Branding the brain

Neuroscience and cognitive psychology have unlocked many profound insights into attention, memory and our fundamental desires. Brands that utilise this knowledge are reaping the rewards.
Ronan Hegarty

July 18, 2018

Like the alchemists of old, marketers are constantly looking for a magical formula to make their brands resonate in the consciousness of consumers. The word ‘magical’ is apt here because when you explore the science of the mind, you quickly learn even with a bulging budget, this is an incredibly difficult endeavour.  Each second, we are exposed to an estimated 11 million bits of information that reach us through all our senses, yet humans are capable of processing only around 50 bits of that information, letting most of the input go by unnoticed. Similarly, Milosavljevic, Koch, and Rangel (2011) showed that consumers can identify two different food brands and make up their mind about which one they prefer in as little as 313 ms. Furthermore, processes involved in the representation stage need not even be conscious, as recent studies have demonstrated that unconscious processes also shape how we represent our decision-making situations (Chartrand, Huber, Shiv, & Tanner, 2008).

A lot of marketers have not adapted to this knowledge to their detriment. The stats are clear here. In the U.S alone only 2 in 10 product launches succeed because traditional market research studies can’t reliably predict what people actually do.  Innovation is a buzzword I do not use lightly but this is essential if we are to discover the process of elucidating the process of consumer behaviour. Clever brands understand we are prediction machines and when something dares defy our expected pattern, we are forced to take notice. A great example of how this insight has been leveraged for profit can be found in the “The Force” ad by Volkswagen. I urge you to pause here, watch it and return to this piece.


It is a tour de force in pattern interrupts and you will find yourself quickly drawn in. The ad has generated an impressive 54 million views on YouTube and a reported 6.8 billion impressions worldwide and more than $100 million in earned media.

Capturing attention is of course only part of the jigsaw puzzle. Saliency is meaningless without action. Similar to the ultra-competitive world of shelf space in supermarkets, brands have to position themselves in the ideal psychological slot. A great overview of this process can be found in Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. They also write about repositioning–changing the position a business occupies in consumers’ minds. A prominent example of repositioning the competition is when the Jif brand launched the “Choosy moms choose Jif” campaign, competitors were suddenly repositioned as products for mothers who didn’t give a damn about the food their kids consumed. Powerful stuff indeed.

Finally, as our brief tour comes to a close we cannot ignore the idea of ‘happiness’ in this roadmap to success. This is a very well researched field as you may have guessed from the countless array of self help books on offer, all promising the answer to the age-old question. A successful brand has to master the art of ‘the promise’. It has been well documented that the predicted value of each brand that is available for choice (e.g., Heineken vs. Beck's) represents the consumer's belief about the experienced value of that brand at some time in the future. Coke have mastered this ‘the joy of anticipation’.  Think about it, when you hold that bright red can and hear the lid snap open and are greeted by the bubbling fizz, it resonates!

We have only scratched the surface of consumer influence in this article. What I am trying to convey here is that we here at MorarHPI are not a standard agency. We inform, and we inspire. We approach your problem with a breadth and depth that allow us to help you drive your brand in the right direction with confidence. Please get in touch with us to learn more.

Morar HPI Limited is part of MIG Global and part of the Next15 Group.

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