Slogans and logos

Paul Raven @ 04-08-2011

Via MindHacks, here’s Language Log dissecting some recent research into the persuasive power of logos and slogans.

A recent paper by Juliano Laran et al. (2011) suggests that resistance to persuasion can be triggered in a highly automatic and unconscious manner. The work builds on some interesting results involving commercial brands and implicit priming effects. For example, previous work has shown that subliminally flashing the Apple logo can spur study participants to think more creatively, and that presenting a Walmart logo can encourage frugal behavior whereas presenting a Nordstrom logo leads to greater indulgence. In other words, the brands activate a set of associations that in turn trigger certain cognitive or behavioral goals. Nifty results.

But brand names and logos, argue Laran and colleagues, are different from other commercial messages in that they’re not necessarily perceived as inherently persuasive—despite the fact that they’re often designed with great care, we may normally take them to be primarilyreferential, much as any proper name might be. Slogans (or, as they say in the industry, taglines) are transparently persuasive according to the authors. Perhaps people react to these latter messages in knee-jerk reverse-psychology manner by blocking and even countering the typical brand associations.

Laran et al. found that when they had people look at cost-conscious brand names like Walmart in an alleged memory study and then later take part in an imaginary shopping task, they were able to replicate the implicit priming effect: people were willing to spend quite a bit less than if they’d seen luxury-brand logos. But when subjects saw slogans (e.g. Save money. Live better.) instead of the brand names, there was a reverse priming effect: now, the luxury-brand slogans triggered more penny-pinching behavior than the economy-brand slogans.

Interesting; we’re more resistant to suggestion using language directly than we are to implicit suggestion encoded by association with images and/or designs.

Someone should do a spoof of They Live with this research rolled into it…


Two Roads Diverged in the Interwebs: Finding Your Place in Tradpub versus Selfpub

Luc Reid @ 06-07-2011

Mrs. Duffee Seated on a Striped Sofa, Reading Her Kindle, After Mary Cassatt - Mike LichtWriting for publication has always been tricky–not to mention challenging, exhausting, unpredictable, and demoralizing. Continue reading “Two Roads Diverged in the Interwebs: Finding Your Place in Tradpub versus Selfpub”


Form and function

Paul Raven @ 08-04-2011

As I progress into my thirties, I’m becoming more aware of my status as a demographic that is targeted with nostalgia-based marketing. In terms of pop culture ephemera, I’ve remained relatively immune – the mainstream music and fashion of the eighties repelled me at the time, and has not lost its power to do so – but there is no escape; the technology industry has matured to an extent which allows it to mine its own past for aesthetic triggers that hit us lifelong early adopters like a punch to the gut, even when the product itself is quite obviously pointless in practical terms.

Point in case: Commodore returning to the computer hardware market with Linux-powered PCs dolled up in the form factors of their classic consumer-level home computers. This is the C64x:

Commodore C64x

Hi-ho, atemporality; there’s no point whatsoever in buying one of those unless you’re jonesing for the “authenticity” of the near past (which is itself pretty close to mythological anyway). Though we’re not quite at the point where ubicomp is a reality, Commodore’s “new” products represent an interesting point in the commodification curve of computing. Function is so cheap and easy to produce that form no longer has to play second fiddle; there’s more computing juice in your smartphone than was used to run the entire Apollo moon landings program, and you can shoehorn a useable computer into pretty much any container you desire. (Worth noting that this was an enthusiast’s hobby long before the manufacturers jumped the bandwagon; casemodding has transcended its initial geeks-only cachet thanks to economies of scale.)

When computers first arrived, they looked like the vast, complex and aesthetically sterile engineering devices that they were. Now computing is sufficiently ubiquitous that they can look like whatever we want them to look like (which means that making them look like older and significantly less powerful machines is a momentary fillip of aesthetic irony; expect an imminent rash of computers that don’t look anything like what folk of my age-bracket think of when we hear the word “computer” – remember the Sandbenders custom computer from Bill Gibson’s Idoru?). The end-point of the curve will be the point where computers become effectively invisible; I hesitate to predict a solid time-scale for that, but I’d be surprised if it takes more than another decade.


We interrupt this mission to Mars for a word from our sponsors…

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2011

Via Slashdot, here’s a paper at the Journal Of Cosmology (who need to hire a web designer, like, yesterday) that suggests such well-worn corporate PR strategies as sponsorship, “naming rights” and other licensing angles as a great way to finance a manned mission to Mars.

Sound familiar? So it should – Jason Stoddard did something very similar when he made a Mars mission into a reality TV challenge in his story-that-became-a-novel “Winning Mars” (free online versions are available; the book is in the production pipeline at Prime Books at the moment).

In a way, it’s a sad indictment of the post-modern nation state that the only viable funding methods for space exploration are corporate; a mars mission would be a terrible waste of taxes that could be used for more important matters, right?

  • The predicted cost of going to Mars: ~$145 Billion.
  • The cost of the Iraq war thus far: ~$739 Billion. [via MyElvesAreDifferent]

Neuromarketing advances

Paul Raven @ 16-11-2010

Via George Dvorsky, the NYT reports on further developments in the increasingly-technologized voodoo psychology of making you want to buy sh*t you don’t need:

Neuromarketing is simply the latest incarnation, says Joseph Turow, a professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. “There has always been a holy grail in advertising to try to reach people in a hypodermic way,” he says.

[ A “hypodermic way”? Interesting choice of language, there; am I the only one who instantly thought of junkies slumped in dark rooms after reading that sentence? ]

Major corporations and research firms, he says, are jumping on the neuromarketing bandwagon because they are desperate for any novel technique to help them break through all the marketing clutter. “It’s as much about the nature of the industry and the anxiety roiling through the system as it is about anything else,” he says.

Personally, I harbour a (totally irrational and unfounded) hope that persuasion marketing will turn out to be a relic of the pre-networked world; when there are infinite channels through which to market, then all marketing is noise, and hence doomed to failure (or at least to being avoided) unless it has a tangible value for the audience independent of the product or service it is trying to sell.

But opinions are divided as to whether neuromarketing might be anything more than the next rung on the ladder up from the focus group:

Mr. Chester says the government traditionally hasn’t restricted advertising for adults because adults have defense mechanisms that can distinguish between truth and untruth.

[ I rather suspect that those “defence mechanisms” are not innate, but learned… and even then only with varying degrees of effectiveness, as a glance at contemporary political debate makes patently clear. ]

“But if the advertising is now purposely designed to bypass those rational defenses, then the traditional legal defenses protecting advertising speech in the marketplace have to be questioned.”

Proponents of the technique, however, say neuromarketing is simply a more accurate barometer of consumer response than traditional focus groups.

Dr. Pradeep of NeuroFocus, for one, says his company will never use subliminal techniques — like embedding stimuli that last 30 milliseconds or less — that people can’t consciously register. And while other neuromarketing firms have been involved in political campaigns, testing candidate speeches and ad scripts, NeuroFocus has not.

“If I persuaded you to choose Toothpaste A or Toothpaste B, you haven’t really lost much, but if I persuaded you to choose President A or President B, the consequences could be much more profound,” Dr. Pradeep says. “The fact that we can use this technology to do this doesn’t mean we should.”

Moreover, at this point, neuromarketing probably isn’t sophisticated enough to realize some of its critics’ worst fears.

Like any technology, neuromarketing is effectively morally neutral; it’s the hand that holds the gun that commits the murder, so to speak. And while I have some concerns about technologized marketing reaching into our brains, I also have the utmost confidence that someone somewhere will be building a spamblocker for it. Everything can and will be hacked.


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