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TV Ads are Sneaking into our Brains

A new study helps explain why some ads seem to stick in our minds. It turns out that certain types of commercials trick the hippocampus area of the brain (where long-term memories are stored) believing that the scene we just watched on television actually happened--to us. This is done by evoking nostalgic scenes (such as Christmas) that bring up vivid emotions in most viewers.

In an experiment 100 participants were told about a new type of popcorn, then they were randomly assigned to watch different commercials. Some watched ads with little imagery, that just described the product, while others watch a commercial that showed happy people enjoying the product in their living room. The product, however, doesn't really exist. A week later, the two groups were asked about their memory of the product and (as you might expect), the ones who saw the living room ad had decided that the product being advertised was delicious.

In Wired.com, Jonah Lehrer quotes a paper by researchers Priyali Rajagopal and Nicole Montgomery as saying, "The scientists refer to this as the 'false experience effect,' since the ads are slyly weaving fictional experiences into our very real lives. Viewing the vivid advertisement created a false memory of eating the popcorn, despite the fact that eating the non-existent product would have been impossible. As a result, consumers need to be vigilant while processing high-imagery advertisements."

Depression can be used as a selling tool as well. Big business is using our moods as a marketing ploy, in order to capitalize on shoppers who are in various states of mind (and plenty of people are depressed these days!) For instance, a depressed person is more likely to respond to the FEEL of a hand lotion, while a cheerful shopper is likely to respond more to the product's festive packaging.

But ads aren't all bad: Coca Cola (which is a major producer of super emotional TV ads) has erected a billboard in Manila that is made out of thousands of tea plants surrounding the shape of a Coke bottle. The plants help absorb carbon dioxide pollution. They will eventually suck up a total of 46,800 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Despite having no advertising on other media, we have 60% more readers and listeners than we did a year ago, through word-of-mouth alone. Now if only more of you would support us, there's a chance we might still be here tomorrow!



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