It's always heart-warming when science validates the assumptions that underlie our thinking about creative messaging and media.
For years advertising agencies have been advising clients that disruptive or unexpected imagery seen, scanned or read with some frequency builds brand impressions. And that these impressions turn into awareness, preference, and purchases over time. Freud inferred that the unconscious mind picked up and processed as many signals as the conscious mind and on this basis the advertising industry developed rules of thumb about how, when and how often to intercept consumers and present brand messages.
Now brain researchers at Tel Aviv University have conducted experiments to prove this point. Professors Moti Salti, Dominique Lamy and Yair Ben-Haim documented that unconscious perception exists. A far cry from Freud's postulates about repressed trauma and childhood angst, the data suggests that our brains take in signals and process messages on several simultaneous levels of consciousness. Perhaps this explains why even those who skip the commercials and flip past the ads can recall brand logos and key copy points. According to Professor Salti, "You walk around and are exposed to many stimuli from all directions but are aware of very few."
The tests exposed participants to a square on their computer screen. By hooking these subjects to an electroencephalograph, they charted brain activity to document how and when they were conscious of seeing the square. In 50 percent of the cases they could pinpoint the exact location of the square, even if when questioned about seeing a square, they could recall nothing. The complete scientific results are being published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.
The implications for marketers seem to be …
- Don't focus as much on engagement as on exposure. Carpet bombing might work better than we thought especially if the brain is your ally in reaching individuals who aren't formally paying attention.
- Frequency works. The more unconscious exposures, the more likely that the target customer will "absorb" your message regardless of his or her intention or viewing and reading habits.
- Create scan-able messages. Don't assume ads will be read or watched. Approach traditional advertising creative like online creative; assume things will get a quick glance at best. Then purposefully create a stimulus that is distinct and different from what is expected and what is popular and you gain a nanosecond or two of extra attention, enough to score that unconscious comprehension.
- Messages Don't Need to be Linear. It's possible that those ads you see and scratch your head about, thinking "what were they thinking" may be scoring more points that we thought.
- Subliminal advertising might exist and work.