Are autistic people immune to commercials? Or is it yet another stereotype of autistic people?

Kirsty Kendall

Marketing is based on psychology. Marketers aim to understand how consumers think and make decisions so they can sell us more products.

Does this psychology work for consumers with an autistic brain? Are autistic people immune to commercials?

There is research about how autistic people make purchase decisions compared to neurotypical people. The research suggests that autistic people make more consistent purchasing decisions than neurotypical people.

According to research, autistic people make more consistent purchasing decisions

In a study conducted in 2017, pairs of consumer products were presented to autistic and neurotypical participants. They were presented with a third, less desirable “decoy” option. The neurotypical participants’ preferences changed when the decoy object was switched. The autistic participants were less affected by the decoy object. Their choices were more consistent than the neurotypical participants’.

I think it’s important to notice that the decoy object was less desirable. When I think about it, I don’t see why a presence of a product I don’t want would affect my purchase decision. Yes, I’m autistic. But that doesn’t mean autistic people would always make rational purchase decisions.

What if the decoy product had been related to an autistic participant’s special interest? Then it would probably have affected their choice.

I, for instance, bought a “decoy” product when I was shopping snack bars. I bought a snack bar only because it had cute glitter unicorn wrapping. If it had been a regular snack bar with regular wrapping, I wouldn’t have bought it. I would have purchased the same snack bar I usually buy. But I happen to be obsessed with unicorns, so I couldn’t resist the unicorn snack bar.

I’m autistic, not color blind

Psychology Today claims: “People with autism are better than the rest of us at filtering out extraneous contextual information in order to make rational economic decisions. For them, the package color and the products it is surrounded by are irrelevant to whether or not they put it in their basket.”

That is not true! I’m autistic and the package color of the product is not irrelevant to me. We’re not color blind, you know? I made a very irrational purchase decision by buying a snack bar only because it had glitter unicorn wrapping.

Sure, it would be nice if I would only make rational economic decisions because I’m autistic. But that’s not the case.

According to Psychology Today, “…the autistic shopper focuses on what really matters: ingredients, price, and the necessity of even owning the product. Time and again they select the best product for their needs regardless of how it is displayed.”

They are basing their claim on the study conducted in 2017. But the result of the study was not that autistic people “select the best product for their needs regardless of how it is displayed”. The result was simply that autistic people’s decisions were less affected by a less desirable “decoy” product than neurotypical people’s decisions.

Most TV commercials don’t work for my autistic brain

So, I’m autistic and I’m not immune to package color. But I must admit I’m immune to most TV commercials.

I think it has something to do with my autism that TV commercials are so bad in my opinion. Most of them are so bad I wonder how are they supposed to make you want to buy the products. Yet the commercials must work for some people. Companies wouldn’t run the commercials if they didn’t make a profit with them.

Most commercials show groups of people hanging out and talking. This is not very appealing to me as an autistic person. The interaction of the people on commercials is so neurotypical I don’t relate to it at all.

Like most autistic people, I value honesty. I don’t like it when commercials lie to me. For example, there is this tomato paste commercial. The narrator of the commercial claims the protagonists are cooking pasta in their flat in Helsinki, Finland. But it’s obvious it’s not a Finnish commercial and it’s not filmed in Finland.

I don’t care if the couple lives in Finland or not, so why do they have to lie to me about it? Yeah, I know they are actors and the whole cooking scene is fake. But the product is real. If they lie about the location, it makes me wonder if they lie about the product too.

For me, little lies like that are so annoying I don’t even want to buy the product. When a commercial annoys me, because of lying or because the commercial is generally annoying, I don’t want the product.

Cute animals and singing vegetables on TV commercials make them more appealing to me

Good commercials are rare, but there are some commercials that appeal to me. For example, there is this funny wok vegetable commercial. There are no people in it. Instead, vegetables with faces sing a catchy song.

That commercial always makes me happy. If I happened to be looking for wok vegetables in a supermarket, I might remember the happy song and buy the wok vegetables made by this particular brand.

If there were more commercials with cute, singing vegetables and cute animals, TV commercials would be more appealing to me.

I’m not saying all autistic people would find singing vegetables and cute animals appealing. I can only speak for myself. I happen to like cute animals and cute everything, so cuteness appeals to me.

Autistic people are not immune to commercials, but commercials are not made for us

Research shows autistic people are less affected by undesirable decoy products than neurotypical people. This doesn’t mean autistic people would be immune to commercials.

Most commercials are not appealing to autistic people because they were not made for us. They were made for neurotypical consumers with neurotypical brains.

Human actors having annoying conversations don’t make me want to buy anything. Not that I would want to be tempted to buy stuff I don’t need.

I think autistic people are less likely to buy something because they see other people using the product on TV. The commercials portray neurotypical people living their neurotypical lives. I don’t relate to these people or their lifestyles. So, I get the message that the product they’re trying to sell is not for me. It’s for the middle-class neurotypical people these commercials are targeting.

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MA in literature. Writer, unicorn lover, snail mom. I write about unicorns, animals, home and living, and other intriguing topics.

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