The consumer with two brains.


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Here’s a brain teaser for you. Let’s say you purchased a ball and a bat, and the total for the two was $1.10. In this instance, the bat costs exactly $1.00 more than the ball. Knowing that, how much did the ball cost?


When presented with this problem, 80% of people will give the same answer: 10 cents. Makes perfect sense. $1.10 is exactly $1.00 more than 10 cents. The answer just “feels” right. There’s no need to explore multiple options.

But consider the problem again. This time spend time analyzing the variables. When you do, you’ll discover that the ball actually cost a nickel (.05 + 1.05 = $1.10).

Why wasn’t this the answer you came up with originally? You had all the information you needed, right?

The answer to that was explained by Nobel laureate Dr. Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University. His studies showed that basically, our brains have two different “thinking systems” we use to solve different problems. The first system (call it “intuition”) operates almost subconsciously. This system is mostly reactive. We use it to draw conclusions quickly, without much thought. It is primarily driven by emotion. It helps you solve problems in a “shoot from the hip” kind way.

It is the system that helps you decide if you have enough time to get across the street before that approaching moving van splatters you all over the sidewalk.

The second system (call it “reasoning”) is much more analytical. As Kahneman describes it, it’s conscious, deliberate, slow-moving, and evaluates a variety of solutions to a given problem. It’s the system that helps us choose between mortgage options when faced with varying loan fees, APRs, payment terms and closing costs.

The rub, as Kahneman points out, is that the “intuition system” is our default system, and unless we’re confronted with information that indicates “we’ll have to think harder,” we stick with it.

As marketers, that’s hard to accept. We prefer to think our customers operate on cold, hard facts, not on knee-jerk whims. The fact is, however, unless we’re selling something that telegraphs the fact that “this is going to require some thoughtful analysis,” we’re confronting reactive customers more interested in how something “feels” than the facts we’re hoping they rely on.

This helps explain why humorous spots generally work so well..

The unfortunate thing to know as marketers, is that once our “intuition system” draws a conclusion, it’s almost impossible to reverse, regardless of the facts. To demonstrate this, take a look at the following two parallel lines, and determine which one is longer.


The truth is they are both the same length. But, like the ball/bat example, an overwhelming majority of folks will pick the top one because it “looks” longer. Amazingly, even when it was demonstrated the two lines were the same length by using a ruler, a surprising number still didn’t believe it was true. “My eyes don’t lie,” was a typical response, ignoring the fact that empirical proof existed they were equal in length.

So what’s a marketer to do? Make sure your first interaction with a customer (whether through advertising, online or in a brick-and-mortar setting) elicits an emotional response that’s in keeping with your “brand personality” in the first few seconds. Think of broad emotions. Humor, shock, surprise, irony, fear (of what they’re missing out on if they don’t choose you).

And whatever you do, it’s probably best if you not challenge them to think very hard.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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