It makes sense that if we have a viewer’s attention and present him or her with a compelling ad, we stand a chance of improving the perception of our brand. But what about those times when we don’t have the viewer’s attention, and he doesn’t even recall seeing the ad? This topic is discussed in Brand Immortality, and research is providing some interesting insights.

The idea that consumers can be swayed without their conscious knowledge isn’t new – subliminal cues were a key premise of Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders” decades ago, and here at Neuromarketing we are constantly seeing examples of how our conscious mind can be bypassed by external stimuli. But the idea of “low involvement processing” or “low attention processing” gained ground about ten years ago when Dr. Roberth Heath wrote an article which appeared in Admap. He summed up the prevailing belief about ad effectiveness:

Traditional theories of how advertising works were based on the hypothesis that it must be processed cognitively by consumers to be effective – in other words, it must capture your attention and interest, and make you ‘think’ about and remember the ad and the message within it. Advertising that does not ‘cut through’ in this way is deemed to be largely wasted.

Heath then proposed that we in fact DO process ads without conscious awareness, that sensory associations are particularly strong, and that when we make a purchase decision these stored brand associations can indeed influence us.

Research using televison commercials supports this theory. Pringle and Field describe a series of experiments conducted by Ipsos which exposed subjects to commercials while they were supposedly reviewing a new TV drama. Afterwards, the subjects were tested for recall of the ads and also for any shift in brand perception vs. a previous value. This is a truly massive set of data – the experments involved 97,000 subjects, 512 commercials, and 47 different companies.

The results showed an average brand shift of 7.3% for those subjects who paid attention to the ad and could describe it (high attention processors). More interestingly, though, even those subjects who paid little or no attention to the ads saw a positive brand shift. “low attention processors” who could recall the ad only when it was described by the researchers saw a 2.7% shift, and even those “ultra-low attention processors” who couldn’t recall the ad at all saw a 1.2% lift. Not stunning, perhaps, but statistically significant and really not bad for a single “unconscious” exposure.

In short, the data shows that it’s better to have your ads noticed and consciously processed by your potential customers. But even when your ads aren’t consciously noticed, your branding message is still having an impact.