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How Advertising Works Our Nerves (In a Good Way)

At last, neuroscience is applying itself to understanding how that extremely artificial endeavor — advertising — engages our basic biological instincts.

Two pieces of science news will interest marketers. First, the more we can anthropomorphize products, the better we like them. Second, advertising can take the place of real memory in our beliefs about a product.

It seems that dancing raisins, talking cars and the Geico gekko — but probably not subservient chickens — can actually change consumers’ perceptions and attitudes, according to Pankaj Aggarwal (University of Toronto) and Ann L. McGill (University of Chicago).

This Science Daily story says that we’re more likely to positively evaluate an anthropomorphized item.

Aggarwal and McGill also found out that the more you help people project human attributes onto products, the better. For example, if you have a “family” of products, consumers will like them more if they’re sized to mirror the stereotypical sizing of family members: a couple of bigger ones, and then a few smaller ones.

This research suggests that animated characters, including avatars and spokescartoons like Erin Esurance, can do a lot to make online advertising more engaging. Affiliate marketers also can stand in for brands, offering a human face and persona in their blogs and reviews.

It’s also good news for companies extending their online efforts into social media, where brands can behave as people, with their own blogs, MySpace and Facebook pages.

Another study showed “consumers will use post-purchase actions — and advertising — as a proxy for lost memories, even if these actions are not a good indication of how we actually felt while using the product.”

Elizabeth Cowley of the University of Sydney showed college students a film clip. Then, half the group was shown a humorous ad and asked to rate its entertainment value. The other half watched an informational clip and rated its information level.

She found that the students who had seen the humorous ad had a harder time remembering how much they’d liked the original film clip. We see this over and over in movies, where a boffo ending with uplifting music makes you forget how lame the rest of the film was.

This is important for marketers because Cowley says that we use our memories of liking something or feeling good to guide our future actions. So, we might mistake the good feeling we got from an ad for a good experience with the product. In other words, as every marketer believes, a great ad can make you want the product, so you can have the good feeling again.

To me, this validates all the obsession with the “consumer’s online experience” — much as I hate the term. Giving someone a great experience on your website or within an ad evidently can translate to increased good will about your product.

  • http://www.grahamjones.co.uk/ Graham Jones – Internet Psychologist

    Interesting post – though the results these researchers have found are not surprising. Previous neuroscience studies have shown which areas of our brain are triggered by advertising to which we have a positive response. These areas control our emotions. In other words, advertising that has an emotional component is more likely to win. The studies you report here are further evidence of that; anthropomorphising products makes them have emotional appeal, for instance. In my studies of online businesses, far too many are trying to sell on “fact”. Make it personal, appeal to emotions and it will work. These new studies help confirm that.

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