Don’t Sell, Seduce!


Emotional ads are processed quite differently by the brain than those that appeal to logic, according to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology and Economics shows that . That might seem like old news to Neuromarketing readers, but the experimental approach was somewhat different than past efforts in this area. Researchers at UCLA had subjects view different ads, some that used logical persuasion to sell, and others that used what they called “non-rational influence” ads. The latter used mostly images, often of attractive people. (All ads were real ads, though not necessarily currently in use.)When the experimenters monitored the subjects’ brain activity using a form of EEG called low-resolution brain electromagnetic tomography, they found that the information-laden logical ads did light up more of the brain, including both areas associated with decision making and emotions.

Non-rational ads
Non-Rational Ads

While the higher levels of brain activation sounds like good news for ads that persuade with logic, lead researcher Dr. Ian Cook concluded that the emotional ads were more impactful:

Because the results showed that in response to non-rational sensory inputs, activity was lower in areas of the brain that help us inhibit responses to stimuli, the findings support the conjecture that some advertisers wish to seduce, rather than persuade, consumers to buy their products.

That doesn’t mean that facts and logic should never be used. According to Cook, ‘The finding reinforces the hypothesis that preferences for purchasing goods and services may be shaped by many factors, including advertisements presenting logical, persuasive information and those employing images or text that may modify behaviour without requiring conscious recognition of a message.’

Logical Persuasion Ads
Logical Persuasion Ads

Cook’s comments seem to go a bit farther than the research paper itself, suggesting that attractive men and women make the “non-rational” ads more powerful sales tools. Even if Cook and his coauthors didn’t leap quite that far for publication, the concept is far from outlandish. We know from other work that images of attractive women are particularly effective in ads directed to males (A Pretty Woman Beats a Good Loan Deal and Bikinis, Babes, & Buying). Women seem less influenced by images of men, at least in those studies.

Just the emotion, Ma’am.

Need to shake up your advertising and boost sales? Run a test of ads that skip the facts and logical persuasion, and instead show imagery of a place and state of mind where your target customer would like to be. Bypass the rational analysis, and appeal directly to your customer’s emotions.

  1. Margaret J. King says

    We use both emotional and logical brain modalities to solve problems and make decisions. But the emotional centers are far more efficient at doing this, and do it far faster, and based on a leading set of values (cultural imperatives), as compared to logic. We use logic and technical reasoning to justify decisions we’ve already made on the emotional side. Our cultural analysis think tank calls this combination “Cultural Logic,” and it shows how general intelligence is really a blend of both left and right-brain functions. This is the integrated reasoning that happens in actualy decision making, which includes preliminary reasoning, logical rationalizing, and behavior (action), and time and money equations that go into most decision making.

  2. Phil Barden says

    @Margaret – question of clarification please. What do you mean by left and right brain in this context? Thanks.

  3. Sara Misell says

    Sensory Inputs that bypass active processing have been proven time and time again. Did you see the issue the New Scientist put out earlier this year having employed eeg testing? It sold the most issues on record – why? because the shape they used subconsciously looked like a breast!

  4. Roger Dooley says

    I don’t know that there is actual data to back that up, Sara, but it’s definitely intriguing. I wrote about that “experiment” here:


  5. Sara Misell says

    We could try and entice mindlabs to a retest comparing abstract shapes – I would love to be a fly on the wall for that one…

  6. Phil Barden says

    @Sara – it was Neurofocus who did the work. Pradeep and New Scientist presented this case at the Royal Institution in London recently. Unfortunately, as Roger’s already posted, it wasn’t set up as a robust study so it’s difficult to draw conclusions. The cover that won, coincidentally, has a ‘free’ flash on it.

  7. Sara Misell says

    @Phil Interesting – shame it wasn’t set up as robust study! Still the boost in sales does display the powerful effect neuromarketing research can have 🙂

  8. Wes Man says

    Usually a person’s logical mind takes the decision in advance. The logical mind justifies that decision and the person stays at ease. Applied in the same manner, it works, in my experience.

    Now, just please use it honestly 🙂

  9. Ali says

    Yes Today i have gone through an ad of a shaving Razor and the message says it contains Olive oil and make a man chicks for getting a kiss from a girl. Really an ad containing logical seductive message would hit on the brain of target customer… Marketer keep it up

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