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RESEARCH INSIGHT | How Marketers Can Make Better Decisions by Avoiding the False Consensus Effect

The Research

Marketers frequently project their personal preferences onto consumers, commonly known as the “false consensus effect” (FCE). Can the FCE be consciously suppressed? The effectiveness of this tactic depends on marketers’ level of preference certainty, that is, the extent to which their personal preferences are clear and held with conviction. Suppressing personal preferences was highly effective and reliably reduced the FCE for high levels of preference certainty. However, for low certainty levels, the tactic backfired and increased the FCE. The latter finding is particularly important from a managerial point of view, because marketers frequently predict consumer reactions to novel stimuli (e.g., new products or new technologies)—a situation known to result in lower levels of preference certainty. Marketers following this advice were also able to predict the preferences of their target consumers more accurately—their prediction errors decreased by more than 50%.

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What You Need to Know

  • More than 70% of marketers project their personal preferences onto consumers—a bias called “false consensus effect.”
  • Mitigating the false consensus effect can reduce marketers’ prediction errors by more than 50%.
  • However, attempts to avoid the false consensus effect can backfire and increase this bias when their preferences are vague and not well-defined (e.g., when marketers predict consumer preferences for novel products or technologies).


This research explores how marketers can avoid the so-called “false consensus effect”—the egocentric tendency to project personal preferences onto consumers. Two pilot studies show that most marketers have a surprisingly strong lay intuition about the existence of this inference bias, admit that they are frequently affected by it, and try to avoid it when predicting consumers preferences. Moreover, the pilot studies indicate that most marketers use a very natural and straightforward approach to avoid the false consensus effect in practice, that is, they simply try to “suppress” (i.e., ignore) their personal preferences when predicting consumer preferences. Ironically, four subsequent studies show that this frequently used tactic can backfire and increase marketers’ susceptibility to the false consensus effect. Specifically, the results suggest that these backfire effects are most likely to occur for marketers with a low level of preference certainty. In contrast, the results imply that preference suppression does not backfire but instead decreases the false consensus effect for marketers with a high level of preference certainty. Finally, the studies explore the mechanism behind these results and show how marketers can ultimately avoid the false consensus effect—regardless of their level of preference certainty and without risking backfire effects.

Walter Herzog, Johannes D. Hattula, and Darren W. Dahl (2021), “Marketers Project Their Personal Preferences onto Consumers: Overcoming the Threat of Egocentric Decision Making,” Journal of Marketing Research, 58 (3),