I rarely watch commercial radio or TV because the frequent interruption by ads annoy me, but it is impossible to avoid advertisements these days since they are all over the internet, including this blog. I like to think that I am too sophisticated to be taken in by these pitches but it may be that advertisers are smarter than we are. For example, take a look at this ad.
It apparently resulted in a 10% increase in sales across the firm’s entire product range even though it did not show the product at all.
Robert George Heath says that this ad a classic example of the power of subconscious seduction, how our buying decisions are so strongly influenced by the emotive content of advertising. He says that this is quite different from subliminal advertising whose purported effectiveness does not hold up under closer scrutiny.
In fact, rather scarily, the vast majority of advertising’s influence on us is subconscious. My own research has shown how the emotive content of advertising enables it to break almost all the rules which we believe govern our own susceptibility to adverts.
For example, we believe that ignoring ads stops them working, oblivious of the fact that emotive content requires no attention at all in order to be effectively processed. We also think that if we can’t recall an advert’s message, we cannot have been influenced by it. However the truth is that emotional influence lodges deep in our subconscious and is almost impossible to recall.
Above all, we believe that our brand choices are logical, and driven by our rational thinking, whereas the greatest driver of brand decisions is actually our emotional predisposition.
Heath says that the reason lies in our brain’s limbic system that is the source of our basic instincts.
The limbic system works regardless of whether we are paying attention, and works at a far greater speed than our thoughts. And unfortunately for our consumer selves, it is the system that processes emotional stimulus.
So when we perceive an ad for a brand, we make an instant judgement of its emotional value and store this subconsciously as a marker for future reference. If the emotional value is positive (kind, warm, sexy, cool, successful and so on) we are subconsciously “conditioned” to invest the brand with this positivity. We are not aware this happens, which means we can’t argue against it. But when we come to making a decision involving the brand, we find ourselves “seduced” in favor of it, and provided there is no strong reason not to, we buy it.
Of course if someone then asks us why we bought it, we invent all sorts of rational reasons for ourselves to do with price, features, performance, of the item in question.
I was aware that this process of rationalization, of inventing plausible reasons for beliefs and opinions that were not arrived at rationally, goes on all the time. This is why it is so hard to change such beliefs, since we can always invent new reasons if the old ones are successfully challenged. As Jonathan Swift said, “You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place.”