There’s one statistic that can deflate any hype at Cannes about how advertising is changing the world - the fact that 89% of advertising is ignored. But depressing as that is, the industry shouldn’t down tools just yet. For our brains are built to ignore most of what is going on around us.
Brains have to deal with so much sensory input all the time, not all of it can be taken in. At a session at Cannes exploring neuroscience and how it is applied to brand building, cognitive neuroscientist Dr Itiel Dror explained that the brain ignores much if what’s out there. Even when we pay attention to something or examine it closely, we ignore a lot about it.
To create a lasting impression and get through to the right part of the brain, familiar messaging won’t work. Dror gave the example of trying to teach his kids not to open the door to strangers when they’re home alone. He explained the danger to his kids several times but knew it wasn’t sinking in. He left the house, told them he’d be out for a while and not to open the door to anyone. He came back ten minutes later and rapped on the door, pretending to be a stranger. After he knocked the third time, his children opened the door. As they opened door, he surprised them with a roar – and petrified them in the process. They never opened the door to a stranger again.
Clearly, traumatising people is not a method that’s advisable for brands. But brand owners can achieve a similar result simply by exaggerating what it is that is unique about their brand or makes them stand out.
Being different sets you apart, but retaining an element of familiarity is still crucial to get through to people. Paradoxically, you have to be different and familiar at the same time. This way, according to Dr Dror, you can piggy-back the brain’s existing associations to help what you’re saying penetrate.
Understanding then catering to how we’re neurologically hard-wired to make decisions is an important way neuroscience can help brands. Iconic brand design works in part because the brain is lazy and likes to take shortcuts. One example of this is our tendency to notice ‘difference’ first, so design needs to be simple and distinctive, remarkable and extraordinary because no one remembers average.
This is why neuroscience informs our approach. For the past few years, we have worked closely with neuroscientists to decode effectiveness and understand how programmed responses to external stimuli can be used to trigger action in consumers. And this led to our development of Biomotive Triggers® – a sensory marketing tool that enables us to design instinctive reactions into packaging. Deployment of sharp pointy shapes instinctively provoke attention by signalling caution or fear; curves, in contrast, convey comfort and softness. Striking the right balance of triggers such as these can achieve far greater impact for a brand than simply shouting loudest.
Neuroscience has so much to teach us about how to create work that is effective it is hard to understand why marketers aren’t using it more. Some 95% of decisions are driven by the non-conscious, Professor Gerald Zaltman or Harvard Business school has pointed out. Yet brands tend to spend the majority of their budget trying to decipher the 5% of our rational decision-making. And a recent study by Marketing Week showed only 8% of marketers are using neuroscience to test and inform their campaigns. I’d argue this is part of the reason we are seeing a slump in powerful creative.
An IPA report on creative effectiveness, released during Cannes week, points to a crisis in creativity, with a rise in the number short term campaigns that are winning awards but aren’t making any impact on the public. Now, more than ever, we should be using all the scientific tools at our disposal not just to help us get into people’s heads, but also to stay there.