An act or a process of appealing to our survival instincts, triggering dopamine & endorphin releases and building artificial context, so that our ‘primed’ subconscious mind gives up to the conscious mind for a product (we are made to believe) that satisfies our need.”

If you are like this man in the picture after reading the definition, then you must read below.

Did you buy a coke again? Did you just step into a McD? Your conscious mind is constantly telling you that these are unhealthy for your body, but we still do it. Why?

It is because our subconscious mind (scientists assume this to be 90% of our brain) has given up to the conscious mind, thanks to smart marketers who have successfully “linked” their product to ‘life’s experiences’, built artificial context around it and used our survival instincts (genetic programming) to ‘prime’ us to behave as they want us to by appealing to our subconscious mind. Marketing is an art and science of appealing toour subconscious mind.

So, there are 3 ways by which a marketer can effectively reach (or appeal to) a consumer’s mind and aid decisions to make its brand ‘preferred’ over others. These are:

1) Genetic Programming (Survival instincts)

2) Life’s experiences

3) Building context

1) Genetic Programming: As human beings, we are are born with a certain behavior, beliefs, actions and opinions which are a clear reflection of our evolution. 3 cases are observed within this type which act as our survival instincts:

a) Avoid danger: In case of danger or fear we take decisions that help us reduce the risk. This is fear-based marketing, frequently used in hand-washes, anti-viruses, insurance, health devices etc. Also, anything new or different is to be avoided and herding is perhaps a key behavior here and we follow others. You must be following Yelp or Zomato ratings before checking in to a restaurant or checking reviews and ratings before buying anything online. Marketers exploit it and do create artificial hype (“1 million purchases, where are you?”)

b) Avoid starvation: Here, marketers promise to fulfill our aspirations by linking their product to our desired outcome as if the product offers us money or power to achieve it. As human beings, we get attracted, happy or even relieved. We feel ‘starved’ if we don’t have that product. You know that limited edition things? Those are done to make us believe that rare things are valuable. Axe deodorant gives us power to attract opposite sex, Olay gives us power to stay away from aging. Heinz limited edition vinegar exploits our thinking of relating limited edition/rare things with “valuable” items. Check below examples.

c) Procreation (sex and nurturing): We love babies and we have emotions, compassion for ourselves and for our fellow members of species. We get attracted to curves of woman or even those muscular angles of men. Curves are beautiful and muscles signify strength. The curvy Kellogg’s logo strengthens its image of offering healthy breakfast as it gets associated to curves ( a sign of good-body figure). Sex in advertising has been widely used, in various forms (hidden or explicit). It is in our genes, as human beings, to get attracted to it. Brands exploit it in infinite ways to associate product with well being, good body, great relationship and even respect (remember those high-end perfumes adverts?) from opposite sex.

Also, as per a study, we are unable to differentiate between animal’s babies and ours and that’s why babies of animals or humans have been widely used to generate a feeling of love, surprise, humor and associate it with product. We value anything that is innocent and cute. The way to put this in the minds of consumers is by using babies. We end up valuing the brand and its products, be it Andrex, Evian or Johnson and Johnson and the job gets done for marketers.

2) Life’s experiences: A genetically programmed individual learns throughout life. Apart from appealing to our survival instincts or any genetically programmed responses, a brand can make efforts to appeal to experiences that are learned during our lifetime. Here, two types of experience are worth noticing:

a) Dis-pleasure (The obedience way): These experiences are to be avoided. We are taught this by our parents, teachers, doctors, experts, and so on. So, any brand which aims to ‘alert’ us against a possible displeasure, will appeal through “obedience”. Check below example.

b) Pleasure: These experiences are to be desired or aimed for. Here, the aim of the marketer is to release dopamine (a neurotransmitter for anticipation of reward, sex, etc.)and endorphins (to make us feel good) so that the product gets linked to reward, an accomplishment or happiness. A brand can use celebrities to instill confidence and joy in customers (and simultaneously building on avoiding starvation) or can simply create pleasant experiences and repeat them to make it look true as the brands below.

The third way to appeal to our pleasant experiences is by humour and surprise. Humour is a very strong way of connecting with consumers. It instantly releases endorphins. Check below commercials as brands try to tie their products with laughter. The gorilla one of Cadbury advert. will leave you by surprise. Surprise releases dopamine and brings pleasure. Pleasure gets associated with brand so when the same joy comes again (during festivals, gatherings, etc.) the same brand comes to mind.

3) Building Context – After doing above, it is time to build a context to infuse (prime) the brain with certain messages and links to further strengthen the brand and its promise. This becomes essential as it influences the choice and ensures a greater brand recall. Here 2 classical context building cases are:

a) Physical/Sensory context: Having a signature sound (Nokia), hunger-inducingfragrances (Starbucks, Dunkins), Touch/Built/Design (iphone), Sight (The Yellow Logo of McD or Red of KFC enhances appetite) and Taste (The sauces at Subway restaurant) leave a great impact on our capability of recalling a brand. The 5 senses are exploited by all the brands for an even greater top line.

b) Social context (making alliances): Brands also offer us to join an exclusive community to avail of special privileges or to gather for a noble cause (The coca cola way). Thus, they exploit our desire of representing a member of a “supposedly” important/special group. The frequent flyer program by Qantas Airline or being a member of Xiaomi forums offer us privileges, not available to many.

Finally, one example comes to my mind which combines all the above as it appeals to our survival instincts (avoid danger, avoid starvation and procreation) along with an element of surprise (aiding dopamine release). It is The Epic Split in Volvo commercial below. It will surely leave you stunned.

So, I believe, marketing is a sweet blend of right and left human brain, apart from appealing to our subconscious one. As a human being, we get influenced by various brand development and product marketing activities. We associate products with life’s experiences and when those experiences appear, it remind us of that product. This explains why we open a soda bottle, popcorn or packet of chips during a cricket match, movie, picnic or any gathering.

Yes, marketing is surely about meeting needs profitably, understanding customers, creating products that have high value for customers and assessing the benefits to company through certain metrics but it is also about appealing to the subconscious mind of customers.

P.S. Sales wars are fought on battleground, in offline space, on roads, in fairs, on online sites, etc. but marketing war are fought in minds of customers.

Published with permission from Author.


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