Random thoughts

Sex and advertising: Retail therapy | The Economist

This little gem published in the Economist is worth reading. In fact, it’s must reading as it highlights the everything-new-is-old and what-comes-around-goes-around theories of the world.

Sex and advertising: Retail therapy | The Economist.

Going back some years, Ernest Dechter invented the world of “soft-side” qualitative research: getting beyond the rational response and learning about non-rational responses. Or, triggering non-rational responses.

Not to boast, but we have been doing this for the past fifteen years: we have understood that behaviour toward brands and products is determined to a large (but not total) extent by unconscious motivations. We, that is Bruce Barnes and I, have focused on typology, specifically typology as defined by Carl Jung and referred to as archetypes. But, as we have said over and over again, identifying archetypes is only part of the process: the real power, form a marketer point of view, comes from understanding how the archetypal energies respond to stimuli from the world around them.

Most recently, Daniel Kahneman (qv) has studied this phenomenon and explains it in practical terms: the brain functions via 2 systems. We respond to everything immediately via our System 1 brain, which is entirely unconscious and we have no direct control (or awareness) of it or its machinations. Our response is moderated by our conscious, thinking brains: System 2. Depending on a number of factors, our system 2 brain can and will override our system 1 response, or it will let it go. Which results in spontaneous, sometimes illogical, sometimes bang-on behaviors.

So, from Freud (Superego, ego) to Dichter (emotions and unconscious whims) to Kahnemann (system 1 and system 2) to Bernstein and Barnes (unconscious typologies) the one theme is constant: we are hardly in control of what we do, BUT, with the right approach, marketers can develop a general understanding of why we do it.

Both Dichter and Kahneman come from the idea that what goes on in our subconscious can be influenced by factors of which we are not and never were consciously aware — that we absorb information that we are not aware of. For instance, we can be exposed to something (let’s say, for instance, the word “sex”) for a very short period of time — so short that we do not consciously notice it — and our sub-conscience will pick up on it and store it away. If it is repeated often enough (Kahneman) or relates to some base motive or need, we will associate it with other stimuli (for instance a brand name), and this will influence how we respond to the brand name.

Yes! Vance Packard may have been right all along. What did Dichter really insert into the ads for Chrysler for which he became famous, or, more obviously, Esso:


Are we, modern advertising people, in our eagerness to be smarter and more in control, doing a disservice to our brand clients by denying the power of subliminal advertising.?

O,r are we in fact NOT using subliminal advertising? Does anybody really know what lurks in the folds of Apples famous iPod ad?

I wonder.

Filed under: Behavioral Economics, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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