Charities and not-for-profit organisations often use dissonance to encourage people to donate because it keys into their version of themselves as caring and contributing to the wellbeing of society


Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term used to describe the conflict and anxiety that can arise when we have contradictory views, thoughts, or ideas, and how we try to resolve the psychological tension [1]. For example, if I am a vegetarian and believe eating meat is unhealthy, eating meat creates dissonance. Similarly, if I think it is important to reduce my carbon footprint and want to purchase an electric car, however, I am concerned about the price and how it will manage over long distances. I may experience dissonance between my belief in reducing my carbon footprint and the economics of purchasing an electric vehicle.


In marketing, the outcome of this cognitive dissonance is often seen in several consumer behaviours. For example;


This is perhaps the most common cognitive dissonance customers experience. It is the feelings of guilt and uncertainty that can arise when a customer, who is usually frugal purchases an expensive item [2]. How we manage buyer's remorse can significantly impact how people view our brand and company. As mentioned in a previous article, if people feel they have been sold to and are not provided with the opportunity to express their remorse, then credibility and trust in our organisation are destroyed.


Customers use other ways to resolve conflict between their attitudes and behaviour. For example, they may

  • Ignore or discredit any new information we try to provide.
  • Pretend the new or contradictory information does not exist.
  • Recommit to their core beliefs; or
  • Accept conflicting information but try to live with it by rationalising it [3].

How people have responded to COVID provides examples of the other ways people have tried to resolve the dissonance between what they currently believe and the new information arising from COVID.


In marketing, cognitive dissonance is about customers' expectations and feelings about brands and their internal logic when buying something [4]. One common area where this shows up is the rivalry between Android and IOS, which often creates a conflict for consumers around buying the best software [5].

Marketers need to be aware of potential conflicts or expectations that might affect buying decisions and reduce cognitive dissonance for our customers. This is particularly true when we are marketing products that may have high sales points, either in terms of the cost of the product or service or the amount of time the potential customer will have to invest in the product or service.

When we sell products that have high value in either cost or time, potential customers will be more anxious around these three questions.

  1. Do I really want this?
  2. Do I really need this?
  3. Am I paying too much for this?

In the example of a frugal person in their expenditure, and then purchases something expensive. If, after the purchase, they revert to their core beliefs about being frugal, they may try to return the product because they feel they do not need the product and are paying too much for it.


There are several ways we can avoid cognitive dissonance in our marketing strategies.


If we want customers to believe what we say, we must be consistent in what we are saying, and what we say should be based on reasonable facts. When customers pick up an inconsistency in our messaging or do not believe what we say, it creates room for dissonance and doubt.

When we ensure that the facts and tone of our messaging align with the customers' beliefs, there is less dissonance. This is important when we are trying to market lifestyle products or tonics that may assist in keeping a person healthy. There is more chance of dissonance with the customer being skeptical unless we can align the product with the person's belief about themselves as being proactive about their health.


An emotional appeal has its place in marketing; however, the more emotion is appealed to, the greater the possibility for dissonance and doubt in the customer's mind. It is important when using emotion to concentrate on the positive feelings the product or service provides.

One way to think about this is, what solution does your product or service provide?

Generally, people purchase solutions to their problems, whether that is a product or a service. The clearer we are about the solution we provide, the easier it is to focus on the positive emotions arising from the solution.


The pain point often has to do with the price or durability of the product. When the price is high, people expect the product to be durable and last.

In 1973, L'Oreal marketed an expensive hair dye with the tagline "because I'm worth it". This was revolutionary at the time as it spoke to women's choice and sense of worth despite the expense.

This is one example where the product, being hair dye, was not durable in the sense of lasting for years, but the potential pain point of price was addressed in the tag line with the clever use of emotion and sense of worth.

While it is essential to reduce dissonance as much as possible and act ethically when marketing, it is equally important to remember that dissonance can be used in beneficial ways. For example, creating dissonance between the current version of you and the healthy version that eats well and exercises regularly is used by health products and gyms to encourage people to exercise more and live in more healthy ways. Likewise, charities and not-for-profit organisations often use dissonance to encourage people to donate because it keys into their version of themselves as caring and contributing to the wellbeing of society [6].

We all experience dissonance; it is about recognising it when we are customers and deciding how we will respond to the dissonance to create a difference. As marketers and business owners, it is about recognising how we can use dissonance in ethical and effective ways to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty for our customers and build an effective marketing and customer engagement strategy.