Advertising is successful, hopefully due to the way that our brains work.

Despite how different we all are, we react in strikingly similar and predictable ways to certain stimuli.  These “automatic” reactions are integral to our survival, allowing us to focus our attention on important information while quickly dealing with the rest.

Understanding these behavioral commonalities can help you get to know your customers, even if you never meet.

Cognitive psychology uses the scientific method (experimentation, not introspection) to determine how we make sense of the world around us—why we decide, perceive, remember and think the things that we do.  If those questions remind you a lot of the questions we ask in advertising, well, you can see where this post is going.

One of cognitive psychology’s central tenants, proven time and time again, is that “people aren’t logic machines.”  So what does this mean for your business?  It means that simply saying you have a great product at a great price isn’t always enough to sell it.  If it were, billboards would be a lot less colorful and commercials would never make you laugh. Clearly, this isn’t the case.

So how can you find the best way to broadcast your message, so that it is trusted, grabs attention and speaks to your target audience?


Questions like this, first dreamed up in cognitive psychology, are becoming the focus of many different fields and have even prompted the creation of new research subsets, like neuroeconomics.

Here is a brief look at some of the research, and what it means for your business.

  • Neuroeconomic research suggests that most consumers fit into three categories: spendthrifts (15%), tightwads (24%) or average spenders (61%).  When dealing with tightwads, focus more on value and less on costs.
  • Neuroscience studies that utilize MRI scans to detect brain activity have found that thoughts about waiting are hugely stimulating in the brain.  Therefore, it is important that no part of your message reminds customers about having to wait and that you clearly describe the convenience of your services.
  • New research on cognitive decision making has shown that small unexpected bonuses, even inexpensive ones, can make customers think about your product in a new way and create long-lasting good feelings about your company.  Upgrading existing customers to better services or throwing in free bonuses or extra savings are ways to do this.

It would be nice if you could simply record yourself stating the great facts about your business and then wait for the influx of new customers, but facts are not all that matter.  It is not enough to just tell people what you want them to know about your business, you have to make them understand and believe it.

On that note, stay tuned to the Davis Blog for more on the psychology and science behind advertising, including how color choices affect consumers.


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