2004-2525524976_c42413b6c7_m.jpgEvery wondered how you know an advert is for a product without seeing the logo or the product?

One of the hot new trends in marketing circles at the moment is neuromarketing. It’s the science of marketing in the sense that it measures people’s brain activity when they are looking and engaging with marketing messages, and thus seeks to deliver a quanitfiable answer to questions like “does engaging senses make a difference?”, “are logos effective?”, and “do anti smoking signs make people stop smoking?”

The leading book on this right now is Buyology, by Martin Lindstrom, which is a very well written journey through Lindstrom’s vibrant mind that debunks traditional marketing methods.

Of course those of us who are part of the social revolution know that traditional marketing is becoming more and more ineffective, but this book not only says in a way that your boss will listen, but goes one step prover and scientifically proves it (to a degree – the samples are small.)


Over the next weeks I want to look at three or four of the main learnings that I drew from this book, along with adding the others things that I’ve been thinking about at the moment that extend his ideas further.

Each one is a lesson in how marketing, and indeed communication, has changed – or rather, has always stayed the same and only now have we realised how wrong our methods have been.

So without further ado, lesson one.

The Logo is Broken: how Association is the new Branding

Something I’ve been saying more and more to our sponsors for Like Minds is that I want to embed them into the narrative of our events. I’ve always known that banners on stage or logos on a website were not just cringy, they were ineffective, and instinctively I’ve always tried to make our sponsors the same companies that provide us with something that is used in the very fabric of the event. Starbucks provide our coffee, Ooyala provide our video platform, Optix provided a social media survey, etc.

According to Lindstrom, my approach is actually correct with the science of association. In fact he goes as far as to say that the association of a product, like the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle of the red of the Coca-Cola brand, neither with the logo in sight, is more powerful than seeing the logo. What Lindstrom did was wire people up to his MRI machine and scan their brain activity whilst showing them various images, videos and sounds. More brain activity meant more success, less meant failure. So this is what he found:

  1. In measuring the effectiveness of Coca-Cola’s, Ford’s and Cingular’s sponsorshop of American Idol, Coca-Cola came out trumps and Ford didn’t get much benefit at all. Lindstrom says this is because Coca-Coal was part of the actual story of American Idol. The judges have Coca-Coal red glasses and seats that are modelled after the shape of their bottles. Contestants are interviewed in a Coca-Cola red room, and the song tracks can be downloaded courtesy of Coca-Cola.
    Ford however are not involved with the contestants or judges at all – they only get an advert played at the beginning of the commercial break. What Lindstrom says is that the product or brand must be critical to the storyline. So he’d say that that one-off shot of the Sony Ericsson phone in Casino Royale wasn’t best placed because it wasn’t pivotal to the plot.
  2. When measuring smoker’s reactions to cigarrettes, they reacted more strongly to the red of Malborro against a desert sunset (their branding) than they did to the logo. He did numerous other experiments that said the same thing. This is why he says we know when an advert is for a brand when we don’t even see the product – it’s all the associated feelings, colours, sights, sounds, storyline, etc. This is why Marborro do a good job with sponsoring Formula 1 – apparently when he showed people Forumla 1 images, the same part of the brain that craves cigarettes lights up because this association with the brand is so strong.

His conclusion is that our minds are so bombarded with logos all day that when we see a logo or know something is an advertisement, our guards go up automatically.

Smashable Brands and Strong Assocations

The marketer’s response, he says, must be to then strengthen the associations that we have with our brands. He calls brands that have very powerful associations smashable brands, as you could smash the brand into tiny pieces, pick up one of the those tiny pieces, and still know that it was the brand.

So in the case of Coca-Cola, if you smash a Coca-Cola bottle, you still know it’s Coca-Cola. Likewise you can tell a Mac OS X icon apart from a Windows one. Or take the image of the Ferrari at the top of this page – or is it? We think it’s a Ferrari becuase it’s bright red, but it might not be. That red on a car is so associated with Ferrari that we think it is. And also when I look at it I also think

The conclusion that I draw from all of this is that I need to far more aware of all the elements that either people already associate with my brands, and also what I want to associate. I think that whilst I’m keen on design and love branding, I actually haven’t been thinking enough about association.

I’d say most people take association as far as a logo, a font and a colour. We should be thinking about associating much, much more.

A critical part of this is knowing what to associate with. A association has the potential to harm our brand if it doesn’t have positive connotations and reinforce the values of our brand.

Your Leading Thoughts

I’ve chucked out a few thoughts here and certainly haven’t followed the thought line for long, because I think we need to discuss it here.

  • First of all, what are you comments on this? Have you seen other brands do association well? Have you experienced it yourself?
  • Second, what are some of the ways that we can be better at association? How do we ensure we pick correct associations?
  • Thirdly, given that many of us are knowledge workers with our own “brands”, how can we use association on a personal level?


Image courtesy of kaneda99

Archived Comments

  • http://twitter.com/GaryDayEllison Gary Day-Ellison

    Good work, Scott.

  • / Scott Gould

    I knew you’d like that Gary :-)

  • http://www.adrianswinscoe.com/blog/ Adrian Swinscoe

    Hi Scott,
    Thanks for this. I must check out the book. I think there is an insight here that logo’s maybe associated with more of a left brain and short term memory thing and that imagery, values, emotions, memories and colours are more associated with the right brain and longer term memory and, thus, (perhaps) feel more familiar and comfortable and that may be why we feel better able to engage with them.


  • / Scott Gould

    Hey mate

    Yes – Martin talks about A LOT of stuff and I’ve just summarised a few bits. TBH I need to re-read to remind myself of it alrady!


  • http://twitter.com/hgholt Helena Holt

    Hi Scott
    Values come first for me as these must underpin everything else – I like Adrian’s list. It goes right down to ‘the way we do things here’ and ensuring that everything one does is consistent with your brand.
    Example, brands that get their corporate social responsibility activities right and align with community groups, charities, sporting endeavours etc. with similar values can really demonstrate the power of association. They generate another layer of association which serves to reinforce the familiarity and comfort Adrian refers to.
    Looking forward to future posts!

  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    I’m conflicted. When I think about brands associating with social responsibility over actually being responsible, I want to scream. HULK SMASH! We don’t need more marketing tricks enabling businesses to brand themselves as creating value for society and the environment where they do nothing of the sort. Associated brands seek the short term movement of more worthless widgets. Hate. Hate. Hate.

    At the same time, association of our brands with the fundamental empowerment of individuals, positive impacts on society, and sustainable ecosystems is a great way to activate those brands truly looking to serve humanity and planet. An activated brand focused on creating thick value over the long term is able to do more good in the world.

    The only thing worth making is a difference. We’re all going to associate our brands with something. The question is: do you want your brand associated with outputs, like Coke, Ford Mustangs, and Big Macs – or do you want your brand associated with OUTCOMES, like education, global citizenship, and ownership?

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Heléna!

    I’ve been brain storming this all day with my team and values are certainly what has driven our conversation.

    So let’s take the value of social responsibility further – it’s not just doing it, right? There’s got to be more about the way that the very idea is embedded in the organisation.

    At least, that’s what I think!


  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Mate

    Sure there is a dark side here. I’m thinking more on the positive side – how do I get the things that I want to promote and push with regards to OTHERS having social responsibility more aligned?

    What do you think from this angle?


  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    Are you asking how we might tailor our actions in order to get others to become more socially responsible? I think this is where we realize the burden of proof. All the social currency in the world is meaningless if the people we’re trying to activate can’t use it to buy anything of value to them.

    Early branding efforts should be focused on proving results, not suggesting them.