From arousal to behaviour: How out of home influences the five stages of brain reaction (03/05/13)

From arousal to behaviour: How out of home influences the five stages of brain reaction

Mungo Knott, marketing and insight director at Primesight, worked with psychologists from University College London to identify the brain reaction affected by outdoor media. Here, he discusses the results and how advertising can help create brand loyalty.

How much? How often? How influential? These and many other how somethings™ are the staple diet of a marketer and researcher's quest in the advertising industry and we have built many effective and complex models to qualify and quantify the data gathered. There is however a more fundamental question that lies at the very heart of our art and science of persuasion a very simple how?

'˜Every step of the way'™ is an insightful review of how posters provide an effective advertising platform to influence buying behaviour. Working with clinical psychologists from University College London, Dr Evans and Dr Gibbons, we have drawn on work from nine academic studies and established factors which can trigger influence. We identified that outdoor advertising affects all the five stages of brain reaction '˜arousal', 'attention', '˜memory'™, '˜attitude', and '˜behaviour'.

'˜Arousal'™ is the first stage of brain reaction - this is our primitive response to the world around us. It occurs in seconds and on a sub conscious level, designed to make us aware and protect us from danger. Size, novelty and colour are all understood to be triggers to 'arousal', so something big, different and visually striking is going to trigger the 'arousal' stage.

Having created '˜arousal' the brain is now giving the subject matter 'attention"™ and is engaging in the content. This is a cognitive task and the more involved we are in the task the higher our likelihood of remembering it. For poster advertising, this is an important juncture for the interplay of words and images.

Using wordplay, rhymes and puns appeal to our cognitive functions. While still images will stimulate the brain to assimilate the information presented. The combination of words and images increases engagement and gives us context to understanding the power of posters as illustrated by '˜Beanz Meanz Heinz'™ creative.


Having harnessed a consumers '˜attention'™, the next important step towards changing behaviour is to create memory recall. Our memory recall is affected by the level of processing that we undertake for any given stimulus. The deeper the level of brain processing the more established the subject is in the memory. Occasionally creative treatments can create shock and awe, shortcutting to a deeper level processing and generating an emotional response, which will create a longer lasting memory. A technique used by controversial advertisers such as Benetton and more recently Harvey Nichols.



On most occasions advertising will only access shallow level processing; it must therefore utilise repetition to deliver messages more frequently. This also improves memory recall even though recipients are not necessarily aware of their exposure.

Moving through the 'amemory'™ to the 'attitudinal' stage is the point at which we generate our relationships and preferences. Familiarity builds trust which is a core requirement to generate a positive brand response and familiarity, just like memory is significantly influenced by repetition.


We truly are creatures of habit instinctively and once having gained our '˜attention', repetitive exposure which is processed naturally does influence behaviour. In fact, we subconsciously prefer both objects and faces, which are familiar. By creating familiarity, we are creating trust which is a prerequisite for social behaviour and brand preference.

Trust influences decision making and intent to purchase.


This fundamental review of '˜how' we are influenced during the five stages of brain reaction reminds us of why the oldest advertising medium remains a powerful and relevant form of communication every step of the way along our natural journey from 'arousal'™ to 'behaviour'.


The study was carried out with researchers Dr Jane Evans, clinical psychologist. BSc, D.Clin.Psy and Dr Joanna Gibbons, clinical psychologist. BSc, MSc, D.Clin.Psy.