Unconscious Wizardry

Here’s an ad that performed the rare feat of wrestling my conscious attention away from its unconscious meanderings and then, having drawn me in, manipulated my unconscious mind to boost my perception of a brand.

So what is it that makes this ad such a powerful success? And why am I convinced that it will attract customers for the company that made it?

I won’t say anything further until you’ve had a chance to see it for yourself…

I suspect that the ad got my attention because it aroused my curiosity. The simple black screen stating a time and place is unconsciously associated with documentaries: it triggers the idea that something noteworthy might be about to follow. Clearly something significant happened at Liverpool Street Station recently and, if I watch, I will find out.

The silence, against the highly compressed auditory backdrop of competing jingles and the like is a clever way of flagging the need to look at the screen… “Why has it gone quiet”, my unconscious mind can ask itself, tapping into the primeval reflex that is alert to silence when the creatures around us take flight because they’ve spotted a dangerous predator.

The sense that something unexpected and significant has been witnessed is reinforced by the opening scene. Totally humdrum, exactly what you would expect to see on any day at 11am at Liverpool Street Station.

On repeated viewing it’s clear that the advertising watchdogs have insisted on a graphic to tell people that this is an advertisement. This has been included in the most subtle way possible – did you see it on first viewing, I wonder? Certainly my attention was elsewhere and it passed me by.

By the end of the ad all of the associations we have with the music tracks played have been activated, along with the uproarious joy and social connectivity of dancing.

Our brains being what they are, mirror neurons are triggered, and we get to feel what the people taking part are feeling.

We imagine ourselves there, witnessing this flash mob fun, maybe moving a little too; the ripples of our unconscious desire to copy and interact spread from the original actors, to the people on the edge who may or may not be complicit, through to the on-lookers who possibly aren’t.

And what do those on-lookers do?

They start to film the scene on their mobile (cell) phones, or phone their friends to tell them what’s going on. We don’t know what they’re saying, but we can guess. The joy of the apparent spontaneity, upbeat music, and dancing are radiating out through mobile phones.

Now, of course, any mobile phone network will do. They’re a utility, they all do the same thing more or less, it’s simply a question of price.

Except it isn’t that simple.

If it were then one company would get all the sales at any one time for a given type of customer, but they don’t.

And if T-Mobile can keep this campaign alive in people’s minds, and if they’re smart they won’t judge whether that’s happening with a traditional advertising tracking study, people considering a mobile phone network will feel better about T-Mobile than they did before.

All of the associations generated by the ad, the social connection, the pleasure, the vibrancy, the music, the dancing, will be connected with T-Mobile.

All these positive feelings have been activated and then the T-Mobile brand tagged on to benefit from the related paths in the brain.

One theory about how we learn is that dopamine is released as a reward or in an anticipation of a reward. Once we get that reward more dopamine is released – we feel pleased that the nice or interesting thing we thought was coming did come.

With this ad the dopamine is flowing from the start (with the curiosity it triggers and then satisfies) and the good feelings triggered by watching people have fun, and from our associations with the ‘party’ music, mean our brains are swimming with feel-good chemicals.

When the T-Mobile brand is tagged on at the end ambivalence is nudged into affection (unless you’ve had bad associations mapped onto that brand name in the past, in which case you’re primed to dislike the ad retrospectively).

Top marks for T-Mobile then with a great example of how advertising a brand in an indirect way can shape perceptions and increase desirability.

Image courtesy: Chris JL

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