Steep Learning Curb

Mrs Malaprop

I used to work with an account manager years ago who was great (rather unintentionally unfortunately) at Malapropisms. It was she who authored the legendry (in my then company at least) description of the millennium fireworks as a “damp squid” and several hundred others. Our favourite was that a new project represented a “steep learning curb”.

 Well I’ve been thinking a lot about that as I read Erik du Plessis‘ excellent The Advertised Mind. Du Plessis is CEO of Milwood Brown in South Africa and has spent years researching how people actually consume adverts, and how the consumption of advertising relates to the actual process of purchasing things.

There’s loads of brilliant insights in it. Including:

  1. The process of rational thought and emotional thought – which many advertising researchers had assumed were completely separate processes – are actually very closely related. Emotion moderates rational thought processes.
  2. The concept of brand soma – the connections that the brain makes around brands can be influenced by years of memories, with links being strengthened by repetition. Read the following words and see what pops in there: Coca Cola
  3. Brand names act as triggers to all memories of the brand. Du Plessis’ analogy is the key that unlocks the cupboard door with the huge range of memories falling out at random.
  4. Advertising can form part of brand memories
  5. Ad-liking and brand-liking are primary deciders of effectiveness (this also correlates to entertainment, empathy, and relevant news)
  6. The process of interpreting ads and them feeding into generating response is the same as any sort of learning.
  7. Ads have a lot to do with a very short space of time / small amount of attention in which to get it done
  8. Confusing advertising is ignored or forms negative brand memories

But the best of all is the insight into what happens with obscure or unusuable advertising. Of ads surveyed in AdTrack, of the 55% of respondents who remembered a selection of adverts, 18% couldn’t name the brand and 12% got the brand wrong. 

Sound alright? For a almost a quarter of the ads that respondents could remember at all, they attributed them to a competitor brand! Still fancy running that obscure advertising campaign?

Du Plessis also discusses the concept of “effective length” of an advert. For a 30 second which introduces the brand only at 23 seconds, the “effective length” is 7 seconds. Up to 23 seconds, the brain processes the ad but those memories are not attached to brand memories. This is one of those brilliant insights. As soon as you hear it, you know it absolutely to be true without any doubt. Try it out on any ad on TV. He’s not saying that the logo needs to be in the first frame. There are all sorts of brand properties: The BA clouds, the BA jingle, O2 bubbles, The Scottish Widow, the coke bottle shape, the visual styling of the ad itself.

Thinking about how this would apply to interfaces. Well we already know that people look for recognisable patterns. I think it’s also key that bad experiences online can get filed against that brand just the same way product experiences can.

From an online marketing point of view, the concept of effective length carries across directly. But so does the fact that confusion causes content to be ignored or generate negative brand memories. So viral marketing, where the idea of the viral is not a brand idea, should have virtually no brand footprint. If the brand is going to be associated with the viral, it must be IN the viral, not the last frame of it.

3 thoughts on “Steep Learning Curb”

  1. […] And, of course, we get into the bizzare circumstance where the tail starts wagging the dog and it becomes a skill to navigate the taxonomies. It becomes  something you learn in school, even though it is not a natural way of thinking. The brain is much more able to build rich adaptive non-hierachical maps of how things fit together (the packed cupboards of the Advertised mind). […]

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