Recent research in neuroscience allows us to understand why we behave the way we do to a much deeper level than ever before. It sheds light on a whole unconscious world that exerts a huge influence on our actions, as well as on our conscious reasoning. There is a growing body of work written about the workings of the brain, but it is diverse, fragmented and often alienatingly scientific, which means it largely eludes the day-to-day of marketing1. Although some neuroscience is trickling into marketing, it tends mostly to be used in an advertising research context2. However, there are broader implications for marketing from modern brain knowledge than just how we research.
This paper attempts to pull together diverse research from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, the psychology of judgment and decision-making and communications theory to create a coherent picture of the brain's working, in the most pertinent way for marketers. It explains the brain's emotional management system and the way it effects decision-making, sensory interpretation and memory. It then explores the implications for marketing, before looking at how we might alter our approach, based on the way the brain actually works.
The overall picture that emerges is one which highlights the importance of emotions to brain functions: suggesting we shift from our rational approach to marketing, instead adopting an emotional response-led approach.
THE WORKING OF THE BRAIN
Society has placed its belief in rational thought as superior to emotions since Pythagoras3, although it was Descartes who cemented this belief into a model of how the brain works4. Descartes claimed a separation between rational and emotional thought, with rational thought responsible for higher-level control of our actions. Although Descartes' model has long been discredited, his view of the brain still lingers.
It is tempting to see the brain as an advanced biological computer; precise, rational and logical, using information impartially to allow us to live our lives - it was this analogy that conceived cognitive psychology5. However the truth is far messier6, with neuroscience showing the brain is a bunch of cells and chemicals bent on cutting corners, acting on instinct and spending as little time thinking as possible.
What is perhaps more unsettling is that your brain is in charge, not you. Instinctively, it feels our consciousness is in charge - defining who we are; forming our personality and driving our behaviour. But this is not true7. Indeed, research has shown that you can change people's personalities by fiddling with the brain - essentially altering our consciousness, the way in which we perceive the world and the way we correspondingly react to it. Leucotomy and its more severe cousin, lobotomy, demonstrate cutting bits of the brain can make people less aggressive, more obnoxious, happier, depressed and even schizophrenic8. This shows most of what we consider us - or our consciousness - is not something that is "thought through", rather brain cells chemically interacting with each other. What is more, we cannot control these reactions - they happen independently of us.
The control the brain exerts unsurprisingly stems from its reason for being: ensuring survival. Its purpose is to filter what our senses pick up, in order to work out the best response from basic survival behaviours: fight, flight, feed or mate. The survival job falls to the oldest part of our brain in evolutionary terms, the cerebellum. This is the same "brain" as can be found in reptiles: mechanical, unconscious and concerned only with keeping us alive. Although our brains have grown and evolved, when the chips are down it is this primitive reptile brain that is in charge.
Everything the brain does is because it thinks it raises the chance of our survival - anything beyond this is icing on the cake. Uncomfortable as it may be, many of our decisions are ultimately derived from as much sophistication as that displayed by a reptile. Obviously, there are situations where the more evolved areas of human brains can overrule our survival-instinct reptilian brains, but these are actually far more rare than we might think.
In order to control us, the brain has evolved a complex management system, using urges and emotions as a "carrot and stick" to force the body into self-preservative behaviour. Furthermore, in order to free our brain up for higher-order conscious functions, this management system goes largely unnoticed, operating at a purely unconscious level. For example, when the brain detects falling blood glucose levels, it creates an urge of hunger. This urge is accompanied by a feeling of emptiness (as tends to happen with all urges, whether the emptiness is literal or more vague).
When you take action to satisfy the hunger urge (eating), your brain rewards you with positive feelings of pleasure. Interestingly, it is not the pumping of nutrients into your blood that creates the pleasure; it is the preparation, chewing and swallowing that tell the brain to release your emotional reward for doing what you were told. Finally, to complete the management cycle, the brain gives you a feeling of contentment9, so that you do not carry on eating. It is through variations on this management system that the brain controls our behaviour. Although our consciousness can postpone eating, even when we are hungry, the brain will continue to increase the urge until we carry out the necessary behaviour.
Research has also shown that as a species, we have discovered that by prolonging the urge we can ultimately maximise the emotional reward. This is the reason why adults can resist, whereas children are often incapable - because the part of a child's brain that knows prolonging an urge can increase pleasure has not developed yet.
Being reliant on emotions to manage survival means the brain operates a "right of way" system, where emotions take priority over rational thoughts: more neural traffic rises up from the limbic system (responsible for emotions) than down from the cortex (responsible for rational thought). In a contest between rational and emotional, emotions are hard-wired to win. The idea that there is a rigid divide in the brain between rational left and emotional right is mocked in scientific circles ("dichotomania"). Most thoughts and actions require both sides of the brain to work, with the brain rerouting functions if either side is damaged. This means people who appear to be more "rational" do not have a grotesquely enlarged left brain and are just as controlled by the "carrot and stick" management as the rest of us. In fact, emotions are so important to our day-to-day decision-making processes that a purely rational being - Mr Spock, for example - could never actually evolve10.
While this dense theory can seem abstract and a little overwhelming, the way the brain works has a distinct relevance to marketing in three areas: in how we make decisions; in how we interpret information from our senses; and in how our memory works.
HOW WE MAKE DECISIONS
Analysis of the brain's working shows how our decisions are effected by biases (driven by unconscious emotions) and heuristics (rules of thumb)11. In governing our day-to-day behaviour, most of the time the unconscious brain does not even get "us" involved - so the first way we make decisions is on autopilot, leaving our consciousness to think about more interesting things. I can walk to work, talking on the phone the whole way, and not bump into things, get hit by cars or get lost, thanks to my unconscious. While these "decisions" are not irrational, they are hardly rationally thought through.
Unfortunately, even when our unconscious passes something upwards to think consciously about, the brain frequently wants to get decisions over and done with, as it cannot take its time over survival decisions. Therefore, the second way we decide is through the brain using rules of thumb (heuristics) to short-cut decisions based on the emotional responses they generate (the carrot and stick again), without needing to weigh up all the options each time a decision is necessary.
Rules of thumb are based on knowledge and past experience, so could hardly be described as irrational. However, as our body is designed to respond to the carrot inducements our brain offers us, choices that offer the best emotional reward are biased to win. We often refer to this as "gut feel", which forms the basis of the vast majority of our conscious decisions. This gut feel is the reason we will always go for something we like more or are more familiar with, even though we cannot necessarily remember what generated the liking in the first place.
In order to feel our decisions are consistent with past decisions (we do not like to think of ourselves as irrational - a situation called cognitive dissonance), we create post-rationalised reasons to justify gut feel - i.e. convincing ourselves we have bought a Ferrari for its fuel economy.
If the brain ever encounters something it has to pay attention to, has no rules of thumb based on previous experience to help it out with and has no bias, it still cannot think rationally -in order to think rationally, you need emotions to set parameters, in effect to enable you to rank decisions in order of what has the most likelihood of delivering a positive emotional response.
This is the reason why it has been impossible to create artificial intelligence that can think like us. A computer can beat us at chess where the rules are set and there is a finite number of moves that can be learned. But give a computer the choice of Heinz beans or Tesco beans and it will be incapable of making a decision, as it cannot rank/assign importance to the different decision criteria12. So the third way we decide is within the parameters set down by our emotions. That emotions drive our thought does not run counter to our day-to-day experience; we have all experienced being emotionally in favour of something despite rational reasoning - such as falling in love with someone we know is no good for us. The big step is to accept our emotions are as involved with choosing the tin of beans as they are with choosing our partner.
HOW WE INTERPRET INFORMATION FROM OUR SENSES
As well as managing our behaviour, it is the brain's job to interpret the enormous amount of sensory stimulus we receive, sorting the familiar from the unfamiliar13. When we see something for the first time, we need to think consciously about it in order to identify it. Thereafter, we do not. Every time we see something new, it is stored in the brain as a mental image, to which we associate information (such as a name, emotional response, gut feeling etc) - turning the image into a concept, called an engram; eg. dog, tree or dark.
Engrams are the pithiest pieces of information the brain needs to form a reaction to what it is comprehending. They are used by the most primitive part of the brain for survival: which means they are made of instincts, impulses, images and ideas that are not available for direct examination. Stereotypes exist because they are the very way in which our brains organise information together. Engrams can act as a proxy for something when we need to think about it, but cannot see it and, in so doing, they form the building blocks of all thought: in fact, "juggling" engrams is what we consider to be consciousness.
The brain also attaches an emotional response to every engram (called a somatic marker) - so it can easily deploy the carrot and stick management system14. For example, a huge spider carries an emotional response of fear to trigger the flight mechanism - even a picture of a spider is enough to trigger the emotional response, before our consciousness kicks in to tell us the flight response is unnecessary.
Once an engram is formed, your unconscious brain can identify what it is seeing without needing to get your conscious mind involved; without this ability, we would be able to do nothing more than process the world around us. The brain, therefore, works on two levels: the unconscious comprehends everything you are sensing, but only forces you to think about it when it is unexpected, threatening or interesting15 For example, think of an alarm clock. The brain is continually processing information even when the conscious brain goes to sleep16. Most of what is going on while asleep is not deemed important enough by the unconscious to switch your consciousness back on.
Your alarm clock, however, is just loud and potentially threatening enough for the brain to wake your consciousness up. Everything we sense has to go through this unconscious before it gets to our conscious mind. A part of our brain that we have little direct control over and which is on an intellectual par with a reptile dictates everything we consciously think about. Even if our conscious brain were completely rational, it is dealing with engrams, which are hugely subjective and loaded with the meaning and bias our unconscious has given them. This means that even if we wanted to make an entirely conscious, rational decision, we would find it impossible. Although our conscious mind can compensate for and adjust unconscious concepts, they still exert a huge influence over decision-making: call it gut feel, instinct or liking, it amounts to the same thing.
HOW OUR MEMORY WORKS
Memory is also quite different from the commonly held perception that it is like a card index. In reality, memory is actually a set of linked concepts: a web of associations called a neural network17. For example, "fire" will be linked to "hot", "red" and "burns". Your memory is literally just millions and millions of these connections. The more often our mind makes the same associations, the deeper these connections become. The reverse is also true: if memory associations are not refreshed, they become weaker. Bereft of associations, a memory will become lost forever.
A recalled memory usually differs significantly from the actual event, as we tend to remember scenarios rather than specific information18. When we try to remember something, we do not get the one memory we were looking for. Instead, the brain dumps everything it has on us (most relevant first) and continues dumping until we think about something else: just like Google, memory recall brings all the hits up at once. As individual memories are linked to thousands of others, it is hard for us to single an individual memory out. Therefore, rather than retrieving a perfect, single memory, our brain reconstructs it.
When we recall a memory, it is like piecing together a piece of dropped china. We have to fumble all round the room retrieving the pieces from where they have scattered under the sofa and over the coffee table. Then, with the help of a tube of glue, we try and stick them all together, but we know the result is going to be very different from the vase we dropped - this is just like the formation of memories. They are not remembered - our brain recreates them from bits it stores in different places, which means they are actually made up. Close your eyes and remember a scene where you experienced something pleasurable. Most people picture themselves in the scene, which is obviously impossible - but it proves that memories are something our brain creates.
In the vast expanse of our memory, the more vivid something is, the more likely we are to remember it19 - this is called the vividness heuristic. Vivid memories are stronger because excitement releases more chemicals than other emotions, which acts to clarify our perception of an event (why we seem to go into slow motion when confronted by a crisis) and mean the chemicals burn the memory links more deeply. Vivid information therefore forms stronger memory associations than pallid, abstract or statistical information. As memory is cue- dependent, vivid memories are more effectively recalled - for example, "shark" (more vivid) would work better than "fish" (less vivid) in creating a strong memory that could be easily remembered.
A last, unsettling thing about memory, is that we have "covert" memories that we do not necessarily need to recall in order to influence us - the kind of buried memories hypnosis can reveal. These memories still trigger emotions, which can effect our behaviour without us even noticing: for example, getting mugged by someone in a denim jacket could create an instinctive dislike of denim jackets.
- A belief in ourselves as rational beings is misplaced: the brain is an organ driven by emotion and uses urges and emotional rewards to effect behaviour.
- Much of the influence that the brain exerts on us is unconscious and beyond our conscious control.
- When we take decisions frequently, they are based on emotions and rules of thumb rather than a weighed-up, considered rationale and all thought is framed by emotions.
- Our brain thinks in summaries that have emotions attached, so the brain knows quickly how it needs to behave.
- Everything we think about has first been processed by our unconscious mind, which has decided to bring it to our attention. Novelty impact, engagement and interest are crucial in making this jump from unconscious to conscious thought.
- Vivid memories and memories with strong emotional attachments are more easily recalled and so exert a disproportionate effect on decision-making.
Recognising the primacy of emotions
Although a grudgingly gradual shift in marketing is accepting the influence of emotions, this needs to be taken a step further to recognise the primacy of emotions that exert far more influence than rational thought processes. The entire purpose of branding is to create associated meaning around a product to help consumers to make decisions. With our knowledge of the brain's working, we know consumers will process the emotional associations of a brand before the rational ones: in fact, they may never make it to the conscious or rational processing stage.
This would suggest we should look to build emotional associations above rational associations. For example, both Levi's "twisted" and Guinness "surfer" built an emotional association before a rational one. While stemming from a functional attribute of both brands, the ads primarily created emotional reactions (surprise, distraction, admiration and joy) ahead of rational processing (have twisted seams/takes a long time) - if, indeed, rational processing took place at all.
A particular bastion of rational processing exists in marketing in the "persuasion" model; namely, that exposure to marketing presents a "case to buy" that stimulates purchase20. In persuasion models, such as AIDA (awareness, interest, desire, action), it is assumed a hierarchy of mental processing takes place21, based on the brain as an organ of reasoned thought that thinks logically about actions in order to direct behaviour rationally. However, an implication of "rule of thumb" decision-making means we do not need to think about routine purchases: we can buy on autopilot. While AIDA, ACCA (awareness, comprehension, conviction, action), DAGMAR (defining advertising goals for measured advertising results) and its derivatives22 have gone out of fashion, a belief in the rational persuasion powers of marketing still prevails and has never properly been put to death23.
For instance, this belief forms the basis of the copy test, still the favoured form of ad effect research24, despite little evidence for its predictive ability25. Instead, neuroscience shows us that engaging the unconscious should be the primary challenge of marketing, to ensure there are positive associations at decision-making time (biasing consumers in a brand's favour)26. Heath, Percy et al and Millward Brown are all exploring research methodologies to help us understand and use emotions quantitatively27, while Gordon's Acacia Avenue is exploring qualitative methods to explore emotional attachments as well as attempting to uncover our more deeply held emotions.
GENERATING AN EMOTIONAL RESPONSE
Crucial to understanding emotions in a marketing context is the difference between showing an emotion and an emotional response: demonstrated dramatically by Sadek Wynberg/Millward Brown in research commissioned by Shell and JWT. In this, we categorised advertising from different markets (eg. fuel, finance, haircare) as emotional or rational. Categorisation was based on subjective evaluation by separate teams from Shell, JWT and MB on whether the advertising demonstrated a rational message or an emotional appeal. The ads were then researched qualitatively and quantitatively in the US and Malaysia (chosen for their supposed pre-disposition for rational or emotional advertising respectively).
The research demonstrated conclusively that it was not the perceived content of the ad that mattered, rather the emotional response it generated. Interestingly, this meant a message we had categorised as rational (such as Energiser's "lasts longer") could exert a powerful emotional response and, similarly, ads with overt emotional displays (like exaggerated scenes of product enjoyment) could fail to generate an emotional response. The research further demonstrated:
- The generation of a strong positive emotional response and effective advertising are intrinsically linked.
- Enjoyable, attention-grabbing, interesting advertising has a higher positive emotional response.
- Ads with a higher positive emotional response are more effective at generating awareness.
- A strong, positive emotional response delivers more brand appeal and more claimed persuasion.
- A strong, positive emotional response can help the "believability" of rational claims/prompt acceptance of the "rational" message element.
- Generating a positive emotional response (particularly through an entertainment element) can help break down the ad defences of the cynical.
- Positive emotional associations are one factor helping strong brands increase their market share.
Further research on this project through The Nursery has refined our understanding, with engagement, creativity and entertainment all working well to deliver an emotional response. Although a single-minded rational reason can provoke a strong emotional response, several stages of research have proven that "evidence is more easily refuted than faith"28.
RECOGNISING MARKETING FOR WHAT IT IS
Marketing is treated to the same unconscious filters as everything else our brain senses. Our brain identifies an ad as an ad because of the careful framing and composition29. While most people would find it hard to identify or articulate, lighting, camera angle, invasion of personal space, propping, texture and brand as "stamp of authority" all mean we know an ad when we see one. In fact, we are so adept at decoding advertising, research has demonstrated we are able to absorb an ad effect even when viewing in fast forward30.
Models of interpretation show advertising is perceived, set in context, remembered and reconstructed when it is recalled. At each of these stages, our brains interpret the advertising, with the potential effect of distorting it from its original intention. Perhaps the most important stage that effects the processing of an ad is the context stage. At this point, consumers interpret what they are seeing according to the context in which they are seeing it.
Crucially for advertising, consumers view it as a piece of communication made by a company with a specific intent - to trigger purchase. The fact that advertising is recognised as communication from a specific source with an intent in mind means it's all too easy for us to assume it has a covert motive. The result is that facts or rational cases from brands via ads are rarely seen as objective; rather, they are seen as biased, potentially twisted information. We must recognise that consumers consistently see marketing as containing a covert message, so people will not necessarily believe what it is saying, no matter what the evidence.
More information is unlikely to be the solution. This should be liberating - freeing us up from the need to rely so heavily on the grammar of selling. It can also free us from the attempts to force a USP or argument for purchase on a brand where it is not appropriate (i.e. convincing). Honda has provided an illustration of how this can be done. Rather than providing reams of information on how its diesel engines are better, it simply told us how much it hated diesel engines.
The marketing implications are that we can reduce the requirement for the call to action and other formulaic selling propositions ("new", "in shops now"), as consumers have made these assumptions already. It also suggests a shift away from the USP and barrages of rational pleadings to forms that consumers are less likely to view sceptically, such as entertainment - again, as evidence is more easily refuted than faith. This helps explain why Charmin's increasingly desperate persuasion-based advertising (eg. "sisters") has failed to make an impact on Andrex's "puppy stories"; tales about dogs that generate a strong emotional response.
IMPORTANCE OF VIVIDNESS
Applying what we know of the brain suggests novel, impactful marketing ideas are essential to force the unconscious mind to transfer processing to the conscious mind. Additionally, what we know of memory suggests the more vivid an ad is, the more we are likely to remember and recall it. And because memory is "cue-dependant", novel, creative advertising will not only generate more impact, but it is more likely to be recalled in a way that affects purchase decisions31 - witness the huge success of HHCL & Partners' classic Tango work. The visual metaphor of the "orange hit" formed a vivid cue inseparable from the brand and so accurately recalled. This concept also has implications for a brand's memory associations, pointing to creativity as an effective means of branding.
Neuroscience also suggests that rather than a hierarchy of effect model to understand communication effect when it is transferred to memory, we should adopt a top-up model, whereby all communication is "added" to an existing pool of knowledge about the brand. This points to driving simple and consistent associations to ensure the neural networks of our memory are strong and maintained. Endlines such as "Have a break, have a Kit Kat" and "Beanz meanz Heinz" are classic examples of consistency building strong neural connections.
But perhaps the master of maintained neural networks is Coca-Cola, with its "blanket bombing" ownership of red. The workings of memory hint at the difficulty of changing long-term brand associations, as well as how elements of the marketing mix can undermine each other (for example, if a message of "premium" is regularly contradicted by in-store experience of "cheap", the more frequent association is likely to be the prevailing one).
- Strive to make emotional connections above rational ones.
- Dispense with hierarchy models of decision-making, recognise emotional attachments as the way to influence gut feel and so bias purchase decisions.
- Focus on emotional response - not necessarily an emotional demonstration - when creating communication.
- Consider an emotional pay-off as a reason to believe, as "evidence is more easily refuted than faith".
- Assume communications will be viewed as biased and adjust message accordingly.
- Reduce reliance on the grammar of selling in favour of forms better at generating an emotional response - such as entertainment.
- Create vivid ideas/imagery to form stronger memories that are more easily recalled.
- Ensure consistency of communication to reinforce and strengthen existing brand associations.
APPROACHING MARKETING DIFFERENTLY
Understanding how our minds work is fascinating and illuminating, but to be really useful, this understanding needs to be translated into ways we can change our approach to marketing.
SETTING A DESIRED EMOTIONAL RESPONSE AT BRAND LEVEL
Learning that the brain thinks in pithy summaries, that memory is not a neat set of perfectly stored events and that recall is a construction that utilises all prior knowledge tells us that, for a brand, it is the sum of the marketing parts that should concern us most. In order to take most advantage of emotions and to plan marketing to be as sympathetic to the workings of our minds as we can be, it suggests making a decision about the desired emotional response at a brand level. This can, in turn, set a campaign context that is not marketing-channel specific. Each element of the marketing mix would then be charged with delivering the overall desired emotional response. This is more than through-the-line expressed differently. Instead, it necessitates a brief for an overall brand thought, the delivery of which creates the desired emotional response from consumers. The most obvious way to go about this would be to settle on a desirable emotion (say, trust) and go hell for leather to make the brand stand for it.
But this approach ignores the difference between stimulus and response, as demonstrated by the millions of brands that have screamed "trust us" at consumers to no avail. The reason an attempt to own an emotion this way is doomed to failure is two-fold. First, by setting down a desired emotion and attempting to own it, we immediately jump straight back into rational mode - making a case for why our brand has the right to this emotion. Second, by attempting such blatant ownership in marketing, where consumers expect a covert motive, we invalidate the emotion of what we are trying to say.
A better approach to delivering a brand-level emotional response is to focus on what stimulus would generate such a response. Many successful brands already do this (whether by design or luck), mostly evidenced in a strong sense of brand mission and purpose - such as Nike, Virgin, Apple, Diesel or Ferrari. This is a similar concept to what Morgan calls a lighthouse brand32 - the main difference is I would suggest setting the mission according to a desired emotional response.
As an example, JWT followed this emotional hypothesis on Shell. Research had demonstrated a global lack of engagement in the fuel category and the near-universal view of it as a commodity. We recognised the need to claim back the emotions of excitement, exhilaration and joy for petrol that car manufacturers had stolen. To do this, we constructed a brief for an overall campaign thought that would deliver this emotion. Initially, we expected this to take the form of a creative idea, but actually it took the form of a brand statement: "We don't make fuel, we make movement." This led to a mission of making movement better. The statement and mission have shown they can create the desired emotional response. Furthermore, in "living" with the brand statement and mission, we have discovered striving to achieve (and the implications of striving to achieve) are as effective in generating the desired emotional response as completing the mission itself.
To adopt this approach necessitates thorough initial research to identify existing emotional connections for a brand, as well as to define a desirable emotional response. Gordon's Acacia Avenue and WPP's BrandZ are demonstrating how consumers' emotional attachments to brands can be explored in qualitative and quantitative fields respectively.
The next step is to use this emotional learning to form the overall brand mission, then to form channel-specific marketing briefs. Although our lexicon of emotional responses is currently limited and our understanding of emotional associations with brands clumsy, it is only through use that these are likely to be progressed and honed. Although it might feel false and alien, it is possible to use what we know of emotions to plan a response we would desire from consumers.
That all sounds scary science, but the reality does not need to be so clinical or Machiavellian. The old advertising adage "don't tell someone you're funny, tell them a joke" can be explored as a briefing tool.
There is a writing exercise where the task is to generate a specific emotional response - say, anger - but without using the word "anger" or any of its synonyms. It demonstrates how it is possible to brief for an emotion. The task for marketing should be to find this "emotion solution" that can credibly come from the brand and is most poignant for the audience. Luckily, this is what creatives are adept at doing - creating relevant ideas that engage emotionally. Planning, too, is geared towards this, with consumer insights the essential information to frame the solution. The necessary change to the advertising process is an overt briefing of the desired emotion, an overt judgment of an ad's ability to generate this emotion and an overt evaluation of it to improve the effect next time.
A shift in briefing for an emotion also necessitates moving to an emotional reason to believe, rather than a rational reason to believe - the tone and creative of the advertising is more important for its believability than rational facts. This is not to suggest a n abandonment of rational back-up, because rational reasons are still immensely useful. However, we should move towards seeing them as hindsight justification, rather than decision swayers. In other words, you decide on your favourite brand for emotional reasons, but defend them in a pub using hindsight rationalisations. Rational RTBs should focus on enabling your users to win their pub argument, but in order to become users in the first place, they require emotional RTBs.
Although the agency creative and planner are already geared to generating an emotional response, there is an argument that this relationship could be shaken up more. Gone are the days when copywriter and art director demonstrated radically different skillsets and craft skills. There is no reason why a creative team cannot be made up of a planner and a creative.
A change to the creative structure may be infinitely more powerful, however, if we look outside the industry. Writers, screenwriters, journalists, photographers, commercial artists, designers, directors; arguably all these professions are more in tune with their specific audiences than the ad creative who is required to be a master of all audiences. It would seem to make sense that on the conception of a creative idea, it is handed to the appropriate creative practitioner to bring to life - for example, a Smash Hits journalist to craft a press ad for Clearasil. This does not mean a shift to an advertorial approach to the industry, rather the closer involvement of specialised creatives in the focused execution of the brand idea.
EMOTIONAL MEDIA PLANNING
A huge amount of attention is placed on crafting advertising, but a lot less on what the impact is of where the advertising is seen. What effect does it have on an ad being seen around Desperate Housewives versus an ad seen around a documentary on child abuse? Anecdotally, we know that the mood we are in can have a huge impact on what we are prepared to give our attention to, as well as how we interpret the world. Admittedly, there is a large degree of context that marketing will never be able to affect, but there is still a lot of context left that we can shape. The media industry has exploded on the back of media neutrality, but our discoveries about the working of the brain suggest media bias would be a more appropriate solution. Media should obviously still be chosen for its ability to reach the desired audience, but in order to engage the right emotions, we should take placement a step further. Advertising should be placed in media that reinforces the emotion the campaign is trying to generate33. A brand seeking admiration should be placed on a masthead whose content elicits admiration or around a programme where the emotional content will be consistent.
There is a flip-side to this coin. When media has been picked for its perfect audience fit and ability to reinforce the emotional campaign message, it makes sense for advertising to be briefed for specific media and more precisely for specific channels/mastheads. The move to "big ideas" that are actionable through the line has increasingly led to one brief being used for all media. While a campaign idea is still essential, we should be more intelligent with how we execute this. Planners already know that different media ideally require different briefs: a brief for a six-sheet should look very different from a radio brief.
However, it does seem bizarre that we expect a press ad that works in The Guardian to work equally in the Daily Mail or a TV ad on ITV to work just as well on E4. Journalists would not dream of writing an article that could appear simultaneously in The Guardian and the Daily Mail, and if we are truly to take advantage of what we know about emotions, we should not do this either.
Briefs this specific will inevitably increase planning time, creative development time and necessitate a shift in budget from media to production - research needs to be undertaken to ascertain whether this reaps rewards enough to justify the shift.
EMOTIONAL ROLE OF PR
Often a hugely overlooked element of the marketing mix is PR34. Despite it being one of the most frequent communication touchpoints for the brand, it is often kept at arm's length from brand strategy and communications strategy. Marketing is allowed to go through, over and below the line, but seemingly PR is not allowed anywhere near it. This is unfortunate, as recent research has demonstrated that PR may actually have a greater emotional impact than advertising35.
This makes sense in light of what we know about how the mind works. Advertising is a direct message from a brand and therefore is interpreted as such - we assume a covert motive because we are aware of the role advertising plays - to seek to persuade us to make a purchase. PR circumvents the assumption of covert motive by seemingly coming from a brand- neutral source.
However, while the source may be brand-neutral, it is far from emotionally neutral. Channel and masthead brands carry strong emotional connections because of their emotionally loaded context. We engage with them consciously, deliberately and purposefully. The ones we choose reflect who we are and what we are interested in and, as such, mean we trust them, like them and feel familiar with them. The difference between advertising and PR is therefore analogous to a used car salesman versus your favourite uncle selling you his vehicle.
In order to utilise emotional response, PR needs to be brought into the fold and build towards the campaign strategy and overall desired emotional response. This means consistent messaging, consistent brand mythology and narrative, consistent mission, consistent brand language and tone of voice and a common marketing goal. PR and marketing need to dovetail much more closely, both in content and placement.
EMOTIONAL ROLE OF PACKAGING
Another hugely overlooked element of the marketing mix is packaging. Packaging is the last element able to swing a purchase in a brand's favour and is the only element that lingers throughout the consumption of the brand. Apple has demonstrated how product design and packaging can be used to generate an emotional response so strong that it can override a raft of rational reasons not to buy.
However, the use of packaging to elicit an emotional response seems largely confined to premium and luxury products, despite there being no good reason why this should be the case. What difference would it make to Durex if instead of taking its packaging cues from pharmaceuticals (which are associated with illness), it took them from lingerie (associated with sex) or fragrance (allure)? This could also prevent the situation where the inevitable packshot undermines the emotional message of an ad - being at best a let down, at worst a completely contradictory signal to the rest of the commercial. We should take advice from Apple, cosmetics, fragrance, fashion and even whisky, where packaging is designed to be integral to the marketing mix, supporting, reinforcing and even leading our emotional response. Until packaging is designed to align with the rest of the marketing strategy, it will not reach its potential.
Understanding the importance of emotion also points to a better evaluation of marketing, particularly advertising. While the industry in recent years has been adept at proving the affect of advertising, it has largely ignored measuring the quality of it36. The only industry-approved means of evaluating advertising is the spurious measure of "creativity" which, as a subjective measure, is open to interpretation, making it hard to quantify or to form comparisons. Creativity also acts as a smokescreen for what brain learning shows to be advertising's real purpose - stimulus to engineer a specific emotional response, not an end in itself. As stimulus to encourage a response, advertising should be measured as such - by its ability to generate a change in consumers that can deliver the desired action, and particularly by its ability to generate an emotional response.
The complexity of the brain suggests this is a monumental task necessitating brain scans or MRI37, but this complexity is unnecessary. Feelings are the conscious experiencing of emotions and as such are measurable: in terms of whether they're being experienced at all, as well as their level of intensity. Several researchers have explored emotional associations at a brand level38, but Millward Brown has pioneered the measurement of emotional response at an advertising level (as part of its Link pre-test methodology). This enables us to gauge an ad's effectiveness at stimulating a desirable response in consumers. Although early days and still in need of refinement, the methodology is producing useful learning - for example, the emotional response "trigger" has to be linked to the brand to make sure the brand is recalled at the decision-making point.
Our knowledge of memory and recall also suggests measuring another dimension: that of salience39. Salience is more than a measure of awareness; it is a measure of meaningful awareness and, as such, encompasses the emotional associations held for a brand. A salience measure is designed to show how top of mind a brand is and the richness of mental associations it has - and has been shown to be more predictive than alternative diagnostics. Salience ties in well with brain theory as it acts as a measure of how likely a brand is to be recalled, considered and chosen in a purchase situation: measuring more accurately the way consumers think and behave.
Understanding the brain - and so why we think and behave the way we do - has to be a priority for marketing. Although the theory is often dense and technical, we have to fight to get brain science into the client's domain.
This is worthwhile first because it justifies much of what marketing does already: underpinning our recommendations with theoretical backing, based on the most up-to-date research technology allows. Second, it enables us to enter into the process of creating communications with our eyes open, allowing us to refine and hone what has in the past been driven by gut instinct alone. Last, and perhaps most important, understanding of the brain's working points to ways we can refine and improve marketing, to take better advantage of the emotions that govern our every move.
It is only by increasing client exposure to brain theory that we can start to undermine the rational models, begin to develop a language to cope with neuroscience discoveries and develop a more productive, emotion-led approach. By becoming the champions of disseminating how the brain works, we can ensure we are in control of the future of brand communications.
1 There have been initial forays into summarising the diverse research
available, notably Franzen - e.g.
Franzen (1): Brands & Advertising; Admap Publications, 1999;
or Franzen (2): The Brand Response Matrix; Admap, Sep 1999;
or the intense Franzen & Bauwman: The Mental World of Brands; WARC,
See also Goode: Ad Memories are Made of This; Sharp Stick, June 2004;
White: Why Grey Matter Matters; Admap, May 2005;
Penn: Brain Science, That's Interesting, But What Do I Do About It?; MRS
Annual Conference, 2005;
Du Plessis (1): Advertisers' New Insight into the Brain; Admap, May
2 Particularly from Heath: The Hidden Power of Advertising; NTC
or Heath & Hyder: Measuring the Hidden Power of Emotive Advertising; MRS
from Gordon: 'Out with the New, In with the Old'; International Journal
of Market Research, Vol 48, No 1, 2006;
from Du Plessis (2): The Advertised Mind; Kogan Page, 2005;
and from Percy et al (1): Emotional Responses to Brands and Product
Categories; ESOMAR 2004;
& Percy et al (2): How to Measure Brand Emotion; Admap, Nov 2004.
See also Forrest: 'Low Attention Processing and the Awareness Index';
MRS Annual Conference, 2005;
Penn: Could Brain Science be Peace Broker in the 'Recall Wars'; Admap,
Page: The Challenge for Neuroscience in Ad Research; Admap, Sep 2005.
3 Brown & Hesketh: The Mismanagement of Talent; OUP, 2004.
4 Damasio: Descartes' Error; Quill, 1995.
5 LeDoux (1): Synaptic Self; Penguin, 2002.
6 LeDoux (1) op cit,
Carter (1): Mapping the Mind; Phoenix, 2004;
Edelman & Tononi: Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination;
Greenfield: The Private Life of the Brain; Penguin, 2000;
Rose: The 21st-Century Brain; Jonathan Cape, 2005;
Freeman: How Brains Make Up Their Minds; Phoenix, 1999.
7 Carter (1) op cit,
Carter (2): Consciousness; Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002, LeDoux (1) op
8 Carter (1) op cit.
9 Carter (1) op cit.
10 Evans: Emotion: The Science of Sentiment; OUP, 2001.
11 Plous: The Psychology of Judgement and Decision Making; McGraw Hill,
1993; Du Plessis (2) op cit.
12 Mullins: Whatever Happened To Machines That Think?; New Scientist,
13 Prinz: Furnishing The Mind; MIT Press, 2002; Rose op cit.
14 Damasio op cit;
Donaghey: 'Feel States'; MRS Conferences, 2002.
15 Carter (2) op cit.
16 In fact, in sleep the brain's 'window on the world' is closed, but
consciousness is still highly active in the form of dreams - Carter (2)
op cit. and Edelman & Tononi op cit.
17 Schacter: Searching for Memory; Basic Books 1999.
18 Percy: Advertising and the Seven Sins of Memory; International
Journal of Advertising, Vol 23, No 4, 2004.
19 Le Doux (1) op cit.
20 Franzen (1) and (2) op cit.
21 Ambler: Myths About The Mind; International Journal of Advertising,
Vol 17, No 4, 1998.
22 Barry & Howard: A Review and Critique of the Hierarchy of Effects in
Advertising; International Journal of Advertising, Vol 9, No 2, 1990.
23 Howard-Spink: Does Invisible Mean Ineffective?; Admap, Dec 2005.
24 Schoenbach: Advertising Effects: An Inventory of Inventories; Admap,
25 Binet: 'Evaluation and Effectiveness: Some General Lessons from the
IPA dataBANK'; (presentation), Jan 2005.
26 Ehrenberg et al: Brand Advertising As Creative Publicity; R&D
and Romaniuk & Sharp: Brand Salience: What it is and why it matters; R&D
27 Heath & Hyder: Measuring The Hidden Power Of Emotive Advertising,
2004; Percy et al (1) and (2) op cit. Millward Brown's research is
evident in the latest additions to the Link Test: the Emotional Trace
and Feelgood Factor - as well as in their Brand Dynamics methodology.
28 Chris Forrest of The Nursery.
29 Corner & Hawthorn: Communication Studies; Edward Arnold 1993.
30 Goode: What Happens At x30 Fast-Forward?; Admap, Jan 2006.
31 Cramphorn: Does Originality Contribute To Ad Effectiveness?; Admap,
32 Morgan: Eating The Big Fish; John Wiley & Sons, 1998;
or see similar concepts: 'mission' that comes through in Doyle:
Marketing Management and Strategy; Prentice Hall, 2006;
and 'company strategy' in Mitchell from Baskin & Earls: Brand New Brand
Thinking; Kogan Page 2002.
33 Hunter: From Intrusion To Invitation; Admap, Dec 2005.
34 Ries & Ries: The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR;
35 Westaby: How PR Works: Media Relations; Admap, Jan 2006.
36 See for example Butterfield: Advalue; Butterworth-Heineman, 2003;
Ambler: Marketing and the Bottom Line; Prentice Hall, 2000;
and Shaw & Merrick: Marketing Payback; Prentice Hall, 2005.
Even Butterfield: Excellence in Advertising; Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999
fails to cover off the difference between a good ad and a bad ad.
37 Addison: More Science: More Sense or Nonsense; Admap, May 2005.
38 Percy et al (1) and (2) op cit.
39 Romaniuk & Sharp op cit.