Behavioural science has informed advertising since its very inception. But having been around since the dawn of time, how relevant does it remain?
Let’s take a look at some of the principals that are most relevant to advertising in the digital era.
At the dawn of the information age (1971) the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, Dr. Herbert Simon, coined the phrase ‘poverty of attention’, which describes the decision-making process in an information-rich world. Simon explained that in the digital world,
“the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: […] the attention of its recipients.”
On that note, we take a look at the top three insights that behavioural science brings to digital marketing…
One of the fundamentals of behavioural science is that there is an unconscious and conscious mind – or system 1 and 2 – each of which is activated by different stimuli. System 1, or the unconscious mind, is the reflexive brain that has automatic or default reactions. This is built on preconceptions, deeply rooted desires and gut reaction.
System 2 is the conscious mind, that incorporates learned knowledge and rational, deliberate thought. System 2 is triggered in the presence of new or complex information.
Marketers should appeal to system 2 at the early stages of a campaign, presenting consumers with the information that they need in order to make a rational decision (and a judgement that the new brand/product is superior). Clear demonstrations of a product and its features will inform and convince customers in their system 2 mode.
Once a product has been introduced, strategies to appeal to system 2 are redundant, and can be perceived as tiring by audiences, who lose interest in these messages once the information has been absorbed.
Try to decrease the complexity of the brand message in order to reach the automatic, reflexive system 1 mode. Create simple, concise and clever graphics that make decision-making easy, visceral and instinctual.
Conviction & Purpose
The information-overload that Simon predicted, has resulted in a mistrust of brands and their adverts, meaning that their messages are ignored or, at best, cynically consumed.
To combat this ennui, brands must speak with conviction and purpose (beyond their own profits). Showing an awareness of the social role that the brand has can build trust with consumers, who actively reward brands that have a clear sense of purpose.
Adverts that allude to the brand’s history, with nostalgic or old-fashioned imagery, can successfully emphasise the brand’s philosophy and their long contribution to society. It is possible to express authenticity and a brand’s core beliefs by more abstract, clever or humorous means – creating adverts that play on the brand’s ethos, whatever that may be.
The Regulatory Fit Theory
The Regulatory Fit Theory explains that decisions are ultimately motivated by one of two reasons – either seeking pleasure or avoiding pain. Finding pleasure or avoiding pain define our choices, so marketers would do well to appeal to one or the other.
Some brands and products are created for the ‘pleasure-seeker’, so messages that show how pleasure, enjoyment and success can be found through the product, or that speak to the dreams and desires of the consumer will be well received.
Brands that secure customers from danger, loss or unpleasant experiences should emphasize these points – making sure to come across as reliable, trustworthy and committed.
If it is not immediately obvious which of the two strategies your product should emphasise, then market research will help to define what consumers most strongly associate with the product.
Understanding whether your product should appeal to the conscious, rational mind or to the impulsive unconscious will make it easier to create campaigns that feel right to the consumer.