3 Ways Companies Influence Your Subconscious in Advertising

Supermarket aisle.

More and more companies are using these scientific findings to influence your subconscious mind and woo you over to their products through a process called neuromarketing. (Image: Bsenic via Dreamstime)

Advertising is a promotional activity that aims to sell a product or service to a target audience. It is one of the oldest forms of marketing which attempts to influence the actions of its target audience to either buy, sell, or do something specific. Using a highly tailored message the advertisement can be niche (targets a small audience) or general (targets a large audience).

Think about the last time you chose a romantic partner, your favorite political candidate, or even just what brand of peanut butter you bought. Were these decisions based on careful forethought, or were they the spontaneous inner-workings of your subconscious mind? How would you recognize the difference?

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Advertising and the power of thinking without thinking

In his 2005 nonfiction work, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell argues that much of our everyday decision-making is instantaneous and automatic. Further, when we let the subconscious do the “thinking” for us, we’re more inclined to make better decisions than when we spend careful time deliberating.

Current research in psychology, neuroscience, and biomotives seem to agree, especially in advertising. More and more companies are using these scientific findings to influence your subconscious mind and woo you over to their products through a process called neuromarketing.

Experts say that up to 90 percent of purchasing decisions are automatic. When it comes to food advertising, for example, the International Journal of Retail & Distribution published a survey in 2013 of 315 participants that found a product’s visual design is a crucial predictor of consumers’ perception of the item’s quality and value.

Another study, published that same year in the Journal of Retail & Consumer Services, tracked grocery shoppers’ eye movements and reported that due to limited attention spans while on grocery runs, consumers find package design — specifically, visual cues — to be one of the most critical factors in predicting product preference.

How are companies using this data to prey on your subconscious?

3 neuromarketing and advertising techniques

Curves, such as in circles, ellipses, or ovals, are frequently associated with positive emotions in advertising and remind consumers of friendship and love.
Curves, such as in circles, ellipses, or ovals, are frequently associated with positive emotions in advertising and remind consumers of friendship and love. (Image: Radub85 via Dreamstime)

1. Manipulation of color

You’ve probably noticed that color can affect your mood. It’s no different when advertisers try to lure you to their products. Research shows that 85 percent of consumers say color is the most important reason for buying a particular product when it comes to purchases. The effective use of color also leads to an 80 percent increase in brand recognition.

Different colors are associated with different sets of emotions. Red, for example, indicates energy and a sense of urgency. Blue creates the perception of security and touch. Purple can be soothing, while black is often considered sleek and powerful.

Consider the color scheme of the La Muerte Skull Tequila packaging. Marketing research has found that red and black often appeal to impulse shoppers, so the combination of these two colors on the bottle and box might be striking to those in need of a quick buzz after a rough day at work.

2. Manipulation of logos

The shape of a product’s logo in advertising can also influence your subconscious decision to purchase a product. Companies often tailor the form of their logos to the specific message they are trying to convey. Curves, such as in circles, ellipses, or ovals, are frequently associated with positive emotions and remind consumers of friendship and love. In contrast, straight edges — from a square or rectangular design — can remind a shopper of stability and efficiency. Both vertical lines and triangles are said to be linked to masculinity. Sharp and jagged lines can be viewed as aggressive.

You remember the Nike swoosh, right? The brand’s famous slogan is “Just Do It.” The shoe company’s logo suggests that, with its product, you’ll be able to do just that. The logo features a curve that moves upward into a sharp point, implying that the shoes will give you energy and facilitate aggressive movement during sports. This is a stunning advertising ploy.

Often, consultants experienced in neuromarketing are called in to rebrand the labels of struggling companies. For example, in 2012, the consulting firm Elmwood was hired to redo the logo for Gressingham Foods duck products, and the change in design resulted in a 47 percent boost in customer sales. Check out the award-winning packaging logo — if you look carefully, you can see a duck head within Gressingham’s signature “G.”

Nike logo at a shopping center.
The Nike logo features a curve that moves upward into a sharp point, an advertising ploy implying that the shoes will give you energy and facilitate aggressive movement during sports. (Image: Alakoo via Dreamstime)

3. Manipulation of texture

A third way advertising can appeal to your subconscious is by focusing particular attention on the texture of their products. Both the Journal of Marketing and Journal of Consumer Research has published research suggesting that touch plays a role in consumers’ attraction to a particular item and decision to purchase it.

The findings report, among other things, that many shoppers have a “need for touch” and are more likely to opt for a product they can make physical contact with over one that’s hidden behind a display. Attributes of texture that can stimulate subconscious purchasing decisions include hardness or softness, weight, and even the item’s temperature. Physically holding a product can produce a subconscious sense of ownership.

That’s why, if you’re a frequent shopper at boutique stores, you’ll notice that most of the lotions and sprays have sampler bottles. Don’t forget the importance of food texture — big-box stores like Costco offer free samples of their food items for a reason.

Like it or not, you don’t have much control over the effect the neuromarketing school of advertising has on your brain. Still, in the end, does it matter? If you find that a particular set of colors, a logo design, or a texture is mysteriously appealing to you and you want to purchase the product, go with Nike’s advice: Just do it.

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