Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The brain is full of logos

Advertising is a multi-billion pound industry paid to frame and reframe our perception of different products. Companies tussle for position in our brains wanting to associate their logo with something desirable. It is an intriguing point of reference to consider how the marketing industry tries to manipulate the psychology of a population. Their success and failure stories can teach us a great deal, not just about advertising, but about how brains receive and processes information.

In 1909 Scott wrote the first British textbook published about advertising. In it the most fundamental principle identified was ‘association’. Adverts aim to associate themselves well beyond the memory of a logo into the association of the brand meaning a lifestyle. When trying to sell a fast car, the message on television or billboards is always the same, suggesting to the buyer that to purchase that particular car would buy the lifestyle of 'Bond girls' and adoration, avoiding the tricky questions about the impact on the savings account. The car is branded with a particular message and the mind is framed to think of an exciting sexy fast car driving along country lanes, not sat in traffic jams guzzling fuel.

Perhaps a more recent example is by looking to how political parties try and sell their brand. Framing the mind of the voting public is the new political centre ground. Labour rebranded itself ‘new labour’. Since David Cameron has been at the helm of the conservative party, there has been a big push to reframe the old Tory brand starting with a new logo.

By far the most controversial aspect of advertising is subliminal advertising. It originated in America when Jim Vicary (a market researcher) after he arranged for the owner of a cinema to portray during a movie showing, messages so quickly, or printed so faintly, that they couldn’t be consciously perceived other than via ‘subliminal perception’. ‘Hungry? Eat Popcorn’ and ‘Drink coca-cola’. It was found that sales of popcorn rose by about 50% and soft drinks by 18%. Despite subliminal messages being made illegal in the 1950’s, they have recently been making a comeback. In an American department store music was mixed with a barely audible and rapidly repeated whispering (‘I am honest. I will not steal’) and there was a reported a dramatic decrease on shoplifting. However, ‘so far none of the more fabulous claims for subliminal marketing have been borne out by well-controlled and replicable studies.’ (Zimbardo and Leippe 1991)