Image of a brain on a coloured background not medical

Brain says no

Why do some performance campaigns succeed, and others fail? It could all be down to the way our brains work. Nir Harnik at MediaCom Israel, identifies the cognitive barriers to success.

Every day we are exposed to thousands of ads. On every platform and every device, people want to sell us stuff. The call to action and the targeting are obviously important, but there are also clear rules that can ensure messages are more appealing to our subconscious. Regardless of cultural differences, the way people think, behave and decide are similar all around the world. Our cognitive biases help determine which messages are more likely to deliver the response that brands want. The entire idea of using cognitive biases in marketing assets is to set expectations, focus on the most valuable features and provide the user with the best and most simple opportunity to come to their own decision.

In fact, there are some key rules for performance marketing messages that will help boost, well, performance by appealing to the way our brains work: Colour. Colour psychology has become a hot topic in the past few years as researchers have begun to find a strong correlation between colours and deep emotions. Red normally has connotations of love, warmth and strong feelings. It can be used to boost performance in emotional moments. Blue represents relaxation and confidence. As such, it could be a great colour to use if wanting to demonstrate how safe and secured a purchasing prosses is. Green could be great for CTAs as this colour is considered to represent a legitimate solution, natural context and even luck.

This form of cognitive bias does have cultural implications, however. Take the colour white for example. In many Western countries, it represents purity, cleanliness, innocence, and simplicity, while in many Eastern countries it is a symbol of mourning. Next, the “Hundred Law”. The number closest to 100 is the most powerful call-to-action, be it a percentage or an actual discount. This has huge implications for the way discounts are communicated.

When offered a $10 discount on a $30 trainer, or 33% off the same pair of shoes, most people will choose the latter. Even though both deliver the same price.

The Von Restorff Effect. When several similar objects are displayed next to each other, the different objects will be more memorable and, in the case of digital marketing, clickable. The desired call to action for consumers to respond to should stand out from the other options available.

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The IKEA Effect: Human instinct is to overvalue products that we created or worked hard on to achieve, like assembling some flat-packed furniture. For performance marketers, this means it can be very useful to let the users “work” for their rewards and only send coupons after they have completed a challenge – a coupon given after a challenge will lead to higher coupon redemptions than one given without a challenge.

Loss aversion. The avoidance of loss is a big driver of human behaviour. People would rather not lose $100 than earn $100. This means that negative terms and constrictive language are more likely to drive swift action, we can expect users to engage more with: ‘stop loss and start to win” instead of ‘start win’ only.

Image of two display adverts - loss on left win on right

The scarcity effect. We live in the age of FOMO and many of us are constantly plagued by a Fear of Missing Out. The bottom line is that people favour the available over the relevant. Communicating the number of units left in stock or the time left for the deal, are both powerful ways to leverage fear of scarcity.

Negativity bias. Our emotional response to the world means we are more likely to take notice of a bad experience over a good one. In short, an ad for an anti-colic treatment for new-borns featuring crying babies suffering is more likely to get a response than one featuring laughing babies.

The identifiable victim effect. Make it personal rather than generic. A communication based around individuals – be it testimonials or personal stories – are far more powerful than general text or even influencer presence.

Lastly, the anchoring effect. The first piece of information we are exposed to sets the benchmark. So, if a consumer sees an electric toothbrush for $250 and then sees the same model at a different price, their immediate point of reference will be the original price as they try to work out whether it’s a good deal or not.

In promoting a line of products, it makes sense to start with the most expensive and waterfall down to the cheapest using retargeting if your assumption is that price is the key barrier These techniques are meant to help you focus your performance campaigns on the best aspects of your product to stand out in a sea of advertisements. They should be used in conjunction with your creative, UX/UI of the assets, with your copy, prices and even offers. By ensuring that communications work with our brains rather than fight them, it truly is a case of people first, better results.