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Art, science and your brain on advertising.

560 315 Wayne Lewis
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They say advertising is a mixture of art and science. This is fundamentally true and part of what makes it intimidating for some businesses. Art can be fickle and science sounds costly. Yet there is an elegant simplicity to it all if you dig a little deeper.

First, a little science… 

Our brains seek to make order from chaos. This is how we navigate the complex world around us. To understand the basics of how our brain works is to understand the very basis for how advertising affects it. Each day is filled with an astounding level of complexity… just consider…

  1. Five Thousand. That’s the number of ads the average consumer is exposed to each day!
  2. According to recent research, we make about 35,000 conscious decisions every day!

Naturally, to remain sane, our brains create shortcuts in making these decisions – where to eat, what to wear, what to say, etc. Imagine if the brain took the time to first consider all possible options and combinations. It might take you a few hours just to get dressed in the morning!

The shortcuts are built around familiarity (a close cousin of trust – and that is a very warm blanket to our brain) and habit. These are “safer” decisions to our brain and we tend to make them more often than not.

This is the basic human science behind why advertising works on us. Seeing a brand or hearing a jingle over and over again places that information in a much more conveniently accessible place for our brains to access. These things are familiar. You might recognize this also as “top of mind awareness”. It’s real.

Now the art.

Remember the stat from earlier – that we see/hear around 5,000 ads per day – the first challenge is using the proper canvas that can break through the incredible amount of advertising noise out there.

Print offers a decided advantage in slicing through this noise. The research supporting this point is strong. A magazine reader has purposefully created mental space to consume what is on the page in front of them – usually to the exclusion of other distractions. Quality, interesting advertisements are as much content on the printed page as any story or image. Furthermore, print is among the most trustworthy of advertising mediums. 

The final piece of the art component is the ability to create memorable, mental imagery that can connect with some need or want of the consumer. This is the part that must be experimented with most (trial and error) because uncovering a customers motivations is not easy and often not monolithic across all customers. Finding commonalities to message against is the challenge to be solved. That’s another blog post for another day.

But there are some quality rules to live by in exploring the ideal messaging for any business:

  1. Set out a clearly defined reason to do business with you – the core message. Clarity must come before creativity
  2. Keep the message simple, short and memorable. This could include words, colors, images or all of these – but most importantly, an element of emotion.
  3. If running in one medium only, use consistent messaging for at least 6 months.  If running a consistent message to the same audience across multiple mediums or platforms (ie: print and digital), 3 months. There is a a repetition of impressions factor that must be reached if your message is to seep into the all-valuable “familiar” brain territory. Otherwise, you’re wasting money.

Despite these basic understandings that advertising does indeed affect what and how we think about certain things, there is so much yet to be understood. But for businesses looking to increase their marketshare and build a sustainable brand the evidence is overwhelming – quality advertising is a difference maker.



Wayne Lewis

All stories by: Wayne Lewis