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Advertising works because it’s not important

September 11, 2013 0 Comments

man_w_remoteAdvertising is, of course, important from the market development point of view – but strangely enough it works largely because it’s of little importance to the consumer.

Research and experience have shown that advertising messages that do not engage the conscious mind typically have more impact than those that cause the consumer to actively consider the message. This is because engaging the conscious, rational mind encourages counter-arguments: ‘of course they would say that..’, ‘but the one I have now is much better…’, ‘that would never happen…’, and so on.

But when the message is processed by the nonconscious, it can bypass rational consideration to impact directly on brand perceptions and trigger goals. And, because it is the nonconscious rather than the conscious mind that drives consumers’ actions, we are impacting on the consumer’s mind where it matters.

Funny then, that so much time gets spent on dissecting advertising concepts from a rational perspective. Or, worse, putting consumers into a group discussion and paying them to spend an hour or more talking about an ad they would normally pay little attention to. The result is a distorted insight into largely irrelevant matters.

The task of creating truly effective advertising is much more complex than the usual insight and research process would suggest.

It is a rare skill indeed that allows a creative mind to communicate in a way that not only impacts on the nonconscious, but impacts in the way intended. Any reasonably intelligent person can put together a compelling rational argument. But to shape brand perceptions and preferences we need to create emotional engagement, send signals that are consistent with the intended message and ensure that we shape the brand memory in the consumer’s mind rather than just creating a positive memory of the ad.

There’s little point creating an ad, viral or engagement opportunity that consumers like, if their nonconscious mind doesn’t link it to the brand. Typical examples are videos that attract millions of downloads or ‘likes’ while the brand’s market share continues to decline.

This is why advertising will always be an art as much as a science. As we learn more about the seemingly irrational drivers of purchasing behavior we get better at understanding the emotions we need to trigger and the signals we need to send. To translate strategy into practice is a difficult undertaking that few master – but when it happens we can see advertising at its best.

To get the neuromarketing perspective on marketing, advertising, shopper marketing and marketing innovation come to one of our September Masterclasses, held in Australia and New Zealand. For more information visit

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About the Author:

Dr Peter Steidl is the founder of and an adviser to corporations and advertising agencies. The second edition of his book Neurobranding, shortlisted as the best marketing book 2013 by the European Expert Marketer Magazine, will be released at the end of March. He is also co-author of the recently published Neuromarketing for Dummies (with Stephen J Genco and Andrew P Pohlmann). He can be contacted via

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