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4 min read

Brighton SEO: Jeroen Maljers – Hidden Messages: The Psychology Behind PPC & SEO

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

What Is Subliminal Advertising?

Jeroen opened his talk by first defining subliminal advertising as a concept where marketers aim to influence audiences using stimuli that they don’t consciously detect. This is a concept which has been used in offline advertising for years – we’ve all seen product placement in TV and movies, but that’s not the only technique.

How Does It Work?

Subliminal advertising works using the concept that the human mind adds and changes information based on what it sees and the context around that. Jeroen also mentioned the concept of Pareidolia here, a psychologyical phenomenon where the mind responds to a stimulus by perceiving a pattern that doesn’t exist. In other words,  your mind processes information extremely quickly and as a result, tries to make incomplete information complete to save time. Marketers should be aware of this for several reasons, mostly importantly to be able to present content and ad copy in a way which allows users to digest it efficiently while still interpreting it in the way which the author intends.

At this point Jeroen went into more detail about several specific things to bear in mind when creating content and producing ad copy, which we’ve summarised below:

The Decoy Effect

This is the idea that adding a decoy product can persuade users to invest in a higher priced product which they would not otherwise be willing to buy, on the basis that they feel they are getting a better deal. The study Jeroen cited was that of a cinema selling two sizes of popcorn; a small popcorn was priced at $4 and the large at $7. When the cinema found that most people would only be willing to buy the small popcorn, they introduced a medium popcorn priced at $6.75. As a result, more people started buying the large popcorn as they felt they were getting more for their money! While businesses can obviously make use of this in their business model, marketers should also bear this concept in mind when advertising different products. The most obvious example which springs to mind is using price extensions in a PPC campaign, but there are many more applications for this technique.

Fast Thinking & Slow Thinking

Jeroen then went on to discuss the concepts of “fast thinking” and “slow thinking”. While at first this might sound a bit flowery, this difference in thinking is crucial to bear in mind when considering how users behave on the SERPs and your landing pages. Firstly, let’s address fast thinking. Jeroen described this as an automatic, intuitive way of thinking, and is the form which kicks in as users are browsing the SERPs. In most cases, users will only view the results page for a very short amount of time, and marketers need to guide their consciousness with engaging ad copy and metadescriptions. Fast thinking relies on the mind’s first reaction to a stimulus, and is largely unconscious. At this point, users need to be guided to the information which is most important and the brain will attempt to digest as much information as possible in a very short space of time.

Slow thinking on the other hand, is more deliberate and analytical. It requires a conscious effort on the part of the user, and kicks in when users reach your landing pages. At this point, the brain has already made a decision about which website to commit to (for now), and is looking to confirm that it’s made the right decision. Thought processes are more critical, and so the content on your landing pages should address any needs or questions the user might have.

The Stroop Effect

The Stroop Effect is described as “a demonstration of interference in the reaction time of a task”. When the name of a colour is written in a colour which does not match its name (e.g. the word “red” written in blue), naming the colour of the word takes much longer and is more prone to mistakes than when the colour and word match up. This effect can be seen to an extent with words which can be misleading due to their having multiple different meanings. Jeroen says this is important to bear in mind when producing content or ad copy to ensure that users don’t misinterpret the message which should be conveyed.

Key Takeaways

Subliminal advertising relies on a couple of premises for it to work. Firstly, it only works when users have a pre-existing desire for what is being advertised. Secondly, subliminal ads have their strongest effect when they make it easier for users to think about something which is normally habit for them. But when done right, it can be a powerful tool for improving key metrics across the board.