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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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28th July 2010

Oxytocin Makes People Trusting, Not Gullible.

Scientific American in June 2005 reported an alarming finding. They said: "It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but scientists have discovered that a whiff of a certain hormone (Oxytocin) makes people more willing to trust others with their money." Some wondered, (Nature, June 2005), if that meant it might be pumped into the air in department stores by unscrupulous salespeople, turning us all into soft targets. A study just published in Psychological Science (July 27, 2010) eases the fear. It indicates that oxytocin fosters trust but does not make us more gullible. It seems we remain sensitive and responsive to context cues of untrustworthiness. Phew!

RSVP slips Rudd27th June 2010

RSVP Slipstreams Dumping of Australian Prime Minister

Online dating site, RSVP, was super quick this week to jump on board the worldwide attention focused on the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, being dumped as leader. This is a piece of very astute slipstreaming. Ikea also seized the same opportunity to slipstream this high profile event. You can see it and more slipstream ads here.



25th May 2010

Persuasive Advertising Book

After a 16-year effort, Scott Armstrong's book, Persuasive Advertising, is now available from Palgrave Macmillan and set to ship in June in the UK. It is a book for all who commission, design, or evaluate advertisements. It presents 194 principles drawn from more than 3,000 empirical studies (some previously unpublished) in advertising, psychology, consumer behavior, law, mass communication, and politics. The principles provide understandable and accessible guidance for all types of advertising, including print, Internet, television, streaming video, and radio. You will find some of the principles to be surprising. Further information, along with how to order, is provided at

6th January 2010

iPad...The Medium is the Massage.

Kindle e-book reader is now the best selling product on Amazon and the street says Apple will launch its own killer e-reader on Jan 27 (now released as the iPad) . It was Marshall McLuhan who argued that each medium produces a different "massage" or "effect" on the human sensorium. So, if reading (of books, newspapers and magazines) moves mostly to on-screen, what are the implications?

At least that's my worrying take-out from a recent Millward Brown neuroscience study. (Although commissioned by an interested party, the Royal Mail in UK, it was conducted by respected researchers Jane Raymond and Graham Page so it is not lightly dismissed.)

In this case, physical materials produced more brain responses connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater internalization.

If the findings replicate, this has far reaching implications... and not just for advertising. This technological development affects not only how we as a society engage with information. It also affects our ability to retain biological memory and further use that information to learn and build on knowledge. Will the move to on-screen reading mean a future where we will i have to ncreasingly rely for our memory on e-devices of the non-necktop kind?

14th October 2009

Why Willpower Wanes: The Tussle of the Muscle

muscle womanMarketing is now increasingly called on to try to moderate consumption - to turn people off, instead of on. But, when consumers are persuaded to exercise restraint, resolve tires easily like a muscle… unless it can be built-up beforehand.

A 2009 paper in the journal ‘Observer’ provides an important notch in our understanding of why willpower weakens. This new slant casts willpower as a muscle that, without time for recovery, weakens as we use it. Read more...

24th July 2009anti smoking ad

Visual Messages That Communicate

Ads with a high impact visual message that don't rely on any words are rare. I came across this one recently. Not sure where it originated but it is very clever. Look carefully. It is more impactfull in full size. Double click on the image to see it in larger size.

And here's another one, which is not quite so good but looks to be part of the same series. For more anti-smoking ads, go here.

11th May 2009

Sleight of Brand

McCurryBibles R UsBrands like 'McCurry' and 'Bibles R Us" are a form of slipstreaming that I call ‘sleight of brand’. They employ a variation of someone else’s brand to capture attention. Just as entertainers do clever impersonations of famous people, so brands sometimes do light hearted ‘impersonations’ of famous brands. People appreciate cleverness in art and they appreciate cleverness in branding. But how do you do this effectively and keep out of court?

This month in Australia, two companies called a truce in their legal skirmish over product copying. It began when cookie manufacturer, Arnott’s (owned by Campbell’s) objected to Krispy Kreme selling a doughnut called "Iced Dough-Vo” because it infringed on its own brand, the iconic Australian biscuit called  ‘Iced Vo Vo’. Read more...

18th April 2009remote control

Update on Effects From Fast Forwarded Ads.

Further to my column (Sept 07), a valuable study by Brasal and Gips in the Journal of Marketing (November 2008) sheds more light and adds a few more pieces to what we know about how FF commercials work. .

They found that fast-forwarding at 20x speed has a negative effect on advertising outcomes. No surprises there!... But check this out:


The study is entitled "Breaking Through Fast-Forwarding: Brand Information and Visual Attention"

15th April, 2009

Emotion is a Pain in the Anterior Cingulate

Relieve hurt feelings?An area of the brain that is activated by both pain and hurt feelings points a new direction for understanding links between emotion and pain. Emotional hurt may be a form of ‘pain’ signal from the anterior cingulate cortex.

If your feelings are hurt, would it help to take Tylenol?

Strange as it may seem, physical injuries and hurt feelings activate the same regions of the brain. #1 The pain from injuries and the pain from hurt feelings are highly related and analgesics (pain relievers like Tylenol) seem to give a temporary reduction in sensitivity to that pain.

Let me quickly warn that indiscriminate use of analgesics has negative side effects and it is far too early to be conclusive about this so, the first message is…do not try this at home.

However, a paper published recently in Psychological Inquiry got my attention.#2 It reports path-breaking research that could influence the consumption and role of pain relievers. That, in itself raises huge issues but the research also helps us, indirectly, to understand more about emotions and their evolutionary origin.


6th March, 2009

More, New Turn-off Tactics

A Special Issue of Journal of Consumer Research contains many new insights into turn-off tactics. Here’s my ‘Readers Digest’ version of those findings:

reuse towelsHow to encourage hotel guests to re-use their towels. The familiar appeal to guests to help protect the environment by re-using their towels, definitely works.  But it works even better when you also employ the bandwaggon effect i.e. informing them that “The majority of guests in this room reuse their towels.”

The first message makes salient the guest’s identity as an environmentalist and the second communicates the social norm (lets them know that they are in the majority). The result? Cooperation by guests increases by about 33% when both messages are employed. Read more

4th March, 2009

Pinpoint Ad Targeting - Cable TV

In New York and New Jersey, Cablevision is about to use its targeting technology to route ads to specific households based on data about income, ethnicity, gender or whether the homeowner has children or pets.

General Motors, as an example, could send an ad for a Cadillac Escalade to high-income houses, a Chevrolet to low-income houses, and one in Spanish to Hispanic consumers. During the same show, a 50-something male may see an ad for, say, high-end speakers from Best Buy, while his neighbors with children may see one for a Best Buy video game.

Viewers will probably not realize they are seeing ads different from a neighbor’s. Will subscribers be informed? What knowledge will they have of what is happening? More at NY Times

25th February, 2009cross hairs

Update on Behavioral Targeting

In Chapter 11 (3rd edition of my book) or see "Behavioral Targeting: Consumers in the Cross-Hairs"), information on our search queries and websites visited recently is increasingly used to in target online ads. I have argued that it is worrying, not so much that this practice of behavioral targeting is happening as that it is happening silently and in a near-vacuum of regulation.

There is a recent suggestion that transparency rather than privacy is what is really needed i.e. why not tell users what element of a person’s profile triggered the placement of the ad?

The N.Y. Times 17Feb09 reports Yahoo experimenting on ebay with a notice attached to some online ads. Click on the word “about” over the ad and it reveals a ‘disclosure’ with an option for the reader to disable future targeting. However, the disclosure does not reveal what element of the reader’s profile triggered the ad

The argument is that if we did so: “This would go a long way toward eliminating the feeling that we’re being ’spied on’ because it would eliminate any sense of secrecy about what is learned in the course of the behavioral monitoring”.


Just imagine this scenario. An ad is displayed (for condoms or for Victoria's Secret) and the reader clicks for disclosure revealing that the ad is displayed because this computer has visited a number of sex sites and singles dating sites recently. As I said before when Joe Public and Jane Citizen become aware of this practice, stand by for an outraged response and a heated societal debate .If invasion of privacy hasn't already scared the horses, transparency almost certainly will.

Postscript 12th March 2009.: Google has begun using behavioral targeting. Google won’t notify people you it is showing you ads based on your behavior but clicking on the link 'Ads by Google' will take you to a page where you can see and edit the information that Google has compiled about your interests. Notably Google says it does not plan to include your search data in the behavioural targeting. It collects information from visits to YouTube and visits to the sites in its AdSense network — those on which it sells both text and display ads. When you see an ad on one of those sites, Google’s computers will read the page you are on and try to figure out what it is about so it can associate you with one or more target categories on its list.

Separately, Google is “retargeting” . i.e. Google will record when you visit the sites of certain advertisers, and for the next week, you will be shown ads for that company on the pages of other sites that display ads sold by Google. More at NY Times.

10 October, 2008

Subliminal... naughty, naughty!

This week the Australian Communications and Media Authority found that during the 2007 Australian music industry awards (ARIAS), Channel 10 breached the commercial television code of practice by screening 'subliminal' flashes for sponsors . Naughty, naughty! But as the Melbourne Age reports in its editorial today, "Ten has got off scott free, without severe censure or a large fine" but the network has undertaken not to use subliminal ads in this year's ARIA awards.

The flashes included logos for Toyota, KFC and Chupa Chups. Watch them here. As I said inthat post at the time, subliminal ads like Energizer bunny, just keep going and going.

23 September 2008

chooseTemptation Turn-off Tactics:
Lead Me Not Into Temptation

Don’t shop when you’re preoccupied…or when you’re hungry. Do good deeds after, but not before, shopping. And shop well in advance. Research reveals psychological tips to help control impulses and resist temptation. Read more..

27 August, 2008

McCain Foods Slipstreams McCain The Presidential Candidate

John McCainMcCain FoodsWhen your brand name is the same as a candidate for president, can you resist hitching on to it? If you fear alienating committed voters on the other side perhaps, but this has not deterred McCain Foods taking advantage of John McCain's run for the whitehouse. Since McCain doesn't use trans-fatty oils, a sample slogan is "McCain goes to war over oil." Full story at Ad Age

15th August, 2008

Swear**g Ads: Reader Contributions

Further to my August 2008 column on The Swearing Effect in Advertising, Professor John Rossiter of Wollongong University reminded me of "Where the bloody hell are you" campaign that failed disastrously for Tourism Australia. He says: "My bet, however, is that these ads are risky and will turn off more people than they will turn on as "clever (see the fifth principle in my Remote Conveyor Model: Absence of conflicting associations - which also rules out most puns, as alleged in the Percy and Rossiter 1980 book)."

Thanks also to Neil Francis (Catalyst2Action) for the reminder of the very successful campaign for 'Fourex' (an Australian beer) using the clever line: "Australians wouldn’t give a XXXX for anything else." He also contributed these two slogans:

And here's another contribution. Thanks to an anonymous reader for this 2002 billboard ad publicising cheap prices on Australian airline Virgin Blue:

11 August, 2008

The Swear**g Effect in Advertising.


This month’s column is prompted by an ad I saw at Brisbane airport recently urging us to fly Air Asia to Phuket, Thailand. It reminded me of another ad for Sofa King furniture in USA. It claimed “Our prices are Sofa King low”. This month's column analyzes the effects of these and other ads that slipstream swearing for attention and impact. Read more..

15th July 2008

speed policeAcceleration of Communication. Destination Competitive Advantage

To circumvent biologically enforced, perceptual speed limits, exploit the subtle dimension of time by ‘compressing’ communications into a template. Just as you can build a mind template for your brand, so too can you do the same thing with your ads. Accelerated communications let you cruise along at unrestricted speed enjoying a significant communication advantage over competitors. Read more...

7th May 2008

Mind BridgesMind bridges

When changing messages, construct a mind bridge between the old ad campaign and the new one so that consumers can use it to ‘cross over’ - from one to the other.

When an existing attribute (e.g. ‘the great taste of Pepsi’) is well established in mind, any change of message can face resistance and take considerable time to ‘wear-in’. That’s because the new one has to displace the old.1 

However if you use a mind bridge, this doesn’t have to happen. Read more...

11th April 2008

Guidelines for Behavioral Targeting

Further to my column "Behavioral Targeting: Consumers in the Cross-Hairs", a group called theNetwork Advertising Initiative, a trade association of companies, like AOL’s and Google’s Doubleclick. have now released their guidelines for Behavioural Targeting.

The NY Times says that iff you’ve got AIDS, cancer or erectile dysfunction, this group of big advertising networks "are going to promise not to remember that you read sites about those topics and remind you (or others using your computer) of your condition with ads for related drugs as you surf the net. But if you have Parkinson’s disease, congestive heart failure or warts, the ad companies have decided it may well be acceptable to keep track of your interest in medical subjects and fill your browser with ads for helpful products from pharmaceutical companies." more at NY Times...

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