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Advertising as a Distortion of Social Learning

  • Brekke Kjell Arne


    (Ragnar Frisch Centre of Economic Research and Department of Economics, University of Oslo)

  • Rege Mari


    (University of Stavanger)

By combining a theory of herding behavior with the phenomenon of availability heuristic, this paper shows that non-informative advertisements can affect people's choices by influencing their perception of product quality. We present a model in which people can learn about product quality by observing the choices of others. Consumers are, however, not able to fully distinguish between the observations of real people and fictitious characters in advertisements. Even if a person is aware of this limitation and updates his beliefs accordingly, it is still rational for him to choose the product he has observed most often. In equilibrium the most observed product is always most likely to be of the highest quality. The analysis has important policy implications.

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Article provided by De Gruyter in its journal The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics.

Volume (Year): 7 (2007)
Issue (Month): 1 (October)
Pages: 1-18

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Handle: RePEc:bpj:bejtec:v:7:y:2007:i:1:n:38
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  1. Nelson, Philip, 1974. "Advertising as Information," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(4), pages 729-54, July/Aug..
  2. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 2010. "A theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom and cultural change as informational Cascades," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1193, David K. Levine.
  3. Kwoka, John E, Jr, 1984. "Advertising and the Price and Quality of Optometric Services," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(1), pages 211-16, March.
  4. Anderson, Lisa R & Holt, Charles A, 1997. "Information Cascades in the Laboratory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(5), pages 847-62, December.
  5. Chan, Yuk-Shee & Leland, Hayne, 1982. "Prices and Qualities in Markets with Costly Information," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(4), pages 499-516, October.
  6. Kihlstrom, Richard E & Riordan, Michael H, 1984. "Advertising as a Signal," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 92(3), pages 427-50, June.
  7. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:107:y:1992:i:3:p:797-817 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. Paul R. Milgrom & John Roberts, 1984. "Price and Advertising Signals of Product Quality," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 709, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  9. Albrecht, James & Lang, Harald & Vroman, Susan, 2002. "The effect of information on the well-being of the uninformed: what's the chance of getting a decent meal in an unfamiliar city?," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 20(2), pages 139-162, February.
  10. Klein, Benjamin & Leffler, Keith B, 1981. "The Role of Market Forces in Assuring Contractual Performance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(4), pages 615-41, August.
  11. Kyle Bagwell & Michael Riordan, 1988. "High and Declining Prices Signal Product Quality," Discussion Papers 808, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  12. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 1998. "Learning from the Behavior of Others: Conformity, Fads, and Informational Cascades," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(3), pages 151-170, Summer.
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