By Rex Hammock, CEO

Why do some people believe that wearing a mask during a global pandemic is ineffective? (Before you read on, let me disclose that I’m a mask-wearer who follows the recommendations of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).) Why doesn’t a mountain of scientific evidence convince people that smoking is harmful? Why do recommendations from the American Heart Association about weekly exercise not faze people, or why do guidelines from the CDC not convince parents of the necessity of vaccinations? Why do people still text while driving?

The answer to each of these questions is confirmation bias, which is the tendency to pay more attention to evidence that supports what you already believe. It’s a well-documented and common human failing that causes “rational people to buy into conspiracy theories.”

And it’s part of what causes the responses listed above.

You may recall a previous Idea Email that explored this topic. It was about the cognitive bias called the “backfire effect,” a phenomenon identified by political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. Their bottom line: No matter how false you show the other person’s information to be, the other person won’t be convinced.

“Giving people corrected information is often ineffective with the people whose minds we’d like to change, and in some cases it actually can make the problem worse,” Nyhan told NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam in 2014. “It’s much harder to change people’s minds than we might have thought.”


While the phenomenon is not fully understood, a leading theory on why people cling to long-held, yet incorrect, beliefs is that such beliefs contribute to our sense of who we are and can even be a factor in our self-esteem. So when someone presents us with facts disproving what we believe, we may subconsciously fight back against the new information because it damages something about our identity.

How to lessen the backfire effect in the context of marketing: Focus the narrative of your point of view on the aspirations of customers, not on comparisons that claim the technical features of your product are better than those of the competitor. Rather than accidentally triggering a customer’s subconscious need to defend what they currently believe, look for ways to ease their journey across a bridge to a new reality they can discover for themselves. Help them find their way to the truth, step-by-step, instead of bashing them over the head with it.

Image: Getty Images

About Hammock Healthcare Idea Email |
This post is part of Hammock’s award-winning Idea Email series. Idea Emails are sent every other week and share one insightful marketing idea. Idea Email comes in two flavors: Original and Healthcare. To subscribe to the original Idea Email (general marketing ideas), click here . To subscribe to the Healthcare Idea Email (healthcare marketing ideas), click here.