Firstly, thanks for all your comments, I find them encouraging, constructive and inspiring.

Secondly, Yann has raised another question.  Questions are wonderful things and, yet again, Yann has raised something that causes me to think about the subject of consumer behaviour (which I love to do) and given me a direction for this edition of my blog.

Yann asked whether our unconscious associations of brands are more influenced by broader environmental factors than advertising; things like what we hear (reputation).

Of course, there isn’t a single, clear-cut answer to this.  It is certainly the case that, were someone to hear an involving account (story) from a friend (social proof / trusted source / someone like me) this would trump an advertising message.  In this case, the powerful associations primed by the friend’s account work very similarly to negative personal experience: as soon as the brand name appears (be it at the start, middle or end of the ad) those established associations spring up and cause the person to dismiss what they’ve just seen.

By way of example, the UK furniture retailer MFI had a lousy reputation.  In fact, the first episode of a consumer rights TV programme Watchdog (in 1980) featured a complaint about the company that was handled extraordinarily badly by the poor store manager who was confronted by the BBC’s cameras.  I have never known anyone who had a problem with them, but I have been primed by the media to steer clear at all costs.  [MFI went under a few months ago.]

On the other hand, a lot of people don’t have an experience of a brand.  A lot of brands deal with superfluous elements of our lives.  Many of the things people tell us are not conveyed with sufficient emotion for us to assign unconscious significance to them (and so they are soon forgotten).

So humorous adverts, whilst inevitably failing to work on those already alienated, can create a positive emotional association for a brand.

Some brands have transformed their fortunes in exactly this way.  In the UK, Pizza Hut and Tango both experienced significant growth and profitability by taking brands that had lapsed into indifference and associating them with upbeat emotion.

When it comes to measurement of the unconscious impact of marketing (another of Yann’s questions) the only reliable way to evaluate is with a test and control methodology.  One area gets one set of unconscious associations the other doesn’t; or for a period you try one way, and later you try another.

With large brands it’s easier to do the former; it’s also important to consider the potential timescales involved.  Advertising that creates a more positive image of a brand in the way I’ve described might not produce immediate sales success; but it may still have an impact.

The key here is to adopt a strategy and persist with it for long enough for consumers to be influenced.  This is a by-product not just of the opportunity to be exposed to the communication sufficiently frequently, but also of the incidence with which they come into potential purchase contact with the brand.  If purchase frequency is low the campaign would have to be sustained without becoming irritating.  Of course, if a more motivating proposition appears on the scene from a competitor this can further muddy the waters.

Good marketing needs to be consistent at all the points it comes into contact with consumers.  The attractiveness of TV advertising (when it’s understood and applied correctly) lies in the opportunity to create emotion and associate the brand with it:  for a few seconds, the brand has full control of the consumer’s environment.

Philip Graves


  1. jc mackenzie

    I forget where I read it [I pretty much read everything] but it was a consumer study which basically said that a manufacterer could get away with a lousy product for roughly 7 years as long as the brand was solid. Evidently Jaguar produced a lousy car a few years ago and took several years to get back to baseline-they were able to survive because their brand name was strong.



    Making money-reviews

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