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Sunday 3 February 2008

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Doing business is supposed to be rational. But it’s not. It’s emotional. It has to be. Because consumers respond to emotional triggers.

They don’t respond to bigger, brighter, more extreme. Sure they notice. But that’s not enough. You have to connect and keep on connecting to sell.

A book by South African marketing guru Erik du Plessis explores how the human brain works and what this means for advertising.

One of his theories is that, just as a child learns their ABC by rote, consumers also learn product association the same repetitive way.

Du Plessis says certain brain neurons fire in response to a stimulus (a word, an image, a logo) and these neurons attempt to recruit other neurons to join them. This is where the “learned” behaviour comes in. If the other neurons are familiar with the stimulus and have connected in the past, they are more likely to join the party. In other words, the more constant and consistent the message, the more likelihood it will be successful.

The book provides compelling cases and experiments that illustrate that "learning" has a lot to do with repetition. In effect, "learning" is neural memory - reinforcing the connections between neurons in the brain - whether it's a guitarist "learning" the fingering of a song by repetition, a first-grader "learning" the alphabet by repeating the alphabet song, or a consumer "learning" what a brand is about by hearing and seeing consistent brand messages that emotionally engage them.

All this theory brings us to the nub of the issue – emotion.

According to du Plessis, advertising does not first get attention, and then create an emotion. Rather, advertising creates an emotion, which results in attention.

This is an important distinction. Never mind the colours, the "star burst" or the screaming headline.The art is in making a positive emotional connection.

Think about MasterCard's "Priceless" campaign. These TV ads created strong emotional resonance with consumers, stayed consistently "on-message" over the years, and created an almost continuing series that people couldn't help but watch each time a new execution aired. It made people pay attention, because they remembered it, because it caught their attention long ago, and mostly because it resonated with them on an emotional level.

Du Plessis offers scientific support for this notion by explaining why emotion rules over rationality.

"There are more dendrites (synaptic connections) leading from the limbic area (emotive area) in the brain towards the frontal lobes (rational area) than there are... leading the other way," he says.

No matter how objective we believe we are being when making decisions, the emotional context colors and in many cases determines the decision we make.

The Advertised Mind: Ground-Breaking Insights into How Our Brains Respond to Advertising By Erik du Plessis, can be bought directly from Millward Brown Johannesburg.

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