Where Brain Science and Marketing Meet

Numbers in Ads


Three New Locations! 5 Ways to Save! In creating an advertisement, the way a number is represented may fall to a copy writer or even a graphic artist. The decision may be based on space available, design considerations, or perceived clarity. Interesting new research looks at how “4”, “four”, and ” * * * * ” are processed by our brains. Studies yield insight into the numerical brain describes two new studies published in Neuron. The first study may be reassuring to marketers – Manuela Piazza and colleagues at INSERM, Orsay, France, found that the same area of the brain, the parietal cortex, processed both a numeric representation, e.g., “6” and a group of six dots.

“Our results show that, at least in the adult brain, numerical symbols and nonnumerical numerosities converge onto shared neural representations,” they wrote. “Perhaps we attach meaning to symbols by physically linking populations of neurons sensitive to symbol shapes to preexisting neural populations holding a nonsymbolic representation of the corresponding preverbal domain (e.g., numerosity).”

The other study seems to muddy the water a bit by suggesting that all numeric representations aren’t processed in the same way:

In the other paper in Neuron, Roi Cohen Kadosh and colleagues conducted experiments demonstrating that the two hemispheres of the parietal lobe function differently in processing numbers. While the left lobe harbors abstract numerical representations, the right shows a dependence on the notation used for a number, they found. The researchers concluded that “results challenge the commonly held belief that numbers are represented solely in an abstract way in the human brain.” The authors also concluded that their results “advocate the existence of distinct neuronal populations for numbers, which are notation dependent in the right parietal lobe.”

There’s no clear-cut path to the best usage for numbers in a marketing context from these studies. Overall, it appears that the differences in number processing aren’t so dramatic that marketers should always try use a particular method for maximum impact. Rather, letting the choice of number format be guided by the content of the ad, the layout, and the context in which the number will be used makes sense. As other research builds on these initial studies, perhaps some more concrete advice will emerge; at the moment, though, we think marketers can choose their #1 (or Number One!) approach without worrying much about the neuromarketing aspects of the decision.

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