Over the last decade or two our understanding of the structure, connectivity, and interaction of various areas of the brain has exploded… and yet this body of knowledge is still in its infacy. Therefore, our evolving understanding of how the brain works will aid advertisers in creating more effective ads.
As a side note, I do fear the day in the next several decades wherein mankind’s understanding of the brain and how it works leads unscrupulous people to use “mind control” on the masses… not so much in advertising, but to further their political agendas.
Regarding online advertising, I have read articles on and have assumed for the last several years that banner advertising is dead. Like pop-up ads and other web advertising tools, banner ads originally worked due to their novelty. However, as with virtually everything in life, everybody (and their brother or sister) jumps on the bandwagon to capitalize on something that works… especially when money is made. Web surfers evidently become “blind” to the various advertising techniques due to over-exposure, be it pop-ups, banners, or whatever.
I started thinking about why this occurs as I never read a physiological or adaptive reason for the occurrence of the “ad blindness”. Therefore, I have formulated my take on the subject based on my accumulated knowledge, which I will attempt to explain here.
Actually, this seeming “blindness” to sensory stimulus is adaptive behavior that has been developed and used by humans and by other living creatures for millions of years. Our brain, out of necessity, selectively disregards most inputs from our senses at any given moment in time. This is because: 1) the brain lacks the capacity to simultaneously process every sensory input; 2) some inputs are more important to process than others for survival… like the sabre toothed tiger our ancestors saw approaching; and 3) it takes too much energy (glucose and oxygen) to process all sensory inputs… not a problem in the present age of over-eating and McDonalds… but food was scarce until modern farming technology increased crop yields in the early part of the 20th century.
As a side note, I have always wondered why our brains grew to such a large size and computational capacity hundreds of thousands of years ago when we really had little knowledge to store and process (e.g. how to throw a spear or make stone tool). It is like having a supercomputer without a supporting database and software to compliment it. Well, I recently found the answer… but I will keep you in suspense and put that in a separate post.
Here is an example of selective attention and blindness to sensory input. When you are doing an activity such as putting on your shoes over your socks, your brain is more attuned to the sensory input from your feet. You feel those lumps in your socks against your feet and shoes. Your brain is processing the tactile input from the nerves in your foot because that is necessary to properly (and comfortably) put on your shoes. Once you complete the task, your brain stops processing most of this tactile information and directs its processing power to other tasks, until such time as you start removing your shoes… or accidentally step on a tack!
Imagine the distraction it would be if your brain continued to process the tactile input from your feet throughout the whole day… you feeling every little pressure or shift of your foot within the shoe. Additionally, this would divert the processing power of your brain away from where it is really needed… such as driving our car to work or to the grocery store.
Your brain does the same thing with your eyes, as well as your other three senses. Your brain selectively processes inputs from objects in your visual field, particularly objects that you are concentrating on watching… such as the pretty woman or handsome guy across the street… or objects that are in motion… like that sabre toothed tiger jumping out of a bush to attack our ancestors… while disregarding most other things such as billboards, traffic, giant sloths (harmless to cavemen), etc.
A test was conducted several years ago in which people were asked to watch a film clip in which two actors do an activity together (no, it’s not a porno flick) so they could later answer some questions about the activity. Most observers were focused in on the actors so much that they did not notice something outrageous that crossed behind the actors… I believe someone dressed in a gorilla suit. Their brains disregarded the background activities in favor of the actors.
Well you ask, how does this information about how our brains have evolved to function the way they do make me money? Stay tuned to Part 2 which is coming to this blog shortly.
Brian R. Rayve
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