Monday, October 29, 2012

Down is up and up is down.

I was reading one of Seth Godin's recent posts and it got me on a train of thought.  The article itself is about a noticeable shift in the classical marketing bell-curve of early adopters to laggards etc.  Godin argues that as a result of thirty years of marketing, consumers have been turned into geeks; into people eager to engage in ways that were seen as too risky just a generation ago, and this resulting in a skewing of the adoption curve.

The Traditional Marketing Bell-Curve

A Modern Day Shift?

I couldn't help but think of other longstanding classical marketing models that have also been turned upside down in recent years.  We have the AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action) model which Naked Communications have openly challenged, flipping it on its head and no longer specifically targeting awareness, but starting with action (theorising that the rest will follow suit).
The Original AIDA Model

The Flipped AIDA (or ADIA...) Model

We have the fundamental shift in consumer power from authoritarian brands to brands directed by social media and populous opinion (thanks for that revolution Sam...).  It has even been argued that Maslow's Hierarchy of needs may be more relevant in the modern (Western) world if it too was inverted; similar to Naked Communications targeting action, should we also be spending our time uncovering the complexity of self-actualization and focusing on appealing to this above all else?

Inverted Maslow Hierarchy

This isnt one of those "the only rule is to break the rules" spiels. It is interesting though to note how significantly traditional models can (or must) be altered to be relevant in today's market.  Which model might be next to go?  And, how can we best succeed by overlaying modern trends on the structure of old school models - assessing fit and changing accordingly?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Better than great.

I learnt an important lesson today.

I am currently developing a workshop for a client who's looking to overhaul a particular aspect of their service.  I have been interviewing stakeholders, determining where the company wants to be and ultimately, what they think they need to do to get there. 

I found myself compiling a list of the top 5 or 6 things that I'd heard, putting together a hit list to be checked off one by one.

Then I was challenged - and rightly so.

In hindsight - in this day and age it's fair to assume that every company worth its salt can focus its energies and be great at something.  But ultimately that shouldn't be why they speak to people like us.  Yes, our role is to understand the needs of the business and where they see it going, but it's then our job to take them out of their comfort zone - helping them to think in a manner far removed from their existing norms, their competitors and category expectations.

What if instead you re-framed the task as: 'how do we make them famous for it?'

With this as a goal, your competitive set becomes wider and the solutions you discover invariably better.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

When unique misses the selling point.

I saw this ad last night and it made me think...

We all know the power of addressing consumer pain-points with our advertising, with this being even more powerful if it's met by a genuine product truth.  However, the important thing to remember (which I think this ad fails to) is whether the pain-point being addressed is actually important to the consumer.

While I appreciate that other products own the 'thickness' (Viva) and 'disinfectant' (Dettol) positions, surely there are stronger messages for disposable wipe's than their ability to put time back into our day.

So the question is whether there's a point at which we need to concede to a position that's already owned (i.e. thickness), with our focus then being to communicate how our product uniquely meets these needs or alternatively uniquely communicate how these needs are met, rather than finding a unique position in itself.

Ultimately, if the problem doesn't concern your consumer -  neither will your product.

Here's another....

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Puff! The subliminal dragon?

'Happy' the St George dragon, a character who for many holds positive associations, has been seemingly absent in a number of their more recent campaigns. In saying this, I couldn't help but question this sneaky addition in St George's latest campaign.

Is this an attempt to subconsciously induce those comforting, positive, infantile emotions that Happy holds while maintaining a squeaky clean presence of professionalism that is so popular in retail banking today?

Is this an attempt to bring him back? Did he ever really leave…?

The game is on to spot the dragon in their next installment.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Savanna Effect

        Like every other human appendage which has been shaped by evolution to perform a specific role, so too has the brain. Evolutionary psychologists argue however, that like our hands and feet whose form and function has remained relatively unchanged since the end of the Pleistocene epoch, the human brain and psychological mechanisms associated with it are also innately biased to perceive and respond within that very same environment. When assessing and attempting to explain human behaviour, this means that the average human brain still assumes that it lives in the African Savanna roughly 10,000 years ago. As a result, humans frequently have difficulty comprehending different entities and situations that did not exist in our ancestral environment. Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazwa of the University of London coined this phenomenon the ‘Savanna principle’, with his theory frequently cited to better explain the behaviour of modern day humans in a variety of processes and occupations, from microeconomics and architecture to marketing and advertising.

        Psychologists argue that as a result of millions of years of evolution, the human perceptual system is largely hardwired, with different visual scenes triggering varying affective states. For example, if early humans came across a stretch of turbulent water or a threatening predator, this triggered negative affective reactions. However, if a visual scene provided opportunities for survival or reproduction, positive affect would be experienced. Geographer Jay Appleton was one of the first to explore mans emotional relationship with the external environment. In Appleton’s theory he states that human beings’ preference for landscapes correlates with two environmental properties, prospect and refuge. The concept of prospect refers to elements within an environment that provide information, such as a landmark to navigate from or hill from which to inspect the surrounding area. In addition, refuge refers to environments that provide shelter, protecting against predators and inclement weather. In short, humans prefer landscapes which consist of a balance of these two environmental properties.

Optus 'Harmony' (2005)

      The African savanna, which is claimed to be the environment in which early humans spent a substantial part of their evolutionary history, appears to display an ideal mix of both prospect and refuge. Scattered trees provide refuge and shelter, while the openness of savannas facilitate the detection of predators and potential game. In addition, most people across cultures and geographic regions instinctively find clear flowing water more beautiful than stagnant water, grassy landscapes more attractive than arid landscapes, and mountains and hills in the distance more attractive than flat terrain. Ultimately, during our evolution certain features of landscape were more adequate for survival and reproduction than others and due to the importance of recognising these visual features, humans have evolved to associate subtle but non-trivial affective states with external environmental properties.

      Importantly, theories regarding human preferences to visual scenes are not limited to those of the sparse African savanna. Kaplan and Kaplan suggest an expanded matrix of visual preference whereby, while people are still largely attracted to environments that are prehistorically survivable, four structural properties of aesthetic evaluation; coherence, complexity, mystery and legibility, also enables an assessment of human preferences for more modern environments. Kaplan and Kaplan describe coherence as the degree to which a scene hands together (the higher the degree of coherence the greater the preference for the scene), legibility or distinctiveness as enabling the viewer to understand or categorise its contents, complexity or the degree of variety within a natural scene, and mystery, the degree to which a scene contains hidden information which entices the viewer to find our more information. In this model, coherence and legibility relate to our understanding of the environment (being able to comprehend what is going on), while complexity and mystery can be considered as aspects of the environment to which someone may be motivated to explore more deeply.

A long winding road evokes mystery and a desire to explore further.

      While evolutionary and environmental psychology is gaining credibility in explaining human behaviour, it is also commonly validated in assessing consumer behaviour and the influence of advertising. Visual representations of nature are widely used in both print and TV advertising to evoke positive emotional associations. However, one thing that our ancestors did not experience was watching TV. In fact, research has outlined that people who spend more time watching particular TV shows are actually more satisfied with their social life and friendships, just as they are if they have more friends. Ultimately, all visual scenes our ancestors saw were real and therefore, when it comes to materials on television, the Savanna Principle tells us that at a deeper level the human brain is tricked and comprehends these images as if they are in natural environment. And, just as humans find it difficult to emotionally distinguish between real friends and those on TV, for brands and products that emulate real and ‘idealistic’ landscapes, the use of certain images will also have a positive impact on consumer associations.

Pure Blonde (2007)

       In a recent Spanish study which assessed consumer attitudes towards advertising it was reported that people were more favourable in their perceptions of ads containing natural scenery than those depicting urban environments or vegetation free scenes, with ads that contained images of free flowing clean water and lush green vegetation also leading to the highest consumer attitudes towards the ad and brand. Thus, through repeated exposure of cohesive advertising images, brands clearly may gain positive emotional conditioning, with brands able to profit off their alignment with idealistic natural settings.

Practical Implications:

      Evolutionary psychology research indicates that marketers who decide to leverage off images of the natural environment can influence the affective states of their consumers. The Savanna Principle provides a theoretical framework indicating that manipulating or tailoring natural images to coincide or deviate from our innate visual preferences, while a seemingly subtle production change, may have non-trivial influences on consumer’s emotional perception of a product, potentially influencing attachment to a product or even brand recall.

        Clearly, it is important for marketers and advertisers to account for, or at the very least acknowledge, innate reactions that have stemmed from our ancestral past. Research indicates that these affective states are foundational to our conscious thinking, and to benefit from thousands of years of evolution, marketers may tailor their campaigns to capitalise on these implicit preferences. By aligning brands and products to content which has been found to influence our affective states automatically and efficiently, such as savanna-like natural scenes, marketers and advertisers may benefit.


Appleton, J. (1975). The experience of landscape. New York: Wiley.

Bell, P. A., Greene, T. C., Fisher, J., & Baum, A. (2001). Environmental Psychology. Orlando: Harcourt Inc.

Hartmann, P., & Apaolaza-Ibanez, V. (2010). Beyond the savanna: An evolutionary and environmental psychology approach to advertising. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 119-128.

Joye, Y. (2007). Architectural lessons from environmental psychology: The case of biophilic architecture. Review of General Psychology, 11(4), 305-328.

Kanazawa, S. (2004). The savanna principle. Managerial and Decision Economics, 25, 41-54.

Kanazawa, S. (2007). The evolutionary psychological imagination: Why you can’t get a date on a Saturday night and why most suicide bombers are muslim. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 1 (2), 7-17.

Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The last laugh: The risks and rewards of using humour in advertising.

Neurologists argue that humour pulls the brain together. The perception of humour, it seems, involves an intricate interplay of several neural areas. Specifically, during the setup of the joke it appears that the left hemisphere of the cortex is active, processing the function of the words or images within the joke. After this, it appears that neural activity is shifted to the frontal lobe, commonly known as the center of emotionality. Finally the right hemisphere is engaged, with its synthesis capabilities joining the processes of the left hemisphere to interpret the pattern, ultimately getting ‘the joke.’ Humour is clearly a complex phenomenon. Sociologists propose that behaviours associated with humour were selected throughout evolution, with the perception and delivery of humorous material considered a critical part of social learning (Weisfeld, 1993). Humour has been reported to increase pain tolerance (Nevo et al., 1993), improve sentence memory in educational settings (Powell et al., 1985) and in the world of advertising, it has been reported that over US$167 billion globally is spent on ads that try to make us laugh (ZenithOptimedia, 2007). Supporters of using humour in advertising argue that humour is a universal language that humanises the marketing message, allowing the communicator to speak on an audiences level. However, opponents to its use report that humour wears out too quickly and has the potential to render an ad useless for repetition. Ultimately, what is clear in marketing literature is that the use of humour in advertising is risky business, with the implementation of humour by no means a guarantee of a better ad. Success in increasing advertisement attention, message persuasion and likability is also influenced by factors such how related the humour is to the message, the audience and the product itself.

Advertising executives appear to agree that humour increases an audience’s attention, at least during the first few exposures. In highlighting the importance of engaging attention with product sales, Lammers et al. (1983) draw upon a six-step Marcov Chain (exposure – attention – comprehension – yielding – retention – action). They argue that by increasing audience attention, so too is the probability of increasing the success of the remaining steps in this chain of attitudinal and behavioural change. In one study, Speck (1987) reports that humorous ads engaged more attentional resources than advertisements that did not implement humour. However, despite the excessive use of humour to engage our attention (94% of advertisements use humour for attentional purposes; Weinberger & Gulas, 1992), more recent research indicates that only half of these ads are actually effective. In other words, not all humour is created equal. One explanation for the different effects of humour when engaging our attention is ‘relatedness.’ Weinberger and Gulas argue that humour that is related to the advertising message is more successful than unrelated humour in engaging our attention. Ultimately, simply inserting something humorous into an ad will not be as effective as employing humour that is related and cleverly integrated into the advertising message.

While the effects of humour in engaging our attention are becoming relatively clear, there are mixed reviews as to the influence of humour in increasing the comprehension of an advertising message. In educational settings it has been found that the use of humour that is related to the lecture topic actually increases student comprehension (Powell et al., 1985) . However, data from marketing research indicates that humour in advertising does not influence message comprehension any differently to other methods (such as ‘serious’ communications). Despite this, the product being marketed has been found to influence the effect of humour on ad comprehension. Studies that have employed ‘actual products’ report greater comprehension when humour is used when compared to studies using ‘fictional’ products. Thus, the use of humour may not be the best technique when introducing a new product into the market.

Effective advertising is almost always persuasive, with the use of humour being instrumental in bringing about attitudinal change. Numerous theories have been presented in determining why the use of humour is so effective here. One argument (Duncan and Nelson 1985; Lammers et al. 1983) is that the use of humour distracts the audience from generating negative thoughts or counterarguments to the marketed message, thereby lowering any resistance to persuasion. In addition to this, Herold (1963) argues that humour may increase communication acceptance, serving as a reward or as reinforcement for listening and thus, audiences are unlikely to resist the persuasive message. An alternative hypothesis (Berlyne, 1972) is that the use of humour increases arousal levels leading to positive affect. This is then generalised or conditionally associated with the advertising message, enhancing the persuasiveness of the message. However, despite extensive theoretical argument supporting the influence of humour on persuasion, in the most part, empirical evidence has not supported this. Lammers et al. (1983) argue however, that the immediate measurement used in most humour persuasion studies does not allow the effect of the humour to take hold. According to ‘trace consolidation theory,’ memory and cognition traces are unavailable during high arousal states. Specifically, over a longer period of time, information learnt during high-generalised arousal has more active trace processes for subsequent long-term retrieval. Ultimately, Lammers (1983) argue that while a majority of empirical studies have failed to measure the influence of humour on persuasion (and indeed comprehension), humorous appeals may actually be more effective than other methods (such as serious appeals) over a longer period.

As with most studies assessing both humour and advertising, there are multiple ‘disclaimers’ that must also be considered when determining the benefits of using humour in persuasive communication. Weinberger et al.  (1992) outline that similarly to attentional engagement, related humour is more persuasive (in regards to intention to buy) than unrelated humour or the use of no humour at all. Lammers et al. (1983) also report that related humour is more persuasive for people with prior positive brand recognition and not beneficial for people with negative brand attitudes. Finally, the intensity of the humorous message has also been reported to influence levels of persuasion. Bryant et al. (1981) argue that the use of low levels of humour was no different to the use of no humour at all, while the excessive use of humour was actually detrimental to the persuasiveness of the message. Evidently, a careful decision must be made as to the extent to which humour is used in an advertising message or indeed whether it is used at all.

Executional factors and the type of humour employed in an advertisement may also play a role in the success of humour in advertising. As previously indicated, most research has found that related humour is more successful than humour which is not related to the product or brand message. Incongruity humour (whereby surprise or inconsistency is sufficient to achieve humour) has also been found to be particularly effective in print advertising. In one study, 75% of magazine ads (irrespective of product type) used incongruity humour (Spotts et at., 1997). Alden et al. (1993) argue that humour through incongruity holds cross culturally and as a consequence, is the most commonly implemented type of humour in advertising. The way in which humour is used within a message is also highly relevant. In 'humour dominant' ads the humour is superordinate to the message (whereby the advertisement relies on humour to make sense), while in 'message dominant' advertising, the humour is subordinate to the overall message. Different types of humour also attract and appeal to different audiences. Whipple and Courtney (1981) finally outline that men enjoy aggressive and sexual humour more than women, while women appear to have a greater appreciation for non-sensical humour.

Above is an ad which may appeal to men more than women.

Product category and the consumer decision-making processes which are associated with these products, are also influential in determining the use and success of humour in advertising. To better understand the differences between product categories, the Product Category Colour (PCC) matrix may be used.

The PCC Matrix (Sternthal & Craig, 1973).

Sternthal and Craig (1973) argue that ‘yellow goods,’ which consist of low involvement, ‘feeling’ products bought for self gratification and for which consumers spend little time making purchasing decisions, are most responsive to humour based advertising. Sternthal and Craig (1973) highlight that for 'yellow goods,' ‘humour dominant’ ads are most appropriate, implemented to attract attention, develop a brand image and potentially, increase high arousal product associations promoting impulsive purchasing decisions.

Below is a TVC which is a perfect example of a humour dominant ad for a yellow good (Snickers Bar).

White goods’ however, which are high involvement purchases bought to solve problems, require a different approach. For these goods, consumers require a level of information to determine an appropriate purchasing decision. Sternthal and Craig (1973) propose that an information dominant ad with message based humour is most suited and also most commonly used. In these ads, humour may help to engage the audience’s attention, but humour alone cannot be used to influence potential purchasing decisions.

Below is a print advertisement for a Sanyo 'Intellegent Wash.' For this ad, message dominant incongruity based humour (the brain is compiled of clothes) was implemented to develop and strengthen the brand message. 

'Red goods’ are high involvement ‘feeling’ products that can often be considered directly related to the purchasers self image. Thus, Sternthal and Craig (1973) propose that the use of humour, which has the potential to make fun of the product (and indirectly the consumer), may be perceived to be threatening by the audience.

It is evident from the Armani ad below, that fashion is clearly nothing to laugh about...

Finally, for low involvement functional based ‘blue goods,’ Sternthal and Craig (1973) argues that the use of humour potentially interferes with message retention and brand recall. For these products, brief information may be all that is required to inform the consumers about the product, but maybe most importantly as to how this product can solve their problems.

Below is a print ad for Colgate Toothpaste. This is a good example of where humour may be detrimental to the communicated message. Alternatively, succinct information is all that is required to inform the consumer as to how this 'blue good' will solve their problem.

Empirical research supports the theory of Sternthal and Craig (1973) with regards to the use of humour in advertising and the affects of this in both attention and brand recall. Spotts et al. (1997) report that the use of incongruity-based humour were only effective for yellow goods, had no benefit for white goods and actually lowered performance for ‘blue’ and ‘red’ goods. Thus, while incongruity based humour is used most prevalently in humorous advertising, its use may only be justified for ‘yellow goods’ and is potentially detrimental when selling ‘red’ or ‘blue goods.’ It thus comes as no surprise that Spotts et al. (1997) outline that in their research humour is implemented in 18.1% of ads for’ yellow goods’ while only 5.5% for ‘red goods.’ Additionally, ‘yellow goods’ were the most likely to be humour dominant while ‘white goods’ were more likely to be message dominant and information focused (Spotts et al., 1997).

Practical Implications:

· Humour that is related to the product or marketing message is better equipped to engage a consumers attention, increase message comprehension and improve advertising persuasiveness.

 · The use of humour in advertising is most successful when marketing low involvement, feeling products (yellow goods; such as beer, confectionery etc). Here, humour may be used to engage attention, develop a brand image and distract consumers from potential counterarguments to a purchasing decision.

· Humour may also be used in message dominant ads for higher involvement tools (white goods such as washing machines and car tyres). For these products, humour can be used to engage consumers attention but as a secondary communication tool to the information that is relevant for a purchasing decision.

· Advertisers should be wary when considering humour to market both 'red' and 'blue goods.' For these products humour may either be perceived as threatening or alternatively, distract the consumer from information recall that is vital for purchasing decisions.

Weinberger and Gulas (1992) outline that as much as 24.4% of prime time advertising in the United States is intended to be humorous. This is a staggering percentage considering what little is really known about the use of humour as a successful marketing tool. There is no doubt however, that we all enjoy a funny ad. There are television programs comprised solely of these commercials. What is harder to determine however, is the extent to which these commercials actually influence attitudinal and behavioural changes, ultimately ending in product sales. A better understanding of the factors contributing to the successful implementation of humorous advertisements will only improve this.


Alden, D. L., Wayne, D. H., & Lee, C. (1993). Identifying global and culture specific dimensions of humour in advertising: A multicultural analysis. Journal of Marketing, 57(2), 64-75.

Berlyne, D. E. (1972). Humour and its kin, in The Psychology of Humour, J. H. Goldstein, Academic, New York.

Herold, D. (1963). Humour in advertising and how to make it pay. McGraw hill, New York.

Lammers, B. H., Liebowitz, L. Seymour, G. E., & Hennessey, J. E. (1983). Humour and cognitive responses to advertising stimuli: A trace consolidation approach. Journal of Business Research, 11 (2), 173-185.

Nevo, O., Keinan, G., & Teshimovsky-Arditi, M. (1993). Humour and pain tolerance. International Journal of Humor Research, 6(1), 71–88.

Powell, J. P., & Andresen, L. W. (1985). Humour and teacher in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 10(1), 79-90.

Schmidt, S. R. (1994). Effects of humor on sentence memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20(4), 953-967.

Speck, P. S. (1987), "On Humour and Humour in Advertising." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Texas Tech University.

Spotts, H. E., Weinberger, M. G., & Parsons, A. L. (1997). Assessing the use and impact of humor on advertising effectiveness: A contingency approach. Journal of Advertising, 26(3), 17-32.

Sternthal, B. & Craig, C. S. (1973). Humor in advertising. Journal of Marketing, 37, 12-18.

Weinberger, W. G., & Gulas, C. S. (1992 ). The impact of humour in advertising: A review. Journal of Advertising, 21(4), 36 – 59.

Weisfeld, G. E. (1993). The adaptive value of humor and laughter. Ethology and Sociobiology, 14, 141-169.

Whipple, T. W., Courtney, A. E. (1981). How men and women judge humor: Advertising guidelines for action and research. In J. H. Leigh C. R. Martin Jr., (, Current issues and research in advertising (pp. 43–56). Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Graduate School of Business Administration.

ZenithOptimedia., 2007. "Global adspend 2007," Vol. 2007.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Evolution and Advertising - Part 3: Pop ups in our past.

Despite the mass of advertising that the average consumer faces every day, it is clear that some messages constantly grab our attention irrespective of our interest.

So why are some forms of advertising particularly salient and robust against the noise of mass marketing? One answer is attentional capture.

Cognitive psychologists argue that at any given time, people have limited resources to devote to all possible tasks and incoming information. In regards to human vision, most agree that sudden movements and bright colour tends to naturally draw our attention, perhaps involuntarily. This is known as attentional capture. It has been hypothesised that this prioritising of attentional resources to new visual objects has evolved due to predatory associations. It makes obvious sense that our attention is drawn to new visual objects to assess them for danger or potential threats.

Literature outlines that there may be two separate mechanisms at work when analysing visual attention, with attentional resources captured in a ‘goal directed’ fashion, whereby attention is directed based on a the task at hand, or involuntarily in a ‘stimulus driven’ fashion’ when attention is draw to an object that is unrelated to a potential task. While modern day marketers often aim to capture our attention through sophisticated, aesthetically pleasing and humorous advertising, it is apparent that campaigns are also developed to capitalise upon our raw, stimulus driven impulses.

Research illustrates that attention is broadly allocated to multiple elements within a visual scene, not simply by their location, but according to their position and status as noted in preattentive visual organisation. Attention is subsequently provided to aspects of our visual scene for which it deems to be most relevant. It has been reported that the abrupt appearance of objects, apparent visual movement and luminance changes are highly prioritised within this attentional hierarchy.

Studies indicate that the abrupt onset of a visual object captures attention automatically. These studies reveal that even when observers are attending to other tasks, an abrupt visual onset of an object is processed first. Thus, these onsets have been argued to capture our attention in a purely stimulus driven fashion. Internet pop-up advertising capture similar attentional resources to those of abrupt onsets. These messages draw us away from the task at hand to apply our attention, even if only for a moment, to an advertising message or brand. This is not necessarily because we are interested in what the advertisement is saying, but rather that we are hard wired to attend to them.

Theories regarding the perception of luminance also outline that a rapid luminance increase is detected by visual mechanisms which are selectively tuned to the onset of luminance signals. These signals are transferred to higher level cognitive mechanisms, indicating the importance of this change in luminance and that attention must be directed towards it. Similarly to the abrupt onset of a new object, an increase in luminance also captures our attention being perceived as a new visual object. It goes without saying that a flashing light from a police car in our rear view mirror captures our attention, but so too do flashing neon signs and advertisements at the football. With the rapid increase of luminance, a new visual object is perceived, and similarly to abrupt onsets, we are momentarily captivated.

Movement within a visual scene is also detected easily by humans, with unexpected object movement also reported to capture our attention. If we think about it, it is not uncommon to wave our arms to capture someone’s attention within a crowd, or wave a flag to slow down F1 drivers after a crash. Well maybe that’s a little uncommon, but overall, movement detection is robust. Interestingly, research indicates that visual movement is most salient when it may be used to indicate the location of visual targets, while not as successful in capturing our attention if it fails to predict a targets location. This also makes sense in evolutionary terms. It would not benefit us to attend to irrelevant movement cues, while it makes perfect sense for us to detect the location of a predator in the undergrowth, as indicated by a brief calculation of these cues.

Outdoor digital billboards and online banner advertising heavily employ visual motion to draw consumer attention to a message or brand. Despite consumers having to attend to the road while driving, to the players while watching sport or to the rise and fall of the stock market on the computer, we are constantly interrupted to notice potentially irrelevant advertising. When watching digital advertising surrounding major sporting events it is clear to see how cues of motion have been used to draw our attention. Brand messages or logos fly across the billboard, not unlike an advancing threat, engaging our attention and visual resources long enough to recognise the brand and create a visual impression, but not to decipher a complex message. On the internet, banner advertising is constantly in motion, with brands, logos and products dropping in from all areas, again diverting our attention for split second.

Practical Implications:

While companies often employ the use of attentional capture via the abrupt onset of objects, sudden increases in luminance and the implementation of movement cues, it is also apparent that the effectiveness of such advertising is also waning as they begin to over-saturate the market. Studies report that the more intrusive an advertisement is perceived, the less effective it will be. It appears that consumers are starting to block their innate impulses in order to increase productivity and reduce distraction, especially when advertising is perceived as highly intrusive to the task at hand.

So, how do we capitalise on our innate impulses, while also reducing advertising intrusiveness? One solution may be congruency. Studies which have focused primarily on web based advertising have noticed that the more congruent the advertising is to the current web page, the less the viewer will actively block the attentional capture and the more likely they are to retain its information. Particularly it has been reported that viewers are more likely to retain the information from the advertisement if it employs the same colour palette as that of the web site. I noticed a similar example on the television the other evening while watching the Rugby Union, where Mercedes cleverly advertised their company in a pop-up message that was so congruent with the current context, that I thought it was a player profile or notification of a players substitution. It was not until I had read and comprehended the message, that I realised I had been duped!

Ultimately, in a busy and noisy world, where mass marketing is king, the fight for attentional resources is very real. In shaping and implementing campaigns, we must acknowledge the limited information capacity system of humans, but also be aware of more modern annoyances. This is a fine line to tread. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that to achieve success via maximal brand recognition and information retention, modern day marketers must capitalise on human beings innate reflexes to attend to potentially relevant information in a purely stimulus driven manner. This is no smash and grab job however, marketers must also act creatively and unobtrusively to obtain maximal attentional resources, brand recall and positive brand recognition.

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Yantis, S., & Hillstrom, A. P. (1994). Stimulus-driven attentional capture: evidence from equiluminant visual objects. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 20(1), 95–107.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Evolution and Advertising- Part 2: The Power of Colour

Colour is tremendously powerful.

Fascinating research has discovered that colour is a commanding force in altering and initiating emotions and behaviours. The use of different colours can calm an angry prisoner (Schauss, 1981), improve recovery rates in hospital (Dalke et al., 2005), influence your perceived attractiveness of a mate (University of Rochester, 2008) and in the world of marketing, it has been found that about 62-90 percent of a product assessment is based on colour alone (Singh, 2006).

So why is colour such a powerful and influential force? Particularly, why is it so relevant in consumer behaviour? A brief look into the history of colour in our past may help to explain some very interesting phenomena and also highlight techniques with which marketing companies have implemented to tap these primal instincts.

Colour has long been associated with communication. In the natural world, colour is used within species to indicate and draw attention to reproductive behaviour and territories, while between species, colour is often used to warn or deter predators. For the peacock, a female is believed to choose its mate based on the size and colour of its spectacular tail feathers during courtship, while for the Poison-Arrow frog, its bright colouration has benefited its survival by warning off potential predators. These are just two of many such examples of colour in the animal kingdom. In regards to Darwinian Theory, the ability to detect colour in both instances is vital in species survival.

The perception of colour by humans occurs by the communication between both the eyes and the brain. Our eyes transmit light information from the external world including reflected colours from objects. Thus, when we look at a banana, the banana is not yellow; it simply reflects the wavelengths of colour which we perceive to be yellow and absorbs the rest. Subsequently, a black object has absorbed all wavelengths of colour. This light is projected to our retina, which is covered in millions of light sensitive cells, some shaped like rods and some like cones. Cones cells which are concentrated in the middle of the retina are responsible for the perception of colour vision. These cells transmit visual information to our visual cortex, enabling the perception of multiple colours.

Interestingly, significant latencies exist in the transmission of visual information to our visual cortex (Campbell et al., 1988). It has also been established that these latencies are not constant, but are shorter for stimuli of higher intensity (Maunsell et al., 1999). As a direct consequence of this physiology, some colours stand out to humans more than others. Bright yellow is one of the most visible of all the colours in the spectrum, it is the first colour that the human eye detects. Because of its special salience, yellow is often used in street signs and action orientated branding. We can see below on that all the action buttons have been cleverly coloured yellow, not only drawing our attention towards these functions, but promoting purchasing action.

Colour and human emotion are also closely intertwined. In an old study, Cimbalo and colleagues (1978) highlight a reliable association between emotion and colour, with young children associating yellows and oranges with happiness and brown and darker colours with sadness. The authors also argue that due to the young age of the participants in the study, these effects may well be innate. The psychology of colour has continued to illustrate the emotional implications of different colours based on human history with dark blues being associated with night time, thus passivity, and bright yellow colours being associated with sunlight, arousal and action (Luscher & Scott, 1969). To this end lighter blues and greens are described as cooling colours commonly associated with tranquillity and serenity, while warmer colours such as reds and oranges are energetic and arousing. Evidently, the emotional properties of colour that have been reported in the literature are very relevant to our past and our relationship with our immediate environment.

While it is apparent that colour and emotion have a strong association, the link between these emotions and innate responses to colour is also fascinating. Numerous studies have been conducted determining the influence of colour over particular behaviours. A particular shade of pink (Baker-Miller Pink) has been found to reduce aggressive and antisocial behaviour in prisoners when compared with prisoners in cream painted cells (Schauss, 1981). It has been commonly reported that since painting London's Blackfriar bridge green, suicide levels have dropped by a whopping 34%. The colour blue also has interesting implications, reportedly acting as an appetite suppressant. One prominent explanation of this is that blue food is a rare occurrence in nature with only blueberries, a small number of potato and corn varieties holding elements of blue. Blue is also commonly an indicator of spoiled food. This effect is so strong that weight loss programs often advise people to eat off blue plates or even eat with blue glasses in an attempt to stem their hunger. Alternatively, red, a common colour in food such as apples, berries, tomatoes of course red meat, reportedly stimulates our hunger and also increases our metabolic rate (Singh, 2006). Let us look at the branding of the world’s top fast food chains. When also acknowledging the association between yellow and happiness, these super brands seem to have it made.

Could the influence of colour also be a determining factor in the war between Pepsi and Coke? Maybe the appetite suppressant effects of blue are enough to alter our impulse buying decision when we go to the fridge?

The importance of colour in advertising and brand strategy is obvious. Advertising is designed to capture our attention, induce our emotion and evoke a particular behaviour. Clearly, a calculated use of particular colour can promote this sequence of events, funnelling an audience into a desired emotional state, hopefully in promotion of a purchasing decision.

The use of prescriptive colouring can also add a different dimension to a product. Blue is often used to promote cleanliness, intelligence and superiority, while reds are energetic colours used in marketing games, energy drinks and products related to high activity. Colour also has implications in brand recall. The recognition of different colours has also been vital in our evolution. In our past, the ability to recognise and differentiate colours in fruits and buds was vital in the avoidance of sickening or poisonous substances, while maximising recognition of edible resources. Today, a similar recognition is occurring in the modern market place. Like our predecessors, consumers also learn colour preferences for particular products based on associations they have formulated through their experience (Grossman & Wisenblit, 1999). Colours such as Cadbury purple and Heineken green are so strongly marketed and related to the products they produce, that consumers are falling back in to a thoughtless heuristics strongly based on colour recognition.

Evidently, deep rooted emotional and biological associations between colours and our evolution have been tapped into in modern day marketing. Maybe on a subconscious and impulsive level, Coca-cola will always be more appetising than Pepsi due to the use of different colours in their branding and the strong, subconscious impulses these promote. With an alarming number of impulse decision based on the colour of products alone, it is clearly vital that marketers use every scrap of research in their power to implement different colours to say the right thing, about the right product, to the right person.


Campbell, F. W., Artigas, J. M., & Felipe, A. (1988). Visual reaction-time versus action time. Opthalamic and Physiological Optics, 8, 60-62.

Cimbalo, R.S., Beck, K.L., Sendziak, D.S. (1978), "Emotionally toned pictures and color selection for children and college students", Journal of Genetic Psychology, Vol. 33 No.2, pp.303-4.

Grossman, R. P., & Wisenblit, J. Z. (1999). What we know about consumers’ color choices. Journal of Marketing Practice: Applied Marketing Science, 5(3), 78-88.

Jacobs, K.W., Suess, J.F. (1975), "Effects of four psychological primary colors on anxiety state", Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol. 41 pp.207-10.

Luscher, M., Scott, I. (1969), The Luscher Color Test, Random House, New York, NY.

Maunsell, J. H. R., Ghose, G. M., Assad, J. A., McAdams, C. J., Boudreau, C. E., & Noerager, B. D. (1999). Visual response latencies of magnocellular and parvocellular LGN neurons in macaque monkeys. Visual Neuroscience, 16, 1-14.

Schauss, A. G. (1981) The Physiological Effect of Color on the Suppression of
human aggression: Research on Baker-Miller pink. International Journal of Biosocial Research, 2.

Singh, S. (2006). Impact of color on marketing. Management Decision, 44(6), 783-789.

University of Rochester (2008, October 28). Red enhances men’s attractiveness to women, psychological study reveals. ScienceDaily.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Evolution and Advertising- Part 1: Sex Sells

It has often been said that sex sells, but rarely have we asked why?

It goes without saying that sexualised marketing is successful in capturing our attention. There is no doubt that sexual cues hold a unique salience when compared to other non-sexual cues. Sexual cues have been found to be so prominent, that they are salient for women who have reportedly low sexual desire (Conaglen & Evans, 2006). In an interesting study, Spiering et al. (2003) also report that responding to sexual stimuli in a task was influenced by sexual priming, while responding to non-sexual stimuli was not. It is logical that this unique salience of sexualised cues stems from our evolutionary origins, with the detection of such signals being vital in preparing to engage or indeed inhibit sexual behaviour (Conaglen & Evans, 2006). The ability to attend and respond to this information has clearly been fundamental in prolonging the existence of our species throughout time.

Further delving into the intricacies of sexual cues, research has illustrated that nonverbal cues such as eye contact and provocative clothing can heighten perceived sexual interest (Muehlenhard et al., 1986) and as a result, may be more salient than imagery with objects of sexual desire alone. Interestingly, it has also been found that the use of different colouring also has a significant aphrodisiacal effect. A recent study conducted by the University of Rochester (2008) discovered that women wearing red were rated as being more attractive and sexually desirable by men than the exact same women wearing different colours. One theory is that these biases originated in our primate ancestors, where baboons and chimpanzees redden conspicuously when nearing ovulation. We can see from the advertisement above, that a scantly clad Cindy Crawford, sporting a bright red dress, is engaging in clear eye contact with the observer, provocatively capturing our attention and maybe even selling some Pepsi. Clearly there are numerous non-verbal factors that may alter perceived sexual interest associated with an image, subsequently increasing its salience.

While it is relatively easy to understand that men and women may attend to and even be engaged in sexual advertising, an expanded view into the psyche of male and female sexuality has exposed even more information that can be utilised to benefit marketing campaigns.

Sexual Strategies Theory (SST) offers an account of the adaptive problems our ancestors confronted during the course of competitive evolution and presents a view of sexual psychology that has evolved as adaptive solutions (Buss, 1998). In short, STT indicates that men are only constrained by the number of fertile women they can inseminate (Buss & Schmitt, 1993), while women who invest and risk more in sexual engagement, require a degree of commitment and additional resources from a mate. Basically, men want casual recreational sex, while women require emotional intimacy and resource commitment.

In close adherence to SST, associations between evolutionary adaptation and contemporary advertising have been reported. Specifically, Dahl et al. (2009) report that women’s typical dislike of sexualised advertising is softened when the ad can be interpreted as commitment related. Thus, correlated more strongly with the underlying strategies of female sexuality. The male underware model above is a perfect example of this, his expression and gesture on the bed symbolising intimacy and a degree of commitment. Colour it appears, is not important.

Ultimately, the cliché that sex sells may be an oversimplification. It appears that it is not simply the evolutionarily relevant salience of sexual cues which may be utilised in advertising, but that further manipulation of the forms of sexual images that are included are also highly relevant when aiming to engage and attract different markets. When used appropriately however, it appears that sex may be able to sell just about anything!


Buss, D. M. (1998). Sexual strategies theory: Historical origins and current status. The Journal of Sex Research, 35(1), 19-31.

Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on mating. Psychological Review, 100(2), 204-232.

Conaglen, H. M., & Evans, I. M. (2006). Pictorial cues and sexual desire: An experimental approach. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Dahl, D. W., Sengupta, J., & Vohs, K. D. (2009). Sex in advertising: Gender differences and the role of relationship commitment. Journal of Consumer Research, 36.
Muehlenhard, C., Koralewski, M. A., Andrews, S. L., & Burdick, C. A. (1986). Verbal and nonverbal cues that convey interest in dating: Two studies. Behavior Therapy, 17, 404-419.

Spiering, M., Everaerd, W., & Janssen, E. (2003). Priming the sexual system: Implicit versus explicit activation. Journal of Sex Research, 40, 134–145.

University of Rochester (2008, October 28). Red enhances men’s attractiveness to women, psychological study reveals. ScienceDaily.