I was chatting with my client’s Vice-President last week. I don’t remember how it came up, but she was describing her favorite car commercial, about a little girl who gets possessive of the family SUV.
She shrugged, “To the chagrin of their marketing department, I don’t remember what brand it was.” How many of us have shared this thought, shaking our heads at the challenges of marketing?
Curious, I googled the spot and understood why she found it memorable. Car commercials are notoriously anonymous, so it feels like a breath of fresh air when they deviate from the windy roads and beautiful scenery, even if we don’t remember who it was.
According to Daryl Weber, the author of Brand Seduction, Lexus needn’t lose sleep over the fact that she didn’t consciously assign their commercial to them.
After reading his book, I interviewed him to ask him more about his experience and the book’s reception.
Convincing Creatives to Embrace Science
Writing about neuroscience may not be an obvious choice for a book geared towards ad agency pros. But neuromarketing, or behavior sciences is a growing field.
Daryl says people usually fall into one of two camps, they either think it works too well and could be manipulative or think it’s a load of crap. He says, “The truth is somewhere in the middle.” Like all specialties, it must be applied correctly and in the right context.
He cautions at the start of the book that he expects pushback from people who practice traditional marketing approaches. But based on the tone of the book and the empirical evidence that supports his claims, I don’t believe his overriding message is, “You’re doing it wrong.” I think his message is more about growth and changing with the times.
Advertising has evolved in so many ways, from social media to attention to diversity and inclusion (bungled as these efforts sometimes are). My impression is that Daryl is presenting new developments in neuroscience as the next frontier for the evolution of this industry.
He is most critical of market research techniques that rely too overtly on consumers explaining what they want. The reason is that consumers are almost always discussing what they’re aware of, while they’re aware that they’re discussing it. A lot of our decision making takes place without our knowledge that it’s happening.
While he typically gets pushback, he notes that it’s often from people before they’ve read the book. That may be because he has written the entire book, even the overview of the brain’s inner workings, from a branding lens.
Daryl thinks there may be a bit of a disconnect between the way creatives perceive themselves and their work and science. Science and creativity don’t necessarily seem like traditional bed fellows.
But the book has recently been translated into several new languages, with an edition soon to be published in India as well. Clearly, it’s resonating with people.
Why It’s Okay to Not Remember the Brand
Daryl makes a strong argument taking emotional branding to the subconscious level, where the human mind takes in more than we realize. It’s quite possible my client has a more positive association with Lexus, even though she didn’t recognize the commercial as theirs. “It’s possible her image of Lexus has shifted without her even knowing,” Daryl explains.
He believes brands need to focus on an overarching fantasy, one that goes beyond the page of the typed brief and analytic pieces (though he affirms their importance on several occasions).
Daryl untangles the relationship between branding and the subconscious mind. In order to do this, he spends a good third of the book discussing what he calls, “the brain-brand connection.” While this does indeed cover more neuroscience than some creatives are used to, he is fast to make relatable connections to our work.
His easy writing style also moved me forward quickly. It’s not easy for me to finish books these days, with a new baby and a diabetic dog. It took me longer than it would have pre-baby, but Daryl did everything he could for me, without sacrificing depth.
Emotional Branding Is More than What We Think It Is
Daryl discusses the piece of emotional branding that seems often overlooked–reaching the subconscious mind. The difference between what we know we remember and what we remember buried beneath awareness. Many marketing professionals know emotional branding, but more often than not, it focuses on conscious emotions.
With carefully curated empirical studies, Daryl unlocks the ways our emotions translate into action. In fact, he demonstrates that the biological reason we have emotions is to guide us to action. This should feel inspiring, and it sometimes does.
As a writer, I love when he talks about how important tone of voice is. But it’s a little disconcerting to realize how much of our thought happens outside the realm of language and the written word.
Brand Fantasies and B2B Marketing
My one request for the next edition would be a focused case study on a B2B brand. The books spends a lot of time on ads people see without paying full attention, but if people are selecting a partner at work, there’s a lot at stake. They’re likely more conscience of their thinking process. However, most of the info presented in Brand Seduction is still quite relevant.
“I think the fantasy is very applicable to B2B,” Daryl says. While he does see some differences in the role of factual information, he points out that people still make decisions about B2B the same way they might buy a house or a car–based on intuition. Time after time, people make the decision–whether aware of it or not–and then use logic and proof points to justify it.
He has seen this over and over as companies pick their agency partners, a decision with potentially millions at stake. He assures me that agencies know this and every decision about their pitch, from the stories to the wardrobe choices reinforce making people want to work with them on a visceral level, highlighting likability and the cool factor.
Why Is My Brand a Dude?
I bought the book to inform the writing I do for my clients, but Daryl includes a series of exercises to help people understand how the brand fantasy takes shape. One of many questions is, “Is your brand male or female?”
Without thinking, I said, “male.” This is how I discovered I’ve been thinking of my brand as a separate identity from myself, even though it features my name. It’s a distinct brand. While I’m fine with that explanation, it did feel a little like a gender reveal gone wrong. Here’s another compilation, because I can’t stop laughing.
When I told Daryl the story he chuckled and reminded me that gender is just one small piece of the brand personality and advised me to keep thinking about this over time.
The Problem of Asking People What They Think
Of all the examples my favorite is an old classic. Like everyone, I knew the infamous story of New Coke. What I didn’t realize is that New Coke tested well. It makes sense, but how many times has a company launched a senseless product or said something absurd, leaving the rest of us wondering what they were thinking.
I can’t help but wonder about the Lady Doritos storm that took over the internet, overshadowing even the Super Bowl ads. Pepsi’s CEO made comments about what women want in their snacks. It’s a legitimate question to ask and uncover, but a terrible question to discuss publicly, especially if it reinforces the idea of women as the weaker sex.
Man, this post has lots of relevant Simpsons quotes.
I don’t believe this was her intent, but it sounded to me (and much of the internet agreed with me) that women are too meek to handle that iconic Dorito crunch. Now, I don’t know what research Pepsi conducted or how, but it seems pretty clear that bringing gender into this was a predictable faux pas.
Daryl lays out many of the challenges with traditional market research. People react differently when they know they’re being watched. That’s why so many psychological studies are less than forthcoming about what they’re looking at.
It seems to me that there’s a clear element of reverse psychology with Indra Nooyi’s comments. And she said it wasn’t about male vs. female per se, but then she continued to ask about how women specifically enjoy their snacks.
So she WAS making it about gender, even though I imagine her intentions were purely about giving women the best snacking experience possible. Instead she implied that we’re afraid of crunch.
Incidentally, all I could think about was that Dorito crunch whenever I saw an article or tweet mocking this. Part of me wonders if this isn’t an elaborate and intelligent fake out. If next year’s Super Bowl features women loudly and proudly crunching Doritos, we’ll know that’s the case. And by the way, if that happens, you heard it here first.
There’s a clear disconnect between Pepsi’s research and the reception of this product idea. I can only imagine if they were paying attention to subconscious branding, it could have been handled with more nuance.