Watch: 'The Choice is (Not) Yours', politics and branding experts conclude

Grey London invited 150 industry guests to The Choice is (Not) Yours Grey Matter panel event at the agency's head office, where leading figures from the world of politics, public affairs, advertising and media examined how our ballot box and buying decisions are influenced by subliminal factors.

It's Thursday. A million tiny choices have led up to this point. Thousands of messages and campaigns will influence the next step you take and the decision you make. Your hand hovers, your mind races.

You are choosing which party you want to lead the country... or perhaps you're deciding between Fairy washing up liquid and the supermarket's own brand.

We’re not as rational as we think we are

Speaking at the event, Heather Andrew, the chief executive officer at Neuro-Insight, said: "What we’re looking at is how the brain makes decisions… and the fact that we're not actually as rational as we think we are. 

"We all believe that we’re very good at making decisions, and we’re taught to think in a very logical way when in fact a huge amount of our decision making is made using emotional criteria."

According to Andrew, we’re more likely to fall back on emotional influences when a decision is important because coming to a completely logical conclusion, taking into account all the variables of the situation, is almost impossible.  

Lasting impressions

Andrew explains that once a person has invested emotionally in something, they are more likely to be inclined to invest in it again in the future. As a result, influencing a person’s choices in a short space of time is difficult.

"For both politicians and brands, if you’ve... mentally invested in something, it takes quite a lot to shift you away from that position. 

"We might think we’re listening to these debates and making very logical conclusions about who is the best party, who has the best politics, or, in the advertising world, who has got the best brand… Actually what we’re doing a lot of the time is just reinforcing our existing preconceptions and prejudices."

Blind spots

In a world where it seems the internet can provide us with every opinion and point of view going, it might be easy to assume that we are informed, and are therefore making educated decisions. But take a look closer you realise that what appears on the screen is being tailored to each person specifically.

Our searches have been quietly personalised and results correlating with content we have previously engaged with show up at the top.

Chairing the discussion was Leo Rayman, chief strategy officer at Grey London, who said: "We think that we’re getting a really broad view of the world when we read the papers… or look at our news feeds, but actually we’re really filtering our results down without even being conscious of it.

"What seems to be happening is that more and more people’s field of vision is narrowing. They’re seeing less and less stuff to challenge them, and more and more of exactly what they like to hear."

Getting noticed

So how exactly can politicians and brands get their message heard by somebody who has (consciously or subconsciously) filtered them out?

According to Andrew, the answer does not lie in bigger, more audacious advertising, shouting to try and be heard through the filters.

She said: "Our brains are quite good at putting up barriers, and if we’re sold to too overtly either by a politician or by a brand… it’s like a shutter going up, and it actually tells us, ‘No, they’re trying to sell this to me, I don’t want to believe it.’"

"It’s actually much more about trying to appeal to the emotional side of things and give people a softer way of making decisions."

Reflecting on the discussion, Rayman said the evening showed that more than ever, politicians and brands need to connect emotionally to influence our decision making.

He said: "The way forward for Cameron and Miliband and for brands is to embrace subtler messaging rather than the harder product sell.

"In this data-soaked world, our method of navigation must be essentially human. Brands and political parties need to be like us - empathetic, discursive and responsive, in order to negotiate the current terrain."

Grey Matter’s event, The Choice is (Not) Yours, was panelled by:

Stephen Adams, partner at Global Counsel and political speech writer
Tim Allan, founder of Portland and key media advisor to Tony Blair and the Labour Party during the 1997 election
Eli Pariser, chief executive officer of Upworthy and board president of
Heather Andrewchief executive officer of Neuro-Insight
Leo Rayman, chief strategy officer of Grey London


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