The Use Of Neuroscience In Marketing: Mixing Creativity And Science To Boost Campaign Impact | Hawthorne Advertising

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The Use Of Neuroscience In Marketing: Mixing Creativity And Science To Boost Campaign Impact

Author: Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO

Original Publication: DemandGenReport

Date Published: September 22, 2017

Editor’s Note: This Demanding View is the second of a two-part series of articles from Hawthorne Direct. Part 1 can be viewed here.

Marketers and advertisers have forever been in the business of figuring out what people want, and more importantly, figuring out how to turn the products they are selling products that people want. Traditionally, it’s been more of an art than a science, governed by intuition,creativity and insight into human nature. Those qualities are still a critical part of successful advertising campaigns, but with advances in computing and software, as well as neuroscience and social psychology, brands can add science to the art to create campaigns that have the greatest possible impact.

In the first article in this series, I discussed the Picture Superiority Effect and how it can be used to make consumers remember (and want) a product. In this second installment, I will explore three more neuroscience techniques: pessimism bias, social validation, and acoustic coding.

Pessimism Bias

Fearing and preparing for bad things to happen isn’t just the province of pessimists—It’s an evolutionary behavior, hardwired into us since the beginning of time. Our ancestors’ survival was based on pessimism because it prompted them to protect themselves from predators and avoid the hubris that could lead to their demise.

While our encounters with saber-toothed tigers and predatory dinosaurs are a thing of the past, the potential impact of bad outcomes in our lives still causes us to overestimate the likelihood of these events. We naturally harbor a Pessimism Bias.

Optimism is a less powerful trigger than pessimism. Having something good happen is soothing, even comforting, but having something bad happen packs more emotional weight. The two sentiments can’t coexist in our minds at the same time — literally or practically. Research from David Hecht on the neural basis of optimism and pessimism revealed that these sentiments actually originate in opposite parts of the brain, with pessimism residing on the right and optimism on the left.

Advertisers can use Pessimism Bias to connect with consumers. Take the commercial Hawthorne produced for a credit monitoring company. It underscores the terrible consequences of private consumer information being stolen and going public, as well as the likelihood of it happening. This positioning makes viewers think, “Look how easily that could happen to me. That would be awful.” As concern escalates, so does the motivation and determination not to let a theft happen. This motivates people to find a solution that will protect them.

Social Validation

When it comes to purchasing decisions, we want to fit in. We inherently feel that unwise choices reflect badly on us and could threaten our standing in a group, as well as our own self-esteem. In the desire to be part of and conform to the actions of a group—be it our neighbors or peers at work—we feel comforted by proof that others have made the same decision we are faced with, and are happy with the results.

This means that it’s not enough for a brand to extol its own virtues. We want corroboration. Positive reviews bolster our confidence, provided they come from those we perceive to have a sound judgment (i.e. people like us). When positive testimonials are stacked on top of each other, the effect is magnified. Ads that depict members of a brand’s target demographic sharing how much they like a product and the value it imparts are powerful.

Acoustic Encoding

Our collective brains prefer to take the path of least resistance when processing information. The easier something is for us to grasp, the more readily we believe it and the more tenaciously we’ll hold onto it. The use of Acoustic Encoding (rhyming) is a great way to tap into this natural tendency.

Rhyming has represented a universally acknowledged method to enhance memorization for ages. It makes storing and retrieving information much easier. Think about the “ABC Song.” There’s a good reason why that first line ends with “G” and the second line with “P.” The mnemonic device is so effective that most of us can’t recite the words without breaking into the melody.

For example, Hawthorne recently created a campaign for BLACK+DECKER hand vacuums that used acoustic encoding: “Cereal playing hide and seek; Dust builds up every week. Pebbles piled on the floor; Milk will spill when children pour. Playdates often end in glitter; Why can’t cats clean up their litter? Coffee grinds that hit the ground; The cordless hand vacuum to have around. For fast cleanups, take home a Black + Decker Cordless Hand Vacuum. Portable and affordable.”

The sounds in the ad rhyme and repeat, which makes them stickier. The words capture attention and can easily be stored and recalled. Furthermore, rhyming can also make statements seem more believable. It may seem simple, but rhymes have an impact.

Consumers today are inundated with advertising messages. They see ads on TV, radio, the internet, their mobile devices. Cutting through the noise and making a lasting impression is a major challenge. Leveraging neuroscience techniques to make content stick is an important tool in any advertiser’s arsenal today.


Jessica Hawthorne-Castro is the CEO of Hawthorne Direct, an award-winning technology-based advertising agency specializing in analytics and accountable brand campaigns for over 30-years. Hawthorne has a legacy of ad industry leadership by being a visionary in combining the art of right-brain creativity with the science of left-brain data analytics and neuroscience. Jessica’s role principally involves fostering long-standing client relationships with the company’s expansive base of Fortune 500 brands to develop highly strategic and measurable advertising campaigns, designed to ignite immediate consumer response. 

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