Yesterday’s article, for all its mediocrity (sorry about that), did spark an interesting question from Yann.  He questioned the extent to which the ads I was discussing would generate business for those companies.

As I mentioned in my reply to Yann, at least part of the way in which advertising works is to “register” a brand or product at an unconscious level.

Given the way in which the unconscious mind works (by associations) I’m convinced that the unconscious benefit is likely to be maximised when unconscious awareness of the ad coincides with positive emotions.  Even if the humour has little or no relevance to the product, the fact that the two exist together at that moment in time can have a positive impact.

Part of the support for my theory comes from the fact that the only meaningful correlation that people who track advertising have been able to identify from the many (it turns out mostly pointless) questions they ask people, is that ads that score well for ‘like-ability’ generate more sales.

Forget unprompted awareness, prompted awareness, accurately identifying the brand, recalling the tag line, remembering what product it was promoting… none of that seems to count for much.

Last year researchers from the University of Maryland discovered that, simply by showing pictures of people going about daily activities near a product (Dasani bottled water in this case), participants were more likely to choose that product over three alternatives; this was the case even when people were unaware of having seen the product in those pictures.

The more pictures they saw containing the product, the more likely they were to select it later.

When alternative versions of the pictures were shown that included either someone wearing a cap from the same university or one from a rival (again with the product present), the presence of someone with an unconscious link to themselves also prompted greater take up of the brand.

The more I see studies like this, the more convinced I am about the importance and power of unconscious associations in determining consumer behaviour.

Perhaps most crucially, it’s important to understand that what the unconscious mind values isn’t necessarily the same as what we would like to think is important to us.

Philip Graves

Source: University of Chicago Press Journals (2008, October 15). Subconscious Encounters: How Brand Exposure Affects Your Choices


  1. John Ho


    Law of Familiarity explains why home sellers often choose popular mediocre realtors (estate agents) over the competitive but less well known ones!

    So those who asks for and uses seller’s money to promote themselves to create & maintain high profile often get listings! Their skills level in getting the best price for sellers and their ethics becomes less important when the vendors make their decisions.

    John Ho
    Numerology Expert Helps Understanding Personality for Better Influence & Persuasion (WordPress Blog)
    Numerology Expert Helps Understanding Personality for Better Influence & Persuasion (Money Page)

  2. Philip Graves

    @John Ho
    I’m sure that’s true. The one that’s been seen everywhere just “feels” like a better choice; of course people will justify it in all sorts of apparently rational ways, but just having that presence can make a big difference.


  3. Anthony Lemme

    It is astonishing how the unconscious mind often drives the bus while we ride in the back. I can honestly say that I do not own or buy anything that I see advertisments for.

    I know the bicycle that I ride and the shoes that I wear are advertised somewhere, but I am more interested in quality and performance. I am however, influenced by the reviews of the shoes in runner’s world or by my local bike dealer’s informed opinion which is probably influenced in some way by the marketing of the companies he deals with. What a tangled web.

    Inevitably, I buy the shoes that work the best and last the longest and the bike that is light, reliable and can withstand the serious punishment I inflict upon it and still be ridable for years to come. I will drop $3,000 on a bike but it has more to do with quality than marketing.

    However, I’d be pretty naive if I thought marketing did not get in their somewhere and influence my unconscious mind.

    I hope that made sense!


  4. Yann Vernier -

    I certainly agree with you that the unconscious associations in our mind have a huge impact on our decisions.

    But I wonder if those aren’t much more influenced by the rest of our environment than by ads.

    Let’s imagine that you have only ever heard negative or neutral comments about Barclays. Say, the word on the street is that “Barclays service sucks” (not an unlikely scenario!)… Wouldn’t it take a lifetime of watching funny ads for Barclays to eventually prime anyone to choose Barclays over a competitor who has a better reputation and boring ads?

    I suppose my point is: how can the effectivenss of an unconcscious association created by our marketing be measured vs. another one?

    All the best,
    How to Get Organized, Stop Procrastinating, and Set Goals for Small Business Success

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