This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Advertisers’ new insight into the brain
Brain science is revolutionising advertising thinking and research. Millward Brown’s Erik du Plessis explains the implications for advertisers
ECENT NEW INSIGHTS into how the human brain works are more than just a breakthrough: they involve a paradigm shift. It is tantamount to our having a new set of spectacles to understand the consumer, advertising and marketing, and to review the mass of data we hold. However, we need to be careful not to confuse the availability of new technologies with which to see into the brain with the paradigm shift that is happening. It is true that new scanning techniques allow us to peek into a functional human brain. It is also true that the two people (Joseph LeDoux and Antonio Damasio) most credited with the shifting paradigm about the role of emotions in the workings of our brains are neurologists. But their work is not derived from the new scanning abilities. It is totally coincidental that breakthroughs in scanning occurred at the time their theories about emotion were published. What happens when paradigms shift has some common features. 1. The world does not change, but the way we understand it changes (Darwinism did not create evolution, the world was just better understood through Darwin’s spectacles). 2. The instruments we use to measure the world have not changed – they often guided the shifting paradigm. (Astronomers could predict the planets’ paths quite well, even using the old spectacles of the earth as centre of the universe.) 3. The data we have is better understood when the world is viewed through new spectacles. (Small unexplained variations in the planets’ paths were explained when the spectacle of the sun as centre of their paths was used.) 4. There is no turning back. Once a paradigm shift has occurred and the logical sense the new one makes has been accepted, there is only a small group of conservatives clinging to the old paradigm. To appreciate the implications for advertising practices, one must
20 Admap • May 2005
understand the old paradigm (emotions interfere with rationality) versus the new (emotions guide rationality and cause attention). Descartes – physician, neurologist, philosopher, 1600s Why did Damasio call his book Descartes’ Error? Simply because that is what it is about: the whole paradigm shift is a change from Descartes’ premise to a more modern view about the role of emotions. Descartes postulated that we are rational beings (Cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am) and that emotions are affections that make us non-rational and should be separated from the way we study how people think. Emotions create irrationality. Freud – physician, qualified neurologist, late 1800s For 300 years there was no real progress, until Sigmund Freud postulated a number of theories about how we think. He said his theories were mere stopgaps, until more was known about the inner workings of the brain. To an extent this is what we are seeing 100 years later,
with the changing paradigm regarding the role of emotions. Freud is especially known for his theories about the subconscious, as well as the concept of phobias that live in the subconscious. A phobia is an irrational fear – emotion. Freud explained it thus: he had a patient with an irrational fear of horses. The man rationally knew horses would not attack him, yet he had a phobia he could not logically explain. Through probing and hypnotism Freud discovered that, as a boy, the man had been bitten by a horse. Although he retained no conscious memory of this, the fear remained. Thus Freud continued the Descartian paradigm that emotions are separate from the rational and interfere with rational processes. We will see how Damassio’s paradigm explains the phobias Freud observed. Roger Sperry – neurologist, 1970s Sperry performed operations on epileptic patients whose corpus callosum (the connection between brain hemispheres) was severed. He observed behavioural differences, which led him to conclude that the two hemispheres had specialised functions. He concluded that the left hemisphere specialised in verbal and the right in visual stimuli. This was further interpreted to mean that the left hemisphere was involved in rational tasks, the right in emotional tasks. Thus Sperry was also being Descartian, seeing emotional processes as different from rational processes. By the end of the 1970s brain scientists discarded the hemispheric theories – although they persist in pop psychology. Herbert Krugman – market researcher, 1970s In 1977, Krugman (a market researcher at General Electric) attempted to relate
© World Advertising Research Center 2005
‘To appreciate the implications for advertising practices, one must understand the old paradigm (emotions interfere with rationality) versus the new (emotions guide rationality and cause attention)’
why emotions exist in organisms much older than us on the Darwinian scale and why evolution favours emotions. or rational thinking) happens. The new paradigm is as follows. Krugman called this High Involvement Processing. but the emotional reaction would have remained – and strengthened each time he saw a horse. right hemisphere specialises in images 9. Freudian and Jungian belief systems are closed. When the horse bit the man as a child. Descartes’ Error. implying that you can only measure them if you believe in them. 1. His argument was: 1. Let us review how this would apply to the Freudian concepts of phobias and the subconscious. with contributors like Hubert Zielske. South Africa. Esther Thorsen and Joel Dubow. if not. therefore it is processed in the right hemisphere 11.Erik du Plessis is CEO of Millward Brown.) The following quote from the flyleaf of Damasio’s book explains the second point: ‘Far from interfering with rationality. therefore recognition accesses the right hemisphere 13. ‘The major debate in the US was whether one should use recall or recognition to measure advertising. print advertising uses words and logic 3. This debate continued into the 1990s. or closed systems. it is only half interpreted by the time it reaches the limbic system. also in South Africa. left hemisphere specialises in words and logic 2. Over time he would have forgotten the reason. the major debate in the US was whether one should use recall or recognition to measure advertising. the absence of emotion and feeling can break down rationality and make wise decision-making almost impossible. sets the new paradigm directly against Descartes’ paradigm. one can see how the Cartesian rational versus emotional paradigm persisted. the new paradigm explains why emotions are vital to our survival. and formerly ran his own company. TV advertising uses images 10. a debate largely ignored by the UK research community – fortunately for them. 2. At this stage. Freud and people like LeDoux and Damasio concern themselves with are the subject matter of philosophy: Why are we? How are we? What we are? Philosophical paradigms are either open systems that can be verified by direct observation and measurement. you see the hand of God in nothing. Larry Gibson. There is nothing subconscious about this. the systems of LeDoux and Damasio are still closed. Damasio’s book. you see the hand of God in everything. 7. Closed philosophical systems The things Descartes. just natural survival behaviour. based on no empirical research. as a result of the limbic system’s autonomic reaction. Krugman called this Low Involvement Processing. 2000 These two neurologists proposed the new paradigm about the role of emotion. Christianity is a closed system: if you are a believer. Krugman’s sole mission was to explain why recognition should be used to measure TV ad awareness and recall for print ad awareness. a debate largely ignored by the UK research community – fortunately for them’ Sperry’s neurological theories to the way advertising should be measured. therefore recall accesses the left hemisphere 6. recall measures use words. Subsequently. Besides the obvious circularity in this argument. each time he saw a horse he would have given it unreasonable attention and his reaction would have been negative. LeDoux: emotions cause attention to shift towards the stimulus that causes an emotion. recognition measures use images 12. What they propose about the brain is driven by their knowledge of brain systems. 5. therefore it is processed in the left hemisphere 4. which persisted in the theories of Freud and Sperry (and Krugman regarding advertising). he would have learned to fear horses (emotion). which sets the background against which logical interpretation of the perception (cognition. Both Millward Brown and Impact are well known for their expertise in brand and advertising research. their May 2005 • Admap 21 . (By soma he means the memory of how the body felt previously when it experienced what is being observed. but already emotional memory is part of the interpretation and might cause the limbic system to react – before any rational interpretation. At the time. © World Advertising Research Center 2005 And: 8. therefore recognition should be used to measure TV advertising 14. LeDoux and Damasio – neurologists. Impact. When an observation is being interpreted. He was not really interested in explaining how advertising might work.’ In essence. It has long been known that emotions emanate from the limbic system (situated in the lower part of the brain – also known as the reptilian brain) and manifest themselves as autonomic reactions (reactions the conscious mind has little control over). therefore recall should be used to measure print advertising. Damasio: emotions create a ‘soma’ for the developing perception.
Market researchers and advertisers have extensive databases that report on exactly that: normal people reacting to normal stimuli. In consumer language this is reflected by a scale ranging from hate. caused by anything in the ad that irritates people. among other things: humour aspirations new information. Emotions attract attention to the ad (which enhances memory laydown). Direction towards or away from (‘motivate’. 12. we seldom use fear as a motivating emotion. or that they find confusing. 2. and will be major contributors to opening the LeDoux–Damasio system. rather than penalise it as Krugman hypothesised. 11. An emotion has two dimensions. all provide empirical evidence that supports the new paradigm. Emotion is a physiological reaction that occurs autonomously in the limbic system as part of the interpretation of observations. which translates into: move away from. the Belgian STOP/WATCH print study. 22 Admap • May 2005 What the new paradigm implies for advertising and research 1. prior to the interpreted observation being used in the rational frontal lobes. and will undo the benefits to creative advertising of using emotions in a positive way. people will generally like advertising and be less inclined to opt for devices to avoid it’ . It seems logical that if advertisers use positive emotions in their ads to attract attention. or not important. I believe his results can also be interpreted using LeDoux–Damasio spectacles. The new paradigm favours UK-type creativity over US-type creativity. emotions set the soma against which observation is rationally interpreted. While positive emotions in advertising are not a pre-requisite for effective advertising. fear to dislike. Emotions are generally seen to have two dimensions. The best surrogate measure for the autonomic emotional reaction appears to be ad liking. 6. 3. Negative emotions still attract attention. but work together towards the survival of the organism: emotions direct attention. but create a negative soma. 1. urgently. The LeDoux–Damasio paradigm argues that to achieve attention it is a good idea to use positive emotions in advertising. 9. The main reason for their systems still being closed is a lack of funds to study large samples of people reacting to stimuli under normal circumstances. relevant to the viewer. He interpreted his results using the Krugmanian spectacles of low versus high-involvement processing. Advertisers tend to use its opposite – love or like. Since 1994 no one has challenged their views and they are quoted in most books about the brain or emotions. 10. 4. who has presented award-winning work at the Market Research Society Conference (2). or take your time. rather than shout or irritate to grab attention. the Dutch SPOT study. Brash advertising leads to a negative soma. about the brand reminders of positive experiences with the brand. This scale combines direction and urgency. like the ARF’s CRVP study. As an industry we can add a lot of value to developing insights about the mind. Urgency do it quickly. Most large-scale industry-sponsored studies. the Millward Brown ADTRACK database. indications from both the SPOT study in Holland (TV) and Sanoma magazines’ STOP/WATCH study in Belgium (print) are that emotions account for more than 40% of the effectiveness of advertisements. Esther Thorsen was the first to show this empirically. We even have a few designed by the industry to avoid any partiality. implying that one should use either recall or recognition. The only other author trying to bring empirical evidence to bear on the new paradigm is Robert Heath.focustheconsumerbrain experiences with brain-damaged people and some common sense. 7. In The Advertised Mind. emotional response leads to better recall. There can be little doubt the advertising and market research industries supply immense evidence for the new paradigm. UK advertising agencies ascribe this to US advertisers being enamoured of recall measures in the 1970s. ‘It seems logical that if advertisers use positive emotions in their ads to attract attention. © World Advertising Research Center 2005 is observed. 5. Intensity. irritate. Recall measures favour emotional advertising. depending on whether the advertisement is intended as a lowattention process or a high-attention process. The emotional and rational are not two conflicting things in the brain. I show this measure of ad liking behaves as the LeDoux–Damasio hypothesis suggests – positive. There is a general belief among UK advertisers that US advertising attempts to be brash and intrusive in an effort to grab attention. but leads to better understanding of the output from existing metrics. Positive emotions create a positive ‘soma’ against which the ad is experienced. The new paradigm about the role of emotions does not require new metrics to measure advertising. LeDoux based his views especially on the emotion of fear. 8. ‘emotion’ and ‘move’ all derive from ‘movere’) 2. antipathy to like to love. My book The Advertised Mind (1) devotes a section to inspecting wellknown industry database results (only one of these from Millward Brown) to see whether they refute or endorse the LeDoux and Damasio hypotheses. so that the organism recognises things it should avoid or approach. created by. Direction towards or away from what and this is reflected in awareness measures like recall. In advertising. People will not give attention to ads that are deemed familiar (just another ad). people will generally like advertising and be less inclined to opt for devices to avoid it.
It is important for multi-national advertising to recognise that all cultures experience the same emotions. but what gives rise to those emotions can be different. Market Research Society Conference. or highly aroused all the time.za © World Advertising Research Center 2005 May 2005 • Admap 23 . Erik@impact. E du Plessis: The Advertised Mind: Groundbreaking Insights into How Our Brains Respond to Advertising. It is an important (and dynamic) metric affecting the media planning for an ad campaign. or even a negative reaction.13. The difference between the two (recognition minus recall) measures attention and also brand linkage. views that advertising works in low-attentive ways and therefore requires recognition measures to be measured are Krugmanian and part of old-spectacles thinking. 15. Recall measures awareness and brand linkage. 2. Post-tracking only needs to verify that the emotional component of the advertisement is not wearing out. Understanding emotions in an ad campaign is largely an issue of developmental work and input into the creative process. Recall and recognition are comple- mentary measures. The function of emotion in advertising is merely to shift the attention given to an ad slightly up the scale. Nature protects us from being highly attentive. or emotional. in another. Most of what humans do is at a lowattentive level. Kogan Page. R Heath and P Hyder: Measuring the hidden power of emotive advertising. 2004.co. Some executions that create great positive emotions in one culture may create no emotional reaction. ■ 1. 16. 2005. Using recognition alone will mostly lead to an under-spending media plan. 14. Recognition approximates campaign reach and is time insensitive. Pre-testing should be mainly concerned with whether the desired emotions are created and could be enhanced. because this would lead to the human system burning out. penalising frequency – to the extent that even an effective advertisement might be made non-effective. probably involving more qualitative than quantitative research. Advertising will seldom be consumed in a high-attentive level. However.