#2: Are Emotional Associations Enough For Us to Buy Products?

Are Ben and Jerry's, Coors, and more brands consciously tricking your brain?

Welcome to the second edition of the Marketing Mind Meld - a dive deeper into odd questions about marketing and human behavior with answers that will change the way you see the world.

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📑 Are Emotional Associations Enough For Us to Buy Products?

Imagine you’re shopping for ice cream.

You roll down the aisle at Safeway. You may see a number of different flavors in the freezer - but an invisible hand somehow draws you to a unique ice cream flavor called Pecan Resist.

Does it have to anything to do with the taste?

The consistency of the cream? The ingredients?

None of the above?

The truth is - it may have everything to do with an irrational habit of ours - a shortcut we use when purchasing new products called a somatic marker.

Pecan Resist is a flavor launched by the brand Ben and Jerry’s in opposition to Donald Trump’s policies during the 2018 midterm elections. The sales of that product likely had little to do with the nature of the Pecan flavor - the brand could have just as easily made a Cherry Resist or Blueberry Resist and seen similar results.

But, it may have had everything to do with the gratification we feel when we oppose injustice.

Can you remember the last time you bought a beer?

Hmm.. Keystone Light? Nah, that’s the cheap stuff from college. Hard pass. What about Corona? It’ll be just like sitting at the beach - that might just hit the spot… lime, sand… or Coors Light? It is a hot day, maybe something cool is just what we need. Hoegaarden? It is a Belgian beer. European people know beer right? Can’t go wrong with something more foreign.

If you’ve never bought Hoegaarden before and someone asks you how to describe how you came to that decision, you probably don’t relay your entire thought process; face it, it’s somewhat irrational. You might just shrug - say it was instinct or say it looked good.

But, the real rationale behind our choices is built on a lifetime of associations that we aren’t always conscious of.

You’ve seen Beerfest. Your friend has shared recommendations from Europe. You’ve heard of famous brands like Heineken. You’ve seen a friend praise Belgian beer. When you make a decision to buy that Hoegaarden, your brain has consolidated all this information into a one sentence shortcut: This beer sounds good.

These brain shortcuts are also known as somatic markers.

Coined by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, a somatic marker is kind of like a neurological bookmark. In one of my favorite recent books, Buyology, author Martin Lindstrom dives deeper into somatic markers:

“Sown by past experiences of reward and punishment, these markers serve to connect an experience or emotion with a specific, required reaction. By instantaneously helping us narrow down the possibilities towards a decision that we know will yield the best, least painful outcome.”

When the Ben and Jerry’s team came out with its recent statements around social activism and demands for the government, they received a lot of rightful praise. Not just because they were suddenly saying the right thing at the right time, but because it was a larger pattern of activism from the brand.

They refused to serve two scoops of the same ice cream in Australia until same-sex marriage was legalized. They’ve supported asylum seekers and the Great Barrier Reef.

By the time their statements came around to “dismantle white supremacy”, few were surprised at the stance the company took - on a more micro scale, thousands of people were continuing to buy Chunky Monkey and Pecan Resist without an afterthought.

Maybe Ben and Jerry’s didn’t do it consciously - but the somatic markers they have planted over the years from their activism continue to reap the benefits.

Even quizzes like this that ask about which Ben and Jerry’s flavor is helpful for your break-up are influential for our brain - all it takes is one connective tissue and you’re now rushing to get a Cherry Garcia as soon as the heartbreak hits.

In fact, ask yourself how you feel about Halo Top and Blue Bunny. Any emotions come to mind? Any mental associations? Any memories? Both happen to be in the top ten selling ice cream brands - but neither are close to eclipsing Ben and Jerry’s in market share. Neither have much to offer us in terms of attachment.

So what does this have to do with brands today? For one, it’s incredibly easy and inexpensive to create a somatic marker in consumers’ brains. From short commercials to statements to tweets to mascots, the sensory experiences your brand offers - even the somewhat random ones - could be the difference between someone choosing one logo over another.

Why do you buy Coca Cola when Santa is on the can? It reminds me you of Christmas and comfort. It’s why you might be inclined to buy Charmin toilet paper - what’s softer than a big cuddly bear? What about Coor’s Light? What does “taste of the rockies” even mean? You may not have ever been to the Rockies - but you feel that it’ll be cool, crisp, refreshing - just like a river that runs through a mountain.

Consider why someone would think favorably about your brand over another - whether it’s in the grocery aisle, on a website, or at a car dealership. Consider how you can cement an association over a longer period of time.

After all, irrational brains are built for irrational shortcuts.

💭 Meld Musings

  • My friend Ankit Shah wrote an amazing essay about being alone and how we can treat ourselves the way we treat strangers. Highly recommend.

  • One of my favorite newsletters, Morning Brew, is coming out with a marketing specific newsletter called Marketing Brew. Launch event on 6/25!

  • Some of my favorite perspectives come from a newsletter I’ve been following now for close to two years - check out The Medley by Nat Eliason for regularly mind-blowers on a weekly basis.

  • Just learned about a new newsletter this morning called Exploding Topics - the premise is discovering growing topics before they take off. Super cool stuff!

As always, feel free to let me know if there’s anything else you’d love to see from me or the Mind Meld.

Until next time,


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