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Conclusions from tracking the effects of many hundreds of ad campaigns continuously, week by week, over a period of nearly 15 years in America, Asia, Australasia and Europe. Ad campaigns for companies like Gillette, Campbells Soup, McDonalds, AT&T, General Motors, Kodak, Shell and Qantas.

Draws on academic research into communication psychology and buyer behavior but reduces the 'fog index' to make the findings clearer and more actionable.

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Dr. Max Sutherland is an independent marketing psychologist and consultant in the U.S.A. and Australia, a regular columnist for trade publications and Adjunct Professor of marketing at Bond University.

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2004-5 archive

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Dec 25, 2005.

Brands Mentioned in Pop Songs 2005:

AK47How disturbing is this? Making it into the top 10 brands of products mentioned in popular song lyrics in 2005 was the AK_47.

Weapons are the fastest growing category with Beretta pistols "the hottest new entry".

10 AK-47

The Brandstand report also notes that this year, branded lyrics have moved into more pop-oriented tracks. (Before 2004, they were the almost exclusive domain of hip-hop music and then they began to spread over to R&B tracks -and now pop-music generally.) More at Agenda.

November 30, 2005

Messages in Masquerade, Communications in Camouflage

Da Vinci Code book coverTo get under people’s evaluative radar, messages are increasingly masqueraded as news and entertainment, or camouflaged as questions in push polls. We know a lot more these days about how to influence people without making direct claims or assertions.  Here’s how it works and why a stronger, regulatory brake is called for.Read more... download





November 02, 2005

Europe Buckling on Product Placement Regulation

My October column on Product Placement (see below) reported that the existing regulations in Europe are buckling under the pressure of imported American programs full of product placements. More information in an informative piece, from The Economist "Lights, Camera, Brands" (27th Oct., 2005). It reports that the European Commission will soon alter its laws to allow product placement. [Thanks to Prof. Stan Glaser (UWS) for pointing it out.]

October 31, 2005

Product Placement Accelerating on a Slippery Slope.

Mountain Dew in Antz movie

When companies make undisclosed payments to push their brands into the public’s awareness, it is called ‘product placement’. When record companies do the same thing it is prosecuted as payola! While regulators ‘look the other way’ as to ‘who is paying the piper’, we are accelerating down a slippery slope.

Ultimately regulation of product placement seems inevitable. Read more ... download


September 30, 2005

Making Clever Ads Work: Overcoming 'Attention Deficit Disorder'.

Orange juice adLast month we looked at humorous ads. This month we move from the ‘ha-ha’ to the ‘ahaa’ and take a look at ads that are liked because they are clever rather than funny. When ads present a token ‘challenge’ to the reader to discover their full meaning they are capable of delivering a mild reward akin to solving a crossword puzzle clue. When done well their effect is to reduce counter-arguing, increase recall and create more impact on brand attitudes than straight ads. Holding attention long enough for people to get to the ultimate ‘reward hit’ that comes from discovery is a major problem in making them work. But cut-through techniques help ride to the rescue. Read more



August 30, 2005

False Alarm Theory: How Humorous Ads Work.

It may seem blindingly obvious why funny ads grab attention, why we laugh at them and why we like them. But humor is full of surprises and the bits and pieces of research that I outline here converge on a surprising theory that is not entirely intuitive. It is an explanation of humor that has its roots deep in our evolutionary origins. It helps us understand not just ads that make us laugh but also a wider class of ads that involve closure. Read more.


July 29, 2005

Spot Removal and Whitening of Image: Making Past Messages Fade

Clorox bleach packageNormally we want to hold on to the mental territory we capture but there are times when things change and it becomes strategically desirable to have a past message fade. The key laundering ingredients are commitment, planning, patience and finesse. Read




June 22, 2005

Worm-holes of the Mind. June 2005

Wormhole graphicThere are ‘worm-holes’ in the mind through which it is possible for even conflicting information to enter. They are created by latent knowledge. Knowledge that has been gained in the past becomes latent if not used, and dims to a distant memory. Such knowledge is still there but it becomes less readily accessible and creates a potential ‘worm-hole’. This is an open portal through which inconsistent information can enter our brains. Read


June 22, 2005

Warfare Strategy in the Battle for the Mind

(Based on a paper published in Admap Jan. 2001)

Battle for the Mind graphicTo deploy advertising with maximum efficiency….think in terms of using attack forces to capture the mental territory and then the occupation forces to hold that territory. This simple but powerful analogy aids in the planning, design and execution of advertising. Read more.


June 01, 2005

And So it Begins: FCC Commissioner Decries Product Placement

Advertising Age reports May 25 that a member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Jonathon S. Adelstein has called on his agency to toughen its requirements and expand its investigations into the practice of product placement. In Ireland and Finland it is a practice that is totally banned.  As I pointed out in my Feb. 2005 column "Why Product Placement Works", this practice has entered a crazy feeding frenzy in the USA, Australia and a number of other countries, making some form of regulation seem ultimately inevitable.


May 31, 2005

Information Intercourse: Making Ad Messages Penetrate.

interlocking jigsaw piecesBrand features stick more easily in the mind if they integrate with each other rather than being isolated islands of information. The human mind is like an interlocking structure. New information craves intercourse and looks to integrate with other information. If it doesn’t, it is prone to slip out - instead of being retained. When positioning a new brand or repositioning an old one, think ‘information intercourse’. Read information_intercourse_may05.pdf



April 27, 2005

Generating Brain Waves that Pierce Attention

Latest results in brainwave monitoring shed light on the mind’s ‘intruder alert’ - a mechanism I described in P300 brain waveCapturing Attention by Triggering the Mind's 'Intruder' Alert. Surprising stimuli jolt us to attention and trigger various brain waves, the most consistent of which is known as the P300. The height of this wave quantifies the amount of attention. So stand by for assessment in the advertising world of the P300 as a measure of 'cut-through'.  Read



April 21, 2005

Capturing Attention By Triggering the Mind's 'Intruder Alert'.

Dogfood advertisementOne way to jolt the mind into attention with advertising  is to trigger its 'intruder alert'.  A future column, builds on this earlier one,  first published in Advertising News August 2003.   For those without access to this earlier column I have posted it here. Read more..






March 29, 2005

Awaiting a ‘Rhythmic Resurrection’ in Advertising

Advertising jingles are the ‘rhythm method’ of advertising. Done well, they add impact. So why are they out of fashion? Is this condition terminal or are we overdue for a ‘rhythmic resurrection’? Read more.. awaiting_a_rhythmic_resurrection.


February 22, 2005

Why Product Placement Works.

Nobody is surprised anymore that movies and TV programs seek payment for allowing brands to make appearances in programs.  Just as journalistic war reporting has become ‘embedded’ with the military so too has brand advertising become ‘embedded’ with the mass media.

When the movie “Sideways” eulogized pinot noir wine, USA sales of it for January (2005) shot up 22%.

After the release of the movie “About Schmidt” in 2002 starring Jack Nicholson, child About Schmidt movie ad sponsorships for aid agency ‘Plan International’ quadrupled. (Nicholson played a retiree whose world is falling apart and by sponsoring a young Tanzanian boy, Ndugu, he finds something to live for.) While ‘Plan International’ did not pay to be in the film, it illustrates the potency of product placement!

Is it any wonder that brands and companies are prepared to pay to get into the movies?

In 1981, I co-authored a paper in the Journal of Advertising Research on the subtle power of Agenda Setting. This explains much of why product placement works. Read more...


February 15, 2005

Role of Advertising: Persuasion or Agenda-Setting?

(Based on a 1981 paper of the same name by Max Sutherland and John Galloway and published in the Journal of Advertising Research, V.21 No.5, 25-29.)

Why is it so difficult to instrospect on advertising and how it influences us?

Because we look for major effects. That's why! We too often look for the ability of an ad to persuade us. We look for a major effect - rather than the more subtle, minor effects that are not as obvious but in total can be equally as powerful. Especially in low involvement situations.

Most effects of advertising fall well short of persuasion. To understand advertising we have to understand and measure the much more subtle effects. pdf


January 20, 2005

Wake Up Call! The Future of RFID is Dawning.

In 2002, I pointed to early applications of Radio Frequency Identification Devices ( RFID’s) that were developing rapidly.  A couple of years later, this still fledgling technology has gained an unstoppable momentum. Because of the cost-saving efficiencies for supply-chain management and positive effects on consumption lifestyles, the future is dawning fast.

RFID’s are set to usher in a new world of consumer convenience. But beware the ‘silent stalker’ that accompanies this technology. You may need an electronic jammer to shield your privacy. Read more...


Nov 2004

'Bonding' Slogan to Brand

A survey of top USA companies reveals that for the majority of slogans, less than 10% of people can Have_a_break_have_a_kit_kat_smallidentify which brand goes with which slogan. It is a timely warning - globally as well as for the USA. For a slogan to work, it has to be bonded to the brand.  No superglue exists.  If you must change slogans,  here's how wording can help.Read more...



October 20, 2004

How to Supercharge Your Slogans: ‘Slogan Slipstreaming’

Is your slogan muffled by the competitive din? The solution is not to ditch it but to ‘pitch it’! Here’s a way to supercharge your slogan - to transform the voiceless into the vociferous. Read more..


September 28, 2004

Persuasion by Proxy Used in Scam

My September column, "Erectile Dysfunction and The Da Vinci Code" shows how persuasion by proxy works for books as it does for ads - via the bystander technique - a form of ‘communication in camouflage’. Books and ads are relatively benign examples compared to this report by Bridie Smith (from the Age 28 Sept 04) of an extremes use of it in a 'pump and dump' scheme to inflate a stock price. Messages are left on answering machines by someone who appears to have misdialled. The person appears to have inside knowledge and is ostensibly telling their friend to get into the stock quickly because the price is about to go up. According to the report people are actually employed to leave messages like this on thousands of answering machines across the country.


September 24, 2004

Erectile Dysfunction and The Da Vinci Code.

What is the secret of The Da Vinci Code which  has been on the NY Times Best Seller list for an amazing 77 weeks and is still number one?
Answer: The bystander effect – the power of ‘persuasion by proxy’. Read more..


August 23, 2004

Neuromarketing in Retreat.

brain_scan_machine_smallIn Brands on the Brain, Feb. 03, I said neuromarketing was dominated more by sales pitch than science. The smoke and mirrors merchants were out there running well ahead of the pack.  Now, eighteen months later, neuromarketing is in retreat – not into oblivion - just into’ the closet’. Read neuromarketing_in_retreat_aug04.pdf



June 30, 2004

From Ad Spin to Brand Spiral

The more a brand is talked about, the more it gets embedded coke_logo_script_parodyin the culture. And the more it gets embedded in pop-music, movies, TV etc, the more it gets talked about. A sure sign of a brand on this spiral is when its advertising begins to get parodied. A very funny Leunig cartoon asserted recently “I’m scik of fcuk”. Despite the sentiment, it indicates fcuk is on the spiral. Brands that ‘arrive’ find that parody comes with the territory.
In this column I explore this spiral where brands start copying themselves from brain to brain with reduced reliance on advertising alone to drive the process. Read more ..


May 08, 2004

Eliminating MR's Weapons of Mass Distraction

george_bush“Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.” George W. Bush.

The iconoclastic Professor Andrew Ehrenberg coined the verb ‘to SONK’. Sonking is an acronym that stands for the Scientification of Non Knowledge. With a word like sonking at our disposal, we are more able to see through the bullsh*t of market research reporting when it uses narrative obfuscation to disguise, what on closer reading turns out to be the bleeding obvious. You know the kind of thing….variations on: the latest survey shows that 3 out of 4 people make up 75% of the world's population!

Sonking is the opposite of the KISS principle (Keep it Simple, Stupid). In attempting to remain ‘objective’ and ‘politically neutral’, researchers too often find themselves having to obfuscate. So what’s the solution? Read more..

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