Monday, March 9, 2009

Subliminal Marketing Tactics: Making Brain Connections

I don't watch a lot of TV, but when I do, I'm always interested in the ways that advertisers are marketing their products and services. Last week I caught a glimpse of two new commercials that were brilliant marketing strategies based on actual brain science about how memory works! If this sounds a little complicated, good... keep reading because I make it easier to understand.

We've known for a long time that if you want to remember something, repetition is a key element in memory. This is especially true when new information seems completely distant or unrelated to everything else you know. This is what a lot of things were based on over the last century - repetition. It was part of the reason why teachers invented math homework and memorizing the multiplication table, with the idea that if you repeated something enough, eventually you'd just remember it. It's why our social science teachers made us memorize names and dates rather than telling amazing stories that related to current events. It was how the industrial revolution was born - by making one machine or person simply repeat the same small task over and over again to ensure perfection and consistency. Last but not least, it was also how advertisers made money on selling multiple ad spots to one company- with the research supporting that multiple exposures will increase the memory of a company's brand.

However, as any creative person knows, repetition can become quite boring, especially if you've mastered the concept that you're being asked to repeat. Likewise, when we know something is a commercial, we have no problems walking away or ignoring it, even if the content could be relevant. This is why buying ads on Google or Facebook, despite their genius ways of finding relevant material to partner with, can get you paying for a lot of clicks but not turning up as many paying clients.

In the last 2-3 decades, more and more research has been done about how we can improve our memory, learn faster, and make ideas stick better in the brain. Turns out that if you want someone to remember something, you could use repetition, but you'll make a quicker impression if you can connect to something that person already knows and understands. When I was a teacher, this meant relating to the student's current world of understanding before asking them to try to understand something completely foreign to their experience. This is also why it's so important to know your potential clients BEFORE you start trying to tell them anything about your service or product. Once you know what they care about, you can make stronger connections from your product or service to the things they are already passionate about.

While burgers and football aren't things that I'm passionate about, it's obvious from recent commercials that Arby's Roast Beef Sandwiches wants to become the alternative to eating a burger, and Subway Subs is the ideal food for people who watch sporting events. Oh, and if you love someone, you don't really love them until you give them a diamond. These are all invented connections that were made by advertisers, who connected their product to something their target market already understands and cares about.

What does your target market care about, and how can you make a better connection to that passion?

(See also: previous post on Relationship Marketing)

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and low-cost solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.


  1. I am a HUGE fan of the CBC radio show/podcast Age of Persuasion by Terry O'Reilly.

    He goes through the ages looking at the genius and not so genius ad campaigns. You wouldn't think this would apply to the business of photography, but Terry has covered exactly what you are talking about here and so much more.

    You just have to listen and learn how to apply it to your business.

    Great post and topic!

  2. *headsmack* -- Brilliant! I mean, I already knew this -- but wow! Reading it like this makes my head spin with ideas between what I already know my target market to be and what I already want them to know about; this just puts it all together for me!

    Thank you!!!

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