Thinking Fast and Lazy: Why Do Ads Target Your Emotions?

by Colin Shaw on April 22, 2014

I often write about how different ads are coming out that target our emotions and how this is an important part of the customer experience…and many of you have read them (thank you for that, by the way!).  For this reason, a recent article in The Economist that examines why advertisements do this caught my eye. Simply put, what I learned was that when it comes to advertising, the goal is to make you think fast and be a little lazy in your decision-making.

Consider this ad by Cadbury in 2007, which was the subject of the article in the economist:

Cadbury Gorilla Drummer Drums To Phil Collins from Adpressive on Vimeo.

Or link: http://vimeo.com/62839747

Cadbury created this ad to appeal to the emotions of their audience. It was funny. It was surprising. It used good British Rock. It really had all the elements to be memorable and brand savvy. But market research said that it was simply “meh” when it was tested. In spite of this research, Cadbury still released the ad. Good thing they did because it went on to be one of the most successful ads that year with a return on investment for the campaign that was three time the average of other products in their category.

This ad is a great example of making you think fast and be lazy in your decision-making. It’s based on a theory from 2002 Nobel Prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, which tells us that our brains are made up of two systems. System One makes decisions using intuition somewhat automatically. System Two uses rational judgment to think its way to a decision, but requires more effort on the brain’s part. Because of this fact, System Two is invoked far less frequently, giving it a reputation for being lazy.

Advertisers are appealing to System One. They don’t want you to think hard about the product. They want a quick association that intuitively drives your purchasing decisions. So that’s why they target your emotions, because they are part of System One, the automatic, intuitive system that makes the majority of your decisions because System Two can’t be bothered, apparently…or at least not as it pertains to which chocolate bar you are going to buy.

Cadbury isn’t the only company that uses advertising that does this. Guinness does it. Proctor and Gamble does it.  The Canadian airline WestJet did it last holiday season. I would argue that most of the advertising that you see today does it.  And the reason they do is because it works.

Getting your customers to think fast and lazy is a great strategy for designing your customer experience as well. By that I don’t mean tricking them. Deceit is never a great strategy for customer experience. What I mean by that is that by creating an emotional signature that is associated with good emotions like happy and pleased in your interaction with your customers, they will intuitively choose your experience over another, without disturbing the System Two in their brain that will have them choose the most rational option for the goods and services you offer.

Every organization has interactions with their customer through their various channels that can create an emotional signature, which is level of emotional engagement with the company. Whether you are designing an experience to create a deliberate signature or not, you have one. Many organizations don’t even know what that signature is until they research it. But rest assured, it’s there.

What is important is that this emotional signature is stored in the long-term memory of your customers. Access to this part of your customer’s brains is important to keeping their decision in the realm of intuitive system one. Neuro Insight, a research organization that monitored the brain activity of a viewer while they watched the Cadbury ad revealed that the ad was successful in accessing the long-term memory at three different times. In the case of the Cadbury ad, the gorilla, the drums and the brand image of Cadbury were all peaked in the long-term memory centers for the viewers.

So advertisers want to appeal to our emotions so that we associate positive ones with their products and intuitively reach for them when we are shopping. It seems logical that most of us would want the same for our organization. By creating an emotional signature with our experience that links your customer’s long-term memory, you can create this same intuitive relationship that appeals to their System One for their buying decisions.

So what can you do in your customer experience that can engage System One and leave System Two alone? How can your emotional signature keep their thinking fast and lazy? These sound like good questions for System Two. But don’t bother it right now, it’s resting.

Photo Credit – flickr.com/photos/mmoosa/

Colin Shaw - Thinking Fast and Lazy: Why Do Ads Target Your Emotions?

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin has been recognized by LinkedIn as one of the top 150 Business Influencers in the world.  He is an international author of four best-selling books on Customer Experience. Colin’s company, Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from our Global Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.

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Colin ShawThinking Fast and Lazy: Why Do Ads Target Your Emotions?