Alex Genov

User Research and Innovation, SOFTWARE INDUSTRY

This conversation is closed.

The power of a brand to turn us into puppets.

I am a staunch individualist! I have never been one to follow trends, the crowd, or allow myself to be brainwashed by advertising. At least that’s how I see myself. This makes the following story all that more interesting.

One morning in the recent past, I was to meet a friend for coffee early at Pete’s Coffee. I got there a bit before my friend and was eager to get some strong coffee in me. We have a toddler and an infant at home and the lack of sleep has turned my wife and I into zombies who function on strong coffee. I approached the counter and ordered a tall latte with an extra shot of espresso. The barista looked funny at me and repeated my order back to me – “a medium latte with extra shot.” I repeated back to him – “yes … a tall latte” He corrected me again, “you mean MEDIUM.”

At this point my mind cleared up a bit and I realized, much to my amazement, that I was not at Starbucks but at Pete’s. It must have felt insulting to the Pete’s barista that I was confusing their establishment with the competition. I was slightly embarrassed and motivated to figure out what had just gone on.

The Psychologist in me figured things out. You see, extensive research in Behavioral Science has shown that many times we move around the world on auto pilot, driven by habit. For example, have you ever headed for place A, fell deep in thought about something, and ended up at place B, just because place B is the one you usually go to? A recent study reported by David Rock, shows that “humans are on autopilot nearly half of the time.”

What had happened to me was that during one of my (sleep deprived) autopilot mode episodes, I was under the influence of a powerful brand – Starbucks. I had used the Starbucks lingo at Pete’s Coffee! Moreover, this was the lingo that I had stubbornly refused to use during my first visits to Starbucks!

To me, that is an excellent example of how effective brands get under our skin – they pull he strings while we are asleep at the wheel … Scary?

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    Nov 3 2012: Perhaps, the most powerful forms of tyranny are those that become so normal and harmless to us, that it becomes an unnoticed necessity. When industry and media feed us our options, how free are we? How much do we need them? Only as much as they need us. Brands seem to create made-up, and wide-spread expectations of character, and lifestyle. I'm not being anti-industry or media here, they can be wonderful tools! I'm just asking this: How much of who we are (what we do, how we dress, what we dream for) is who we would be in a world without brands?
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      Nov 3 2012: Great question, Sarah! It is hard to imagine :)
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    Nov 1 2012: Hi Alex!

    My two cents here: I agree with you that some forms of advertising and some companies will get you to be part of their club (or even worst, sect) but there is choice, you can choose not to be impacted.
    I have being living without a TV for the past 10 years, and very happy.
    The city I live these days (Sao Paulo) has banned billboards.
    I do surf the web, meet people, go to shopping malls, etc, but minimize the AD exposure as much as I can.
    Why? Not because I want to avoid buying something I don't need, but because I value having my mind (and as much space as possible) focused on things I care about and thinking independently.

    I believe this strategy is better and "cheaper" than having to constantly rationalize advertising to defend yourself.


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      Nov 1 2012: Hi Julian, thank you for the comment! I think you are showing great strength in resisting commercialism. I wish I could give up TV :)
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        Nov 1 2012: Its not that hard really, and you not only "free your mind", but you have more time as well.


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        Nov 1 2012: I's not that hard...nice comments Julian!

        I started a practice years ago of not watching TV in the summer, so from April to October, there is no TV. If something important is happening in our world, I would turn it on for news, and otherwise, it is simply off....that is a choice. Now that I have a computer, turning the tv on for news isn't an issue. In the winter months, when days are shorter, I watch news, public tv, documentaries, etc. in the evening, when/if I choose to do so.

        Alex, if you REALLY wish you could give up TV, how about trying it for short periods of time? One day at first? Two days? A weekend? Get some good books, make plans to spend time with family and friends, do projects you always wanted to do and felt you didn't have time?
  • Nov 4 2012: would be here all night to read all comments, but Just have to respond to the Fear of dark issue. I have been at both ends of spectrum at different times about fear of the dark. It all had to do with my state of mind (what i was thinking about ) What I am focusing my thoughts on as well as what I am letting come into to my mind. Television is a big influencer here. If you simply cut out tv. the longer time you go without the less fearful you will be. You will also be less hungry, crave fast food less often. I don't even watch the news because it is mostly negative. I watched my husband go through this negative mindset constantly on the news and radio talk shows. Always talking about politics and issues. It sounds so smart, but its negative, and does it change anything. Him listening to it changed nothing, except our marriage. He made no effect on the issues and it didn't change his mind about how to vote. Just made him a negative and abrasive person to be around. I think i have a better perspective of life in general by not watching tv very much. i don't say i don't watch at all, i think i have a pretty healthy balance on it. only if someting catches interest at right time when I am too tired or brain dead to anything else. its usually movies or a kids show. i did watch American idle for a few years, the people stories and talent.. anyway, what you allow yourself to be exposed to. you decide how you spend your time and where you put your eyes and ears. We buy into the lie at times that we are forced or have no control. The only thing we can control is our own bodies and in the US we are more free than most of the world. we decide, whatever the consequence or gain, we decide what we do with our time and our minds and bodies and behavior. we have to take control of our mind and not let it be the lemming of the world. Few attain this, I have noticed. :) oh, and I am sure I am not one of them, at least yet anyway.
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      Nov 4 2012: Hi Carol!

      Looks like we are on the same page here.
      What's the next "mind parasite" to get rid off?
      How do you protect your kid from the media?



      Ps I assume you have kids due to your comment on kids shows
  • Oct 31 2012: You're onto something here Alex. I've had the same experience trying to adjust to the Starbucks lingo and culture. They force you to learn a new language. It reminds me of the Moonies indoctrination process where you are forced to hold hands and chant together with the group until eventually you crack and accept the invasion of your body space and the chanting takes hold. Starbucks is a club with a secret handshake. Costco is similar. Most stores are actually clubs with rewards for loyalty. We are tribal. We can be hypnotized. Humans are curious subjects. Autopilot seems about right.
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      Oct 31 2012: Great point, Greg! successful "brands" tap into the tribal nature of humans ...
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    Nov 4 2012: News story: English professor 'thrown out of Starbucks after objecting to corporate language'

    So funny to read after reading through these comments.

    Opening sentence:

    "Lynne Rosenthal was ejected by three police officers after clashing with a barista about the firm’s ordering rules, which require customers to adopt marketing speak that many find artificial and cloying."
  • Nov 1 2012: That being said, I love the Starbucks product and service. Only a few companies impress me to a point where I am loyal and impressed and I give them the rightful nod when they are consistent and thoughtful. My statement is more about human curiosities and anthropology.
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      Nov 8 2012: I agree, Greg! I think they are masters at brand building. After all they sell coffee - what can be more of a commodity :)
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    Oct 30 2012: Hey Mitch good day. These TED conversations getting better and better, see my earlier post on this conversation. Repeat again for you Reference D. Bor The Ravenous Brain: how the new science of consciousness explains our insatiable search for meaning. My arguement is that Descartes mind body separateness not correct, mind part of whole system of body plus hormones and electrons and fluids. Informed by ideas of chakras. Further reference Brain --- half of all the energy a child consumes. M.A. Holliday. Body composition and energy needs during growth, in Human growth: a comprehensive treatise. F. Falkner and J.M. Tanner, eds 1986 New York Plenum 101-117. Mitch want to collaborate here ? Son noticed at NZ high commission my sister and I looked so much llike other NZ citizens. Influence of more intense sunlight plus outdoors lifestyle maybe. Cousins in Sydney as well as NZ. Not all of us whinging poms u know. PS ever considered poms not sunburnt apples but tomatoes. My issue not so much lack of focus as lack of outlet for thoughts.
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      Nov 1 2012: Consciousness in humans is not exactly the same as consciousness in other creatures .. except the cetacians and Elephants.
      Mamals have sleep .. many other creatures do not.
      We have to actively turn off our consciousness as part of the large brain strategy .. But I tend to think that the quality of consciousness is exactly the same - even in bacteria.
      I am not that focused on growth apart from how changes occur in the developing human - e.g. the synaptic cull caused by puberty hormones.
      I think we are a long way off integrating concepts such as "chakras" - if the basis demonstrable causality is not complete, then it is perilous to spend too much time developing areas of knowledge that have no observed line of integration - i.e. one must not build a house on an assumption - it might turn out to be a chasm. Sure, there's something there with chakras .. but lets wait for the bridge before we say we are on the other side and make foundationless assertions about what they are. Just accumulate observations for now - when the bridge gets there, the observations will snap-into place by themselves.
      Pommy women have more downy fluff on their faces - not burned off by high UV ;) There is a certain excellence in people from the British isles, but also a certain cruelty. Grace mixed in with gruesome.
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        Nov 1 2012: Cheeky. Am ginger with hazel (ie not green or blue) eyes. No beard or moustache on me thanks only freckles. Checking out your Ashanti link and offer you 'Yoruba Gurus: Indigenous Production of Knowledge in Africa' Toyin Falola Africa World Press ISBN 0-86543-699-1. Not a washing machine on fast spin, a washing machine hopefully on long cycle. Nothing in nature silent, not a kookaburra or weta, a kiwi at heart plus wise owl. To me the word chakra links to organs. Third eye site of pituitary gland and site of production of oxytocin. Love to you Mitch and going to check out Ashanti link thank you.
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      Nov 1 2012: Elizabeth - here is a place for all that thought:
      Start at the top.
      Also explore the site - there's a lot there for you.
      Don't listen to the words - listen to teh silences ;)
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        Nov 1 2012: OK Mitch link checked. Interesting ideas about mindfulness etc. Buddhists insist on chanting in groups in highly ritualised style as only definate way of maintaining oral traditions. Remember African ways of maintaining oral traditions, usually only one or two members of a tribe capable of retaining and reciting that much information. Neural pathways develop according to lived experience. Language always changing and responding to changes. Change in vocab accelerating due to cultural mixing of ideas from linguistics in music etc. Had interesting chat with Rastafari music seller here last week. Have you seen Didgeridoo master class on You Tube? You don't have to respond to any of this. Suumer on the way for you lot, get the barbie out.
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          Nov 1 2012: The Buddha does not seek ideas, he seeks nothing.
          Ideas come.
          Do they come from inside or outside?

          All sounds, like birdsong on a sea of silence.

          Listen to the birds, then listen to the silence.
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    Oct 29 2012: The power of brands to turn the individuals into puppets goes hand-in-hand with the weakness of many individuals who ignorantly or willingly allow the brands to turn them into puppets. We cannot control the brands' influential power, but we definitely can monitor our own weakness and so this is what each mature individual should more concentrate upon.

    IMO, the incident described in the title above is very interesting & instructive, but it's not so good example for illustrating this weakness. Because as you say, usually you are aware about the brands' possible bad influence on you and you do not allow them to affect your decisions. And now, due to your recent experience, you are even aware of the sub-conscious effects the brands create within us in their sophisticated ways. So in my opinion, people who are almost constantly aware of the brands' influence upon us and do not allow themselves to turn into puppets, have no real reason to feel scared, even if they occasionally go through experiences like the one you passed.
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      Oct 29 2012: Yubal, you call this "weakness" ... I am not sure this is a fair label. Can you call fear of the dark a human weakness? I do not think so. It is a property of the human mind that developed very early on in human evolution and has evolutionary advantages or purposes. Humans use a lot of mental shortcuts to make decisions - these are not weaknesses, just how we operate. Of course, if we are mindful and know these mechanisms, we can prevent being influenced by them.
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        Oct 30 2012: But suppose an adult is refusing to enter a room at his own home because it’s dark there, would this be considered normal just because it’s an evolutionary effect ?? I think we both agree this adult has some mental complication//weakness. Because we expect the average adult to overcome this evolutionary fear by using his rationality to see that his evolutionary fear of darkness is far exaggerated in this specific case. Evolutionary drive as I see it, has a single goal, that is to survive. But when one or public allow the evolutionary drive to affect them continuously far beyond the limits, it’s an evidence for relinquishing the rational judgment, which is in my view a mental weakness.

        The evolutionary drive itself is NOT a mental weakness. But continuously becoming a victim of that drive IS a mental weakness.
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        Oct 30 2012: Hi Alex,

        My feeling is that perhaps you haven't read the entire first comment of mine. I wrote there that the (mental) weakness I am talking about cannot be attributed to people like you, but on the contrary. Please read again the second paragraph there.
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    Oct 29 2012: i think advertising works on children and young people.

    i think brand-peddlers know this and deliberately do it - notorious for this are junk food and junk drink companies. these money-lovers have no qualms about pushing their harmful products, pointing their advertising guns at kids and then have the gall to say that if kids are unhealthy then it's bad parenting.

    as a cynical old man, my default setting is to be immediately suspicious and disbelieving of all advertising.
    • Nov 2 2012: Exactly right Scott. An example is the energy drink products marketed at young people. They are just now showing to cause death and mostly in young people. Laws are possibly going to change, depending on where you live to limit customers to eighteen years of age and above. The companies that make these products are suspiciously silent. Bath salt drug products also have shown governments complicit in guilt in their slowness to act.
  • Oct 29 2012: It's not brand puppetry, I think it may be to strong. How about "brand goggles". We speak like the brand we know, we use their lingo, their words, their style. We surround ourselves with people who appreciate the brands we love. Brands say to the rest of the world who we are and what we represent (depending on your loyalty to it)

    I think simply put, we've become an assiocation of the things that surround us. Just as we're culture bound listeners, we're brand-bound individuals. It may be easier to switch brands due to conflicting or changing values, but generally we love to speak like the brands we (know)/love.
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      Oct 29 2012: I really like the "brand goggles" analogy, Kyle! That was my whole point - brands that employ people who understand human nature, can exploit it by creating this holistic experience - product design, store designs, colors, lingo, etc.
  • Oct 29 2012: Books I strongly recommend pertaining this subject are 'Tyranny of Words' by Stuart Chase, and 'Language in Thought and Action' by S. I. Hayakawa. Basically they talk about how we have been conditioned to mistake the symbolism with real world referents. For example:

    One has map, describing a territory of land. The 'map' IS NOT the 'territory'.

    A very descriptive analysis into the language that mostly demagoguery and advertisement thrives in. A form of subliminal suggestion. Very important to know about the semantics of language.
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      Oct 29 2012: I completely agree, Jan!
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    Oct 28 2012: Hi Alex,
    You are not talking about "brands". You are talking about something that brands are a subset of.
    The superset is "extrinsic association".
    In this regard, brands are the same as the alphabet, words, numbers and esoteric symbols.
    Extrinsic associations are defined by: non-causal objects that lie external to the body and physical causality.
    One can only acquire extrinsics through training - the extrinsic is demonstrated to occur concurrently with a demonstrated object or causality. For instance, the utterence "run" might be associated with the flight response. After sufficient "training" the utterence will become synaptically attached to the mirror neuron that governs the physical sequence of flight (fleance?). So, when sufficiently trained, the utterence alone is enough to release adrenalin, raise heartbeat, sweating etc. because it mutualy co-fires with the real behaviour.
    Consider the action: "pick-up-cup". This is a trained physical sequence that begins as a micro-managed task and ends up as a "macro" which needs only be invoked by a macro execute request - the sequence becomes sublimated into what we call "the subconscious". Kinda like "set and forget". Interestingly, such "macros' seem to be associated with mirror motor-neurons. Motor neurons are observed to "fire" in 2 modes - simulate and execute. They demonstrate some kind of connection to the proto-self(state-monitor of the internal body - aka "feelings").
    Once an extrinsic is established, then it can acrete further associations with other extrinsics.
    The language set applied to a "brand" will become part of this association network and can become sublimated as a macro with its own causal map.
    You are correct in equating this with the "drive from A to B" macro.
    Advertisers are very well aware of this. Whether consciously or subconsciously - a skilled advertiser will seek to sublimate your behaviour with favourable results for their product. I would say that big producers have sufficient funds for it
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      Oct 29 2012: Great points, Mitch. You present many insights from Neuropsychology, it seems.
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        Oct 29 2012: Neuropsychology (neural network dynamics) is part of it. It explains a good deal of what we observe in each other.
        However, the root dynamic is what constitutes a "self" and how it goes about "self organising".
        And then look at what happens when a buch of "selfs" encounter each other.
        One might view it as a surface on a growing sphere. If anything modulates the inverse-square relation of that surface to its radius, it will produce fractal patterns on the surface - chaotic, if the modulation is "just so" as it seems to be in our universe.
        That, I suppose is a "computational" concept. It's an over-simplification, but we see it as the increasing complexity of evolution - and the emergent properties of that complexity.
        Neural adaptive topology is a long way down the evolutionary emergence chain.
        Since we humans happen to be part of that link, it is cogent to us.
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      Nov 4 2012: That sounds really interesting Mitch.

      I was confused about something you said and was hoping you could clarify? How does brand advertising cause extrinsic association? For example, in Alex's original question for this topic, what was the non-causal object external to the body, that is being associated with what other thing, in this case?
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        Nov 4 2012: Hi Danger Lampost (cool handle btw!),

        The brand mark forms the first associative link to the product - the product is intrinsic becuase it has a demonstrable causal relationship to the subject .. you can pick it up or use it in some fashion.
        The brand is an extrinsic, becuase in and of itself it has no demonstrable physical manifestation or function.
        Just as i cannot pat the word "dog" or expect the word "dog" to go fetch a real stick - neither can I expect the Nike tick image to protect my feet or a picture of Colonel Sanders to satisfy my hunger.
        Once established as an extrinsic association, the primary extrinsic(brand) can accumulate further association through more extrinsic additions - e.g. I can run training programs on the subject to connect the brand name, product and behavioural rewards through fictitions stories. We call these "advertisements". When the story is trained sufficiently it will produce a sublimation into the subconscious as a completed behavioural "macro" initiated by an environmental trigger. The more ambient that trigger is, the more it will be triggered.
        So then to "Super-size Me" where other stories are attached to the brand - this causes a conflicting macro - it does not alter what is already sublimated. The new association induces a conscious evaluation of the brand that will eventually also sublimate as a "policy".
        Our awareness can review these sublimated macros when they are challenged - this normally results in a thing we call "justification" if there is no pre-formed policy of conflicting associations.
        But what we call "free will' is the dynamic whereby associations are fluid and governed by a focussing field we call "awareness" - the field of awareness supresses peripheral associations to prevent system saturation. The dynamic will follow the path of least resistance along the association trail, with stability governed by the static requirement of the proto-self (the monitor of body stability).

        Does this help?
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        Nov 4 2012: Oh - and specifically - in the starbucks case, the additional extrinsic is the size description set - brand experts are very careful to remove cross-associations, so they invent entire languages to keep the product self-associated.
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    Oct 27 2012: With a PhD in Social Psychology you also note the tactics of bait and switch and the simple idea of no longer titling a rose as such. As an example the administration no longer addresses Environmentalism it is call Sustainability now. For years we have been given choices of which one is somewhat acceptable and the other repulsive.

    As a old analyist I can assure you that all polls are cooked. To determine who is number one in any survey is completely determined by the criteria you use. Example what is the best beer ... criteria: Must use only Colorado River water and brewed in the Rockies. Surprise .... Coors wins.

    Years ago Coke used subliminal suggestions of a desert scenes in their coke ads. All of a sudden hurds of people left their cars at the drive in and went to the consession stand for a coke. That was later outlawed.

    This topic opens a large can of advertising and political maneuvers .... One of the best was the old Russian regime and their ploy of joining the socialist movement ... It came in a pretty package and called Hansel and Grettle into the house but once there it was not as advertised.

    The label "free" or "while they last" or "offer closes in 24 hours" should raise big red flags but people still fall for it everytime.

    I hope that we can take away a lesson from this conversation.

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      Oct 29 2012: Hi Robert - many thanks - great observations!

      I'd like to add that the accumulated associative process in extrinsic objects gives rise to a structure.
      At a certain point of removal from observable body/physical causality, the extrinsic network produces an emergent property: "Framing".
      Framing occurs when an extrinsic has multiple entry and exit points - with the exit point determined by the entry point.
      For instance, the word "right" has 2 distinct entry and exit points:
      1. a subjective direction relative to the facing (latin: dexter) associated antonymn "left"(latin sinister).
      2. correct. Antonymn "wrong".
      The word written without an entry point cannot invoke an exit point.
      The frame is what we call "context".
      Frames can become nested.
      At a certain removal from physical causality, they become delusional. But still resolve in behaviour.
      You rightly point out the mechanism of "the bum's rush" in sales technique as an example of delusory framing.
      I'd be careful of framing socialism in terms of Hansel and Gretel - what you are talking about there is Stalanism.
      You will observe in the context drift of directional right and correctness right were perverted by religion to associate virtue with the word "right" - retrospectively re-defining the latin words "dexter" to dextrous, and "sinister" to evil. This etymology demonstrates the potential of delusory framing structures.
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    Oct 27 2012: What scares me is the branding that goes on with political ads that appear to think I am an idiot. Who are behind these ads? Not the money, but the minds. Do they know something about the human psyche of which I am totally unaware? Watching the ads, I rationally think "You've got to be kidding?" but am I subconsciously being influenced? Someone save us if I am.
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      Oct 27 2012: Hi Lynn...nice to see you through your lens again:>)

      I suggest that the people and money behind these ads are very smart, they do indeed know something about the human psyche, which many people are unaware of, and they are seeking more money! They KNOW that people can be easily influenced with the ads...NO MATTER WHAT THE ADS SAY.....yes?

      If something is working for them, there is no incentive to change. If, at some point in our evolution, enough people ARE NOT so easily influenced by ads, then those who create them will have no incentive to continue.....yes?

      A LOT of the information in political ads, for example, can be easily checked out....especially now with our communication systems! How many people actually check the facts? How many people simply accept what they see at first glance? When enough people are empowered in themselves, and willing to seek accurate information, the ads have no power or influence. The question is....when are the masses of people ready and willing to be truly empowered, and not be the puppets on the string of external influence?
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        Oct 27 2012: An interesting aspect of what you raise here is why people do not check. Some things are, of course, hard to check in such a way as to get reliable information, so people may decide just to trust someone who seems credible. Some people will consciously or unconconsciously weigh the (time-) cost of checking against the costs of being slightly misinformed and from that calculation decide not to check.

        Kiriszian somewhere in this thread mentions unimportant choices. Some people do spend an excessive amount of time trying to make choices between things that are so slightly different in value that the time spent would not make sense in the scheme of things. And many people do not check if what they hear confirms their pre-existing biases.
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          Oct 27 2012: Good points Fritzie!
          People may decide simply to trust what they are hearing, some people consciously or unconsciously weigh information, some people may not have time or energy to check things out. I know when I was younger, I had little children, a career, etc. etc., and very little extra time to be too involved in politics for example. I took in very basic information when choosing who I was voting for. Now that I have more time, I investigate and explore more. So, a lot of choices people make may depend on their priority at any stage of their life adventure.
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          Oct 27 2012: How thoughtful is your response Colleen.

          On the topic of advertising medications, I think there's a very interesting related issue here. In many cases, the efficacy of a medication is significantly correlated with the patient's belief that the medication will be helpful. This is related to the placebo effect. No doubt about it, a medication *will* be more effective on a sample population if that population believes it will help them. Even if that belief is based on lies.

          So that ad which is full of lies is actually healing people *because of the ad*, not because of the medication. This in no way justifies lying about these medications. It's just a fascinating issue I like to talk about.
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          Oct 28 2012: Well Danger, my response is meant to be thoughtful, and I sincerely hope it is perceived in that way.

          I am not suggesting that advertisements contain lies. Prescription drugs are approved by the FDA, so I think we can assume that some testing has been done, and the medications have at least some of the effects that are claimed.

          I agree that there may often be a "placebo effect" based on a persons beliefs in medication, and while it may be a fascinating issue to talk about, it is not really the topic of this discussion.

          The point I was making, is that the consumer CAN be more aware and informed. As I wrote in the previous comment...."The question is....when are the masses of people ready and willing to be truly empowered, and not be the puppets on the string of external influence?"

          When we make good, informed choices regarding purchasing products, the product and/or the advertiser cannot "turn us into puppets".
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        Oct 27 2012: Speaking as someone who works on and off in the advertising industry, I hope you're right about the people behind these ads generally being very smart! :)

        Although ads can be fact checked for accuracy, I don't think it's usually the point of an ad to deliver facts. A picture of someone's favorite beer bottle next to a sexy young person is not a fact. Or the picture of Joe Camel on a carton of RJ Reynolds cigarettes was not a fact. Or the picture of a president on an aircraft carrier. The main point of an ad is to cause an association between a brand and a positive feeling, which can be achieved simply by putting your product next to something pleasant that has nothing to do with your product. When enough people are exposed enough times to brand advertising, they will statistically buy your product more. This is brand value.
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          Oct 27 2012: I agree Danger, that it often is not usually the point of an ad to deliver facts. Lynn wrote specifically about political ads, and I was addressing that comment. Many times in political ads, a person's voting record is mentioned. That is easy enough to varify.

          I mention medications in my first comment, and that is another thing people CAN varify to a certain extent. My friends who are medical doctors, physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, etc., tell me that very often, people will see an ad for a medication on TV, and demand that the medical professional give them a perscription for that medication. The patient has not adequately investigated the medication to find out if it is appropriate for them and their condition or not.

          I agree with you that the main point of an ad is to cause an association between a brand and a positive feeling, and sometimes (political ads and ads for medications for example), try to create the "positive feeling" with misleading information, which sometimes has nothing whatever to do with politics or good health.
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          Oct 29 2012: Great point! Association is the base of all our thinking and reasoning. We are not much different from Pavlov's dogs in decision making (it's not a fact, it's an association that came up to my mind as I read your comment).

          I always was surprised at the amount of happy smiling people staring at computer screens on bank and insurance ads, as if checking their bank account is a source of endless pleasure.
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        Oct 29 2012: Re: "They KNOW that people can be easily influenced with the ads...NO MATTER WHAT THE ADS SAY.....yes?"

        We have this thing called "implicit memory" which makes us more likely to believe things we are familiar with, EVEN IF WE WERE TOLD THEY ARE WRONG.

        Here is an interesting article about this "How Warnings about False Claims Become Recommendations"
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          Oct 29 2012: Hi Arkady!
          I agree...association may be the base of our thinking and reasoning. I personally am a little different than Pavlov's dogs in decision making, because I KNOW I can evaluate information, possibly on a different level than a dog, for the purpose of making informed choices.

          Yes indeed, we have this thing called "implicit memory". Do you think that our implicit memory has the ability to take in information and evaluate the information? My implicit memory can do that, so I assume that most humans have that ability?

          I am familier with studies and research to a certain extent. I believe that as evolving humans, we have the ability to think and feel for ourselves, rather than simply accepting information given to us by external sources. It is like "free will" in some respects. If we believe we do not have the ability to think through decision making, than we do not utilize that ability, and we continue to accept information that may not be accurate. When we believe that we have the ability to think and feel as multi-sensory, muti-demensional human beings, that is how we live our lives:>)

          Your argument seems to be saying....this is how we are (this is what the research shows us) and we cannot do anything about it. I do not agree with that perspective. That is EXACTLY the information advertisers like to makes their job a LOT easier...don't you think?
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        Oct 29 2012: Coleen, I agree with you. Being conscious that we have implicit memory makes a huge difference. We are less likely to be manipulated and make unwanted sub-conscious decisions if we are aware of the source of our implicit memories. In the article that I quoted, if we remember exactly where we heard the incorrect information and aware of the emotions and associations it created, we will not be manipulated. Awareness of why we make choices creates this feeling of 'free will' that we discussed earlier. Anticipating the future is necessary for changing it.
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          Oct 29 2012: Oh so wise Arkady! I agree with you too:>)

          So, we can be more conscious, aware, and informed to avoid becoming a "puppet" of advertisers and other external influence!
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        Oct 29 2012: Re: "Your argument seems to be saying....this is how we are (this is what the research shows us) and we cannot do anything about it."

        Being aware "how we are", in itself, is "changing it". When we become aware of the subconscious, it stops being subconscious. When we become aware that we are being manipulated, we stop being manipulated. It's funny how it works with our minds. Some things disappear as soon as we become aware that they exist (e.g. our own ignorance or hypocrisy), and some things come into existence as soon as we become aware that we don't have them (e.g. our rights or free will) :-).
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          Oct 29 2012: Well said Arkady!
          As I recall, I miss-interpreted this same concept in our other conversation (free will). You presented information reflecting certain human behaviors, and I interpreted it as your argument to support the idea that we cannot change!!! What you are actually doing, is encouraging awareness/change.....yes?
    • Oct 27 2012: IMO, if an ad appears to be addressed to stupid people, it is targeted at stupid people.
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        Oct 27 2012: It is well known that ads are created to attract the attention of a certain audience:>)
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        Oct 29 2012: IMO . . . had to look that up. IMO, Barry, I don't think so but you might be right. The question is, are you one of them. Am I?
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      Oct 29 2012: Hi lynn,

      In a former career, I was a forcasting systems consultant. One of the things i did was to codify the old materials requirements forecasting systems to fit fashion trends.
      This was done by identifying demographic definitions by the things they bought, getting a history of it and then forcasting specific niche requirements of the demographic. From there, instead of forcasting items by form/fit/function they were translated to form-fits-fashion. The functional part was left for the customer to define through market penetration stats.
      I did this in order to adapt to obsolescence cycles that were not divulged by the manufaturers. With unknown obsolescence, one does not get a chance to plan because the market lifecycle is less than 3 years (which you need for seasonal patterns to emerge). So we were forecasting fashion tokens by demographic niche - and then matching whatever we could find to fit the niche. This gave us some feedback influence on manufacturing cycles to win back control of our market. The sales histories were able to agregate disparate products into a single stable statistical sample - very accurate indeed.
      For instance, it was found that a certain demographic niche required 2 mobile phone handsets - one for work(practical) and one for show(status). This folded 2 item sales into one sales event which could be agregated and targeted successfully in the marketing. i observe that the method has spread since I got it going - it is quite likely that the method was co-developed in a few places.
      Have a look at this - it explains a few things that you have brought-up:
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        Oct 29 2012: I could only bear 20 minutes of the video. I'm a centrist and have trouble listing to arrogant people belittle others who have a different world view, as well as the chuckling audience, not for humor, but because they agreed. I may have agreed with some of what he was saying, but I wasn't chuckling.
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        Oct 29 2012: Do I have the patience for understanding? Twenty hours, huh. I listened to the first. I may get through the other 19. We shall see.
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          Oct 29 2012: It's worth it.
          Sapolski is a giant in the field of behavioural dynamnics. His framework is very powerful, and his delivery is nice and clear.
          I know Lakoff peddles a specific politics, but he demonstrates a basis. His assumptions about childhood experience might be a little skewed - and definitley selctive. But, the politics is not so important to me - the observations of teh dynamics of "framing" is essential. Also the inclusion of type 1 and type 2 thinking is important.
          The big problem with modern neuroscience is that it cuts across a lot of our assumptions. This collapses our world views and is not comfortable or done in a day. We emerge with a much more practical world-view, but damn - it takes a lot of time pulling it all together. Worth it.
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    Oct 27 2012: Hi Alex,
    A "brand" does NOT have any power over us unless we give it that power. Personally, I do not give anything the power to turn me into a puppet. That is a choice we can all make.

    If we are tired, or feeling vulnerable, we may very well make the easiest choice, and use information coming from our subconscious, as you did with your coffee example.

    I think it is well known that many people in our world are "on auto pilot, driven by habit". As thinking, feeling, multi -sensory, multi- dimensional human beings, we have a choice in every single moment, whether we will function on auto pilot, using habits and programming which may have come to us from an external source (parents, society, advertising, etc), or whether we make well informed, mindful, aware decisions.

    When we're considering what size coffee we want, it is not a big deal right? The challenge is that many people make decisions without knowing where the decision making information is coming from....yes? People are voting for leaders of our world, based on a TV ad, or deciding how to "medicate" themselves based on a TV ad. That is when the practice seems foolish in my perception.

    The logical answer, or practice, to prevent us from being puppets on the string of external influence, is simply to be well informed, aware, and mindful of our choices, decisions and behaviors and what influences them in each moment:>)
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      Oct 27 2012: Very well put, Colleen! I agree with the mindfulness point. The point about us having a choice all the time is a trickier one ...
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        Oct 27 2012: Alex,
        It's not so tricky when we are mindful! It's another one of those life it not? The more mindful/aware we are, the more choices we see, the more we open ourselves to mindfulness, open heart, open mind...the less tricky it we continue to create more of the same.....or not.
        It's not really that is the exploration of the life experience and it's fun:>)
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    Oct 27 2012: i'm not convinced. i have two problems with that reasoning, namely the who and the when. so the idea is that marketers plant phrases in our mind, subconscious. and that would lead involuntary actions that we can't resist.

    1. it does not mean that we are influenced in important choices. in your example, you said tall, but you in fact were in pete's and not starbucks. you actually ordered what you wanted to. this illustrates that the influence might be more subtle than we used to think. that would be the when part. when we don't otherwise have a choice, we don't care too much and thus choose based on random impulses, such implanted ideas might be important. but it's a completely different matter whether our valuations can be changed this way.

    2. not everyone is susceptible in equal degree for such influences. certainly there are people that follow the herd more than others. they have less autonomy and more often just mimic behavior. that difference, and what can we do about it is much more interesting and important than just dropping in a general statement about "we" are puppets. it is not everyone and it is not fate. we should be interested in how to identify it in ourselves and how to fight it.
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      Oct 27 2012: Krisztian, thanks for your comment! I will address your points 1 and 2 below:

      1. In this post I am talking about very subtle influences. That's actually how advertising works - for choices that are not related you a person's deep values and beliefs, the subliminal affects of advertising and marketing, over time, will nudge you to choose toothpaste A over the other 25 brands on the toothpaste shelf next to each other. If you do not believe in brushing your teeth in general, advertising will not make you start doing that.

      2. My PhD in Social Psychology was based on individual differences among people, so I am well aware of those. I deliberately chose a more provocative title so that is makes a more interesting debate :)
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        Oct 27 2012: 1. but if you think about it, it immediately renders the topic non-interesting. if companies can influence us in decisions that has no consequence at all, what's wrong with that? why would we care about it?

        2. maybe then you should choose a topic about that? i would be much more interested in that conversation, but especially any results you can tell us. this is my old complaint. i'm bored to hell hearing about the milgram experiment. bring back those that said no, and study them!! milgram quitters for president! why nobody is interested in that?
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          Oct 27 2012: 1. the topic is interesting and important because the US economy is powered by consumer spending and consumer spending is influenced by advertising.
          2. now that I know what is interesting to you, specifically, I will be picking my topics better :)
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        Oct 27 2012: okay, what? we established that consumer spending is NOT influenced by advertising. you yourself said that "I am talking about very subtle influences". consumers choosing one brand of toothpaste over another would not affect the US economy in any way. so what is your point after all?
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    Lejan .

    • +1
    Oct 27 2012: In my understanding 'tall', 'small' or 'medium' in a bar, cafe or restaurant has always been a 'local' definition at those places, so I have a bit of trouble to follow your example.

    I ordered 'Chicken McNuggets' at Burgerking and finally got something alike, if that's what you mean.

    But what is surprising to you?

    Your 'auto pilot' is nothing but our sub-consciousness and nothing but the main target of all advertising and marketing strategies ever since! And how do you think political parties communicate with the public?

    There is a whole industry thriving on these principles!

    To me there is a difference in 'allowing oneself to be brainwashed by advertising' and to finally be influenced by it.

    You may wish to be in control, but how could you ever be, as we humans have no conscious control on our sub-consciousness?

    Thanks to Peter, his advertising and your writing, even I now know about his cafe, presumably located in San Diego, Kalifornien in the United States. If it wasn't a bit off my daily paths and because I LOVE coffee, I might have given it a try one day due to your hint and Peter's understanding about marketing.

    Any brand-name you remember is proof, that you have been successfully influenced by that very company.
    This is no brain-washing, as washing would actually 'clean' your mind. This is what it even literally claims to be, as the origin of 'brand' comes from 'branding' and in old days those marks were meant to stay on our cattle and horses especially NOT to be 'washed' away ...

    If a 'staunch individualist' in this context can even exist, I have my doubts.

    And in case you ever used the term 'Aspirin' to express your wish for a headache pill, the people at Bayers marketing headquater here in Germany arcived the 'holy grail' in their business: A brand-product group association.

    But the good news is, to a certain degree you are able to get more 'sensitive'' on this and to 'clean up' your daily vocabulary if you wish to... Pampers or diapers? ;o)
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      Oct 28 2012: There is a spectacular portion of Julian Jayne's "The Origin of Consciousnesses in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" in which he asserts that consciousness is not actually all we believe it to be. In fact, it may actually detract from instincts and put is in danger. At first, this was heresy to me. But I started doing some of the practices he included (like memory recall) and found he was correct, every time. I became quite fond of the idea that there is actually very little we can account for. We don't have the time to make all the little decisions for ourselves that lead us to grab the red can. I choose to dissect what happens to me when I do and relive it in my arts.

      Oh man, gotta get THAT can,
      I don't know why but I'll be damned
      if I can't buy that pretty brand mmmmmyeah
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        Oct 28 2012: I protect myself as good as I can against advertising. The radio stations I listen to have no ads, I do not read magazines, my firefox is equipped with ad-blockers, my E-mail program with spam-filters and and I have no TV.

        That's all I can do, I assume, to finally grab the green can one day... :o)
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    Oct 27 2012: Wow. I was expecting something entirely different before I read your explanation. I was all ready to defend symbols and quote people, but that was just really interesting, actually. I'm surprised there are no comments yet. Perhaps this isn't well-suited to the debate format?
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    Nov 4 2012: Thanks, that helps. If you would permit a follow up question or two?

    Is all of language an extrinsic association between the words and the objects to which they refer?

    Does not the brand serve the useful function of helping set the customer's expectations regarding the products? For example, are the words "tall" or "vente" as redefined by Starbucks useful for precisely describing the size of coffee, as opposed to the relative words "medium" and "large" which do not provide such specificity? Does that not make these brand words useful and turn these from extrinsic to intrinsic.?

    I think that's the part I'm confused about.
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      Nov 4 2012: I do not think brands invent their own labels to make things more clear for the consumer. They do it to be different and to stand out and to create a following. Marty Neumeier's book Zag explains that strategy very well. []

      If you want to go for clarity, small, medium, large gives a pretty good sense of what is what, especially when they are listed side by side. Using a mixture of English (tall) and Italian (grande and vente) to describe size does not help me much, it confuses me. But it sounds very exotic and worth $5 for a cup of coffee :)
  • Nov 4 2012: Oh, and you do know that companies hire for marketing and sales positions from either business degrees or PSYCHOLOGY degrees right?
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      Nov 4 2012: Indeed, Carol. Behavioral Economics is all the rage ...
  • Nov 3 2012: I use a particular approach to detoxification n drug n alcohol rehabilitation. Unfortunately people have to be quiet down the road f destruction before they agree to spend 4 weeks in a rehab facility. The enablers at home or work respond when the cost benefit ratio is now causing problems for them. I want to market peace at home, productivity at work n how to fix a broken person by fixing the brain. It's not about stopping alc or drug, I feel it's about realizing something is broken n then committing to fix it n enjoying the benefits of the result n perhaps becoming hooked on this improved performance. Unfortunately the family quiet rarely wants to grow believing the patient is the problem, not realizing why this mismatch occurred in the first place. Ideas on how to keep people in the program for at least 28 days for neurogenesis n their families to engage in their own growth must come perceptual change in marketing . Any thoughts ?
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    Nov 2 2012: Want to talk about good enough parenting. As a woman there is a time when the children 'fly the nest'. At this time hopefully there is a bit of a rest and recuperation before the grandchildren arrive. A mother deals with all the grief and stress and resource allocation that comes with mothering then the grandchildren are the prize. In a time where too many Mums are demonised for other people's issues, perhaps it is time to reflect on the value of a 'thank you'. Thank you does not have to be said with material possessions. The best thank yous are said face to face, with your company and your time (and possibly a little light food shopping). Mums are always to be nurtured. Children have no idea what sacrifices their parents make and in an ideal world they will never know. The best present for a Mum is children who forge ahead with their careers and support their other siblings. Ultimately even a mobile phone needs physical energy resources. Anyone making progress on a solar powered mobile phone ? Ted Bayliss made a wind-up torch and radio which apparently has been incredibly useful in Africa. When storms hit ultimately it is your local community who will hopefully look out for you. Love to everyone on TED today.
  • Nov 1 2012: The internet and TV :P
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    Nov 1 2012: Thank you Alex and good morning to everyone, hope the weather has calmed down a bit. We are very lucky to have a tabloid (as in small) version of a quality broadsheet newspaper available to those of us with limited financial means for 20p. Article recently said at least 12 psychological theories in most advertising campaigns. Idea that somehow there is a 'correct' lifestyle can be hugely damaging to a population that does not have the resources to achieve it. By far too much doom and gloom in the media and it has huge consequences for social bonding and communication. Access to information and the lack of education to discern what is behind the stories is just another means of propaganda. Every economy needs drivers but it also needs resources. I understand in the USA somehow very poor people literally not acknowledged. So damaging because a certain deprivation of material resouces tends to occur at any point in people's lives. This particularly occurs when people have their own children. I read somewhere else that a frightened child literally grows neural pathways like a war veteran. OK simplistic explanation again of complex ideas, Childhood needs to be a place to play so children can create the active imaginations that lead to creative ideas in adulthood. These themes are not new, George Orwell spoke about them in his work '1984', Gilbert and Sullivan wrote a musical called Utopia. There was a company over here selling financial products that realised targetting products at many less affluent people actually made them richer. Also Beveridges ideas and the ideas of the Victorians about supporting those in difficulty rather than blaming them and including them in whatever capacity those people were able to. Kindness, love and empathy not sympathy and pity. Maybe most modern analogy washing machine metaphor. Fast spins and long soaks very bad for people as well as clothes. Love to you all today.
  • Oct 31 2012: Brands, and even whole industries, have been onto this for some time. A few things to note:
    -The "clean laundry" smell that most detergents have as an additive actually isn't what clean laundry smells like - there really is no smell to clean laundry. Its used to evoke a psychological response in us.
    -Humans tend to overvalue things they create - that's why when you buy a build it yourself piece of furniture from IKEA you tend to not want to get rid of it, or will try to sell it for more than its worth. Some companies can cut manufacturing/packaging costs by exploiting this.
    -We also have positive (or negative) reactions to brand names themselves. Studies by Dan Ariely have shown that people react differently to the same object if they're told it comes from a different manufacturer. For instance, buying and wearing a counterfeit accessory is going to make you less honest in general, assuming you think its a counterfeit.
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      Nov 1 2012: Lol - so true!
      Makers of instant coffee also inject coffee-smell into the container so that when you open the seal you get a coffee-smell hit - I think they call it "grab-gas".
  • Oct 30 2012: Hello, I totally agree with the psychological aspect, now people often do a lot of things just because of a strong habit.
    Sophisticated advertising lays in the subconscious things that directly affect the sale, moral / political / economic point of view, etc.
    The strength of the brand is particularly strong in countries with multiple networks-monopolists.
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    Oct 30 2012: Had interesting conversation with my son. His maths tutor arguing maths linear language and english too wooly. Used LOL for examplar - LOL to my generation lots of love, in text speak laugh out loud. Suggested to son english still a much richer language for creative purposes. Want to reference a book by Daniel Bor The Ravenous Brain: how the new science of consciousness explains our insatiable search for meaning. Love communicating, always interested in what might get in the way. One of references Bor used is about feeding children, Brain---half of all the energy a child consumes. M.A. Holliday. Body compostion and energy needs during growth, in Human growth: a comprehensive treatise. F. Falkner and J.M. Tanner, eds. 1986 New York Plenum 101-117. So I am always interested in patterns myself. Little kids aged 3--5 say 'feed me'. LIke to speculate on what they see as well as food aspect. Personally difficult adult relationships but beautiful natural environment. So Bor and the Ravenous brain. Impact of education by means other than formal state education. Mass advertising and advertising in children's tv programmes. Loved Sesame street when a child, understand now available only on non pay per view tv ? Lots of love to you all in the stormy season.
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    Oct 30 2012: Many times, I've watched commercials with music in the background. I say to my friends, oh yeah I remember that song back in high school. Then I say ah it's a Lexus commercial and boys, looks like we're the target market. I want a new mazda so bad now that they've played a Rush song in the commercial.

    Thank goodness I landed a few sales jobs in my career. It helps to see the mechanisms of influence rather clearly. (insert evil laugh here).

    Wanted to add: We are our own brand and we are selling it every day.
  • Oct 29 2012: Can't give you a answer as I'm not a member of"us".
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      Oct 30 2012: Walter, you are unique ... just like everybody else :)
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    Oct 28 2012: Whenever I see three sizes for drinks or pizzas, I don't even read what they are called. To me, they are "small", "medium", and "large". It is ridiculous how marketing people twist words. "50 years young", "1 inch slim", "pre-loved cars" (how about a "pre-loved wife"?), "as little as $19.95 conveniently charged directly to your credit card". I think, "medium" is now called "grande" at Starbucks.

    "Small", "medium", and "large" - is what we learn since the tale of Goldilocks is first read to us when we are kids, and that's what it is - "small", "medium", and "large".

    They only get under our skin if we let them to.
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    Oct 27 2012: Brands are not as powerful to easily make puppets out of people; but human beings can be influenced and its nothing to be ashamed of.
    Advertising is effective, if not companies would not spend millions of dollars on it.
    It is an individual responsibility to make sure that trends and fads are not followed slavishly; there are choices to make, there is a lot to choose from; and as individuals we should apply wisdom in our choices.
    Wisdom would keep one from accepting every claim made my advertisers and manufacturers.
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      Tao P

      • +1
      Oct 29 2012: Maybe marketers are most effective in getting us to believe that marketing is effective. Marketing is great if you already believe in the thing they are trying to sell, and it seems to be great at reinforcing why not to buy it if you're not into that particular thing they are selling.
  • Oct 27 2012: It's because knowledge exists physically in our brains we just can't get rid of it, it's physically there, thats why advertising and propaganda is so dangerous and why politics is so toxic. When you get old you step back from moral ideals and ideology and start doing serious analysis.

    I call it the engineers approach "How will this not work, or what is wrong with it?" keep asking questions like that and most everyones opinions and politics fly apart pretty quickly because you begin to understand _the universe does not work like that_.
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    Oct 27 2012: I must admit that I have always derived a somewhat perverse pleasure from walking into Starbucks and ordering a large coffee. A few years ago when I started doing this, Baristas would say, "You mean a Grande" or whatever they call it? And I'd say, "I don't know - I just want a large coffee. Do you have that?"

    Your debate seems pretty closely related to this debate about whether we should teach children about how we are so easily manipulated:
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    Oct 27 2012: I didn't realize my love for wheat products could be affecting my health, I love bread, especially the long life white toast type made in my country by a company i've known all my life but today's wheat is a far cry from the wild natural breeds we first started to cultivate, they're all GE and contain high levels of gluten which in turn contain the proteins Gliadin and when absorbed can cause mild euphoria in satisfaction, some companies actively add gluten to everything.
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    Oct 27 2012: There is a book called positioning the battle for your mind. It discusses what you indicate. And associates or positions one product against another. E.G. 7up was positioned against cola as the un-cola, Avis we are #2 we try harder.

    I don't know if this is nefarious as if the need was not there in the first place it has no affect. If you are not the demographic for something it is not going to affect you.
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      Oct 27 2012: " If you are not the demographic for something it is not going to affect you." Well said Pat. People who don't drink coffee are immune to your specific problem. Just don't ask them anything about tea...
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    Oct 27 2012: "
    (5) Soul
    Soul is the spiritual self formed by the computation results of the master data-programs of both human instincts and pre-instincts in the brain.
    The soul runs the brain; and the brain runs the whole physical body.
    A. Composition
    Soul consists of the following two kinds of data and programs in our brain:
    a. Instinct Data
    Instinct data are the data generated or grown up in our brain according to the information saved in DNA by our ancestors about 10,000 years ago.
    b. Pre-Instinct Data
    Pre-instinct data are those data acquired or created by the individual during his or her own living time through poly-repetition of his or her behaviors physically or spiritually. .
    B. Function
    The function of the soul is the controlling all activities of a person’s brain with ultra-high velocity, including unconscious and conscious ones.
    a. Unconscious Activities
    Unconscious activities include all kinds of instantaneous intuitions of innate actions and feelings.
    It is a process like very fast simple data comparison without any lengthy process of computation in a computer.
    For examples, there are laughing, crying, scaring, and etc.
    b. Conscious Activities
    Conscious activities include logical thinking and reasoning of much lower speed than unconscious ones.
    It is a process like slow computation of complicated data in a computer
    For examples, there are planning, calculating, writing, and etc.

    C. Properties
    a. General
    Soul is possessed with an extremely stubborn property and very difficult to be changed, although could be modified difficultly by the process of poly-repetition requiring very long time.
    This is because that to rewrite the instinct and pre-instinct data of a soul is a very slow biological process of growing cells in the brain.
    That is why our education may require more than score years and a brain-wash needs many years long, too.
    It is a sharp contrast to rewriting data in our electronic computer which rewrites data almost instantaneously.