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Image courtesy of Stephanissimo

Call me old fashioned but I like a nice bit of rational communication. I think that if you set out to persuade people of your brands qualities and point of view you ought to do just that, persuade them.

This requires active engagement from people towards the brand or communication, not just their passive attention.

However, in recent years, this model has been significantly challenged by the Low Involvement Processing school of communication.

And I began to think that I ought to raise the white flag on rational persuasion, especially as a superficial reading of some of the stuff coming out of cognitive neuroscience seemed to endorse LIP.

Not any longer I don’t.


I had the pleasure of enjoying Millward Brown’s hospitality last week as they presented some of the conclusions they have drawn from recent developments in cognitive neuroscience for the world of advertising.
They have been working with Jane Raymond (Professor of Experimental Consumer Psychology at the University of Wales Bangor) to understand what this scary new world might mean for us.
It turns out it might be good news those of us that believe in active persuasion.
Apparently the brain is organised into a hierarchy of specialised modules, at the top of which are three mega modules which represent information according to their specialism. Roughly they relate to Knowledge (concrete information associated with an object), Action (the actions that we associate with an object) and Emotion (the value of that object to us).
When required, information from these three mega-modules is integrated in the Mental Workspace. This is where we do our ‘thinking’ – when we are conscious of things, make decisions, place thinks into our long term memory, build further associations and control our voluntary actions. In other words the kind of stuff we want to happen as the result of communications.
But for this to take place information has to gain entry to your Workspace. And access to the Workspace is chronically limited – we can only think about 3-4 things at once less when it comes to more complex ideas. Incidentally at long last we have some proof that the hoary old Creative Director cliche about tennis balls may actually be true.
With information competing to be the subject of attention we must filter our the less relevant stuff. And as a result we sort information into four categories:
Attended – stuff that gets into the workspace to be acted on and integrated.
Passively ignored - stuff that is not in the workspace but ready to enter. It can enter the workspace quickly if required but if it doesn’t its behavioural effects will be short-lived and subtle.
Actively ignored - stuff we must ignore as it is actively irrelevant and distracting to the task at hand. This is important because we emotionally devalue this information, causing negative reactions when we next come across it (a significant challenge for online advertising and urban spam).
Not registered - the vast majority of information available to us that is just edited out and therefore redundant.
If information gets through it then can be acted upon and a representation created – the currency of thought in the Workspace. Each representation has to have input from all three mega modules – knowledge, action and emotion and this process is what takes the time.
Indeed there is evidence that the whole thing takes so much time and effort that the brain literally ‘blinks’ having completed a representation which leads to attention blind spots. This has implications for the creation of linear communication like moving image or sound.
And this is the challenge to Low Involvement Processing. It is not that it doesn’t exist or doesn’t work, but that it is a cop out.
For us to do anything as a result of brand communication takes the brain to do a hell of a lot of work and uses up time and attention – time and attention that it could be devoting to other stuff.
It is our job to get people to devote scarce Workspace resources to our brand and its qualities and get our messages actively attended to.
If people do not actively attend to a piece of communication then it is left either passively ignored or actively ignored. In the first case LIP may help us but the effects will be subtle and short-lived. While if it is actively ignored you are just storing up problems for the future.
I know what effect I’d like my client’s marketing expenditure to engender in consumers. You go low involvement if you want – I’m going to actively persuade them.
If you want to know more I’m sure the nice people at Millward Brown will let you in on their work (Graham Page is responsible for this aspect of their work) while ESOMAR carry the complete paper that he and Professor Raymond presented at the ESOMAR congress last year (payment required – how open source is that?).

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