Actually, this post is more like a prequel to the first one about creating brand associations through classical conditioning/ human associative learning where I talked about some examples of companies using these tools in their communications with audiences, but I didn’t get into the way these tools actually work.
Ivan Pavlov had some dogs. Every day, before he fed the dogs he would ring a bell. He noticed that after a little repetition of ringing the bell then presenting food, the dogs started salivating at the sound of a bell: with or without the food. before the experiment, the bell was a neutral stimulus. After repetitious pairing of the bell with food, the dogs became conditioned to accept the ringing of the bell alone as a trigger for a food response. You can read more about the experiments here. Visually, it looks like this:
In advertising, the neutral stimulus is the product or brand. The response evoking stimulus is usually an appeal to a pre-existing condition, such as humor or hunger. In an advertisement and any collateral, the brand is paired with an appeal to the pre-existing condition in hopes that after you see the pair enough times, the mere mention of the brand will evoke the response that you get from the pre-existing condition. Classical conditioning is formally referred to as the Human Associative Learning Process, and it is one of the building blocks of developmental learning (one of the reasons why I think that advertising aimed at children should be carefully regulated).
There are some industry comparisons between organizations that take different approaches.
In non-profits, I think a decent comparison exists between marketing efforts of the Humane Society and Goodwill. Both are tremendously successful charities with excellent marketing campaigns. Campaigns from the humane society always include images of animals, with something about how the audience can improve the animal’s life. Repetition of appealing to these values in their audience strengthens the connection and is a good example of classical conditioning.
When brands alternate messages, it is often accomplished without moving from the original pairing of response evoking stimulus and the brand, as illustrated in this collection of visa ads that all perpetuate the cosmopolitan feel of the brand- some dating back to the ’80’s:
Often, when brands or products engage in guerrilla marketing, the repetition element is lost from classical conditioning, and those campaigns are often successful because of the break from classical conditioning.
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