Home Science Humans 3 Ways Companies Use Science to Influence Your Subconscious

3 Ways Companies Use Science to Influence Your Subconscious

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?

In his 2005 nonfiction work, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell makes the argument 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 seems to agree, especially in the field of advertising. In fact, 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 key 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 important factors in predicting product preference.

How are companies using this data to prey on your subconscious? Read on to discover some neuromarketing techniques that may surprise you.

1. Manipulation of color

You’ve probably noticed that color has the ability to affect your mood. It’s no different when advertisers are trying to lure you to their products. Research shows that, when it comes to purchases, 85 percent of consumers say color is the most important reason for buying a particular product. 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 and calming, while black is often considered sleek and powerful.

(Image: Phase 1 Prototypes )
(Image: Phase 1 Prototypes )

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 can also influence your subconscious decision to purchase a product. Companies often tailor the shape 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.

(Image: Jhong Dizon via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )
(Image: Jhong Dizon via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )

Many times, consultants experienced in neuromarketing are called in to rebrand the labels of companies that are struggling. 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.”


(Image: PhotoPhoto33 via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )
(Image: PhotoPhoto33 via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )

3. Manipulation of texture

A third way advertisers can appeal to your subconscious is by focusing special attention on the texture of their products. Both the Journal of Marketing and Journal of Consumer Research have 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. The ability to physically hold 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 the texture of food — big-box stores like Costco offer free samples of their food items for a reason.

(Image: City Harmony)
(Image: City Harmony)

Like it or not, you don’t really have much control over the effect neuromarketing 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.

Megan Ray Nichols

This article is by Megan Ray Nichols. If you enjoyed this article visit her page Schooled by Science.

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