the contagion effect is more powerful when visual clues, like transparent packaging, are present and permit to imagine the contact between the two products.

The lesson to gain from this to marketers is: carefully study where your products are placed. Even when there’s no real danger of contagion, people’s perception is king. If consumers can imagine a contagion between a certain product and yours, make sure it’s a positive one or your sales will suffer.