About Randy Burch

BaSIC focuses on the Behavioral Science of Influential Communication. I’ve always been interested in communication and human behavior, so naturally I gravitated toward a career in marketing communications. There are a huge number of resources out there covering marketing, web, social, and promotional communications and how to do them effectively, but there are relatively few that explore WHY they work. So I started this blog. BaSIC focuses on the behavioral science of influential communication. Influential communication is any form of communication used to persuade an audience to take some action. Influential communications can take almost any form: advertising, websites, a tweet, email, speeches, essays… really, any kind of persuasive communication. Here, I explore psychology, neuroscience, perception, cognition and all other manner of behavioral science that help us understand why influential communications work and how to make them more effective.

Personas Are Key to Differentiated Messaging

Found Here: http://www.illusionspoint.com/illusions/art-optical-illusions/In his article “An Introduction to Theta and Lambda“, Isaac Mostovicz describes two interesting characterizations of behavior that motivate consumers of Luxury goods. He calls his ‘personality types’ Theta and Lambda. Here is an excerpt:

These two personality types differ based on what individuals perceive to be their life goals or purposes.  These differences are central to how they then interpret the products they buy.

The typical Theta (Θ) personality seeks affiliation and control as an ultimate life purpose.  Because of this, they loom to fit in or contextualise (sic) themselves within a desired group and use socially-derived understandings of product characteristics as a basis for their consumption.

Lambdas (Λ), on the other hand, seek achievement and uniqueness as an ultimate end goal.  As a result, they are more likely to interpret products based on their individual responses to the product, how it helps/prevents them to stand out, and how the product benchmarks against their regular consumptive patterns.

While Theta and Lambda are pretty general characterizations, they do typify the need for companies to truly understand who their customers are. You have different types of customers with differing needs and motivations. Developing and understanding your customers “personas” is an important first step in delivering meaningful, differentiated, relevant, and impactful communications to those customers.


Hormone Oxytocin Increases Advertising’s Influence

Found on: http://blingingbeauty.com/?p=3399ScienceDaily  — The hormone oxytocin makes people more susceptible to advertising, according to new research presented at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held in San Diego. The findings suggest that advertisements may exploit the biological system for trust and empathy.

The researchers, directed by Paul Zak, PhD, at Claremont Graduate University in California, found that people treated with oxytocin donated 56 percent more money to causes presented in public service announcements. Study participants who received oxytocin also reported that the advertisements made them feel more empathetic.

After sniffing a spray of oxytocin or a placebo, participants viewed short public service announcements that had aired on television in the United States and the United Kingdom. The advertisements presented the dangers of smoking, alcohol, reckless driving, and global warming. Participants then reported how they felt about the people and issues presented in the advertisements. They were also given an opportunity to donate a portion of the money they had earned from participating in the experiment.

“Our results show why puppies and babies are in toilet paper commercials,” Zak said. “This research suggests that advertisers use images that cause our brains to release oxytocin to build trust in a product or brand, and hence increase sales,” he said.


Barraza, J.A., et al., Oxytocin infusion increases charitable donations regardless of monetary resources, Horm. Behav. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.04.008


Social Groups Influence Teens Almost as Much as Family Groups

Found on: http://under30ceo.com/are-you-addicted-to-social-media/Young People Identify With an Online Community Almost as Strongly as With Their Own Family

ScienceDaily (Aug. 23, 2010) — Teenage online community users feel part of their online community almost as much as they feel part of their own family.

An international study of the users of teenage online community Habbo reveals that users identify more strongly with the online community than with their neighbourhood or offline hobby group. The study is based on a survey with 4299 respondents from United Kingdom, Spain and Japan. All three nationalities yielded similar results.

The study was authored by Dr. Vili Lehdonvirta, a researcher at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT (currently a visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo), and Professor Pekka Räsänen from the University of Turku, Finland.

The authors point out that peer groups are important for the development of adolescents’ identity and values. The study addresses the question of whether online groups are standing in for traditional peer groups that are thought to be weakening in some developed countries. The results confirm that online groups can act as strong psychological anchoring points for their members. The authors conclude that games, social networking sites and other online hangouts should be seen as crucial contexts for today’s youths’ identification and socialisation experiences.

The results also suggest that in relatively young information societies such as Spain, online groups are more often “virtual communities” consisting of relative strangers. In mature information societies such as Japan, online groups are more likely to be a way of keeping in touch with family and friends. This may influence the experiences that youth receive from online groups in different countries.

The study, titled “How do young people identify with online and offline peer groups? A comparison between United Kingdom, Spain and Japan,” is published by the Journal of Youth Studies, the leading international scholarly journal focusing on youth research.

Habbo is a popular teenage virtual world developed by Sulake Corporation. It has 15 million monthly unique visitors from over 150 countries, according to Sulake. The site is available in 11 local language versions and recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. 90 percent of Habbo users are between 13 and 18 years old

Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100823080820.htm

Advertising Voodoo #4: Right Isn’t Always Right

Found on: http://bfoldphotos.blogspot.com/2010/11/blog-post_7653.htmlRight isn’t Always Right

Some decades ago, there was some research that indicated a slight boost in effectiveness for ad pages on the right-hand side of magazines. Since then, advertisers have demanded pages on the right.

But over the years, something interesting has happened in the publishing world.The popular “right-hand pages catch the reader’s eye most effectively,” myth has caused a page shift that may mean pages on the right aren’t right any more.

Magazines are businesses, and lets not forget that the singular purpose of any business is to make money and then make money again by keeping customers happy. Now, if your customers are asking you for “premium” right-hand page positions, and giving it to them will sell more pages and keep them happy, you’re going to give it to them. But how? You can’t add more ad pages without more editorial, and editorial cost money.

The magazines simply shifted pages. If you do a quick survey of just about any magazine, you will find that the majority of ad pages can be found on the right while the majority of the editorial is on the left. Those “premium” right-hand pages are standard fare these days, and that creates problems for advertisers. Two, in particular, are habituation and sensitization.

In psychology, habituation is a form of non-associative learning characterized by a decrease in responsiveness upon repeated exposure to a stimulus.

Sensitization is another form of non-associative learning that is characterized by an increase in responsiveness upon repeated exposure to a stimulus

Here’s how they apply to the right-hand page problem.

Lets assume people read magazines for the editorial content – not the ads. If over a period of time, their experience with a magazine is that ads are primarily on the right, they become habituated to the lack of interesting information on the right and grant less attention to that side. At the same time, they experience that the editorial they want is on the left, so they will become sensitized to the interesting information on the left and grant more attention to the left.

The result is that the primary focus of a reader is consistently opposite those “premium” right-hand pages and that right-pages may be ignored the majority of the time.

Maybe advertisers should start demanding “premium” left-hand pages?

Advertising VooDoo Series

Advertising VooDoo is a series of articles that explore neuroscience and psychology of what makes advertising work.

How Genetics Affect Consumer Choice

http://www.genomesunzipped.org/2011/04/happy-dna-day-heres-your-alzheimers-risk.php“heritable and other hard-wired inherent preference components play a key role in behavior and deserve much more attention in marketing and decision-making research…”

In their study, “On the Heritability of Consumer Decision Making: An Exploratory Approach for Studying Genetic Effects on Judgment and Choice”, researchers Itamar Simonson and Aner Selaa find that many consumer behaviors related to judgment, choice, and decision making are influenced by genetic factors.

The authors studied twins’ consumer preferences to determine whether or not certain behaviors or traits have a genetic basis. “A greater similarity in behavior or trait between identical than between fraternal twins indicates that the behavior or trait is likely to be heritable,” the authors explain.

They discovered that people seem to inherit the following tendencies:

  • To choose a compromise option and avoid extremes
  • Select sure gains over gambles
  • Prefer an easy but non-rewarding task over an enjoyable challenging one
  • Look for the best option available
  • Prefer utilitarian, clearly needed options (like batteries) over more indulgent ones (gourmet chocolate).

The researchers also found that some tendencies did not seem to be heritable like a preference for a smaller versus larger product variety or likings for mustard and tattoos.

The authors believe their work may reveal some important information on the genetics of “prudence.” “Some people may be born with a tendency to ‘be in the mainstream’ whereas others tend to ‘live on the edge,” the authors conclude.

Full Article

Itamar Simonson and Aner Sela. On the Heritability of Consumer Decision Making: An Exploratory Approach for Studying Genetic Effects on Judgment and Choice. Journal of Consumer Research, April 2011

Advertising Voodoo #3: The Exposure Effect

Found On: https://i0.wp.com/chrisfriend.us/Blog/files/3_infinite_reflection.jpgThe Exposure Effect

It’s a fact. We like the things we see the most. It’s called The Exposure Effect. It states that people prefer, or feel more positively toward, the things to which they have been repeatedly exposed – even when they aren’t aware of the exposure.

The exposure effect probably originates as a component of the deeply rooted social phenomenon known as in-group favoritism.  It is an evolved mechanism that exists to instill strong bonds among our immediate family and social groups. In short, we have the most positive feelings toward those we are most closely associated with.  “In-groups and out-groups” are powerful psychological mechanisms that have implications far beyond the exposure effect. We’ll certainly be covering them in future posts.

The exposure effect is one of the most common findings in psychology, and as the study below describes, it even holds true when we aren’t aware we’re being exposed to something.

Research: Banner Ads Work — Even If You Don’t Notice Them At All

Research has shown that banners don’t have to be flashy (no pun intended) to be effective. Actually, they don’t even need to be noticed at all to sway attitudes positively.

Banners sit in the periphery on the typical web page. The majority of online ad exposure occurs when the viewer’s attention is focused elsewhere on the page – like on the content they’re actually on the page to see.  Studies show that even this incidental, passive exposure to banner advertising positively effects consumer attitudes.

“Regardless of measured click-through rates, banner ads may still create a favorable attitude toward the ad due to repeated exposure.”

The researchers investigated whether “mere exposure effect,” a condition in which people develop a positive perception of stimuli not presented to them on a noticeable level, was also applicable to incidental advertising.

In a series of experiments, they discovered that even if people couldn’t recall the ad content, repeated exposure led to familiarity, which then led to positive feelings. Participants had more positive evaluations toward the target banner ad as exposure frequency increased.

Participants also showed high levels of tolerance for banner ads on which they were not directly focused. According to the researchers, even after twenty exposures, common wear-out effects were not apparent.

Full Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070510123709.htm

So, this research isn’t an excuse for delivering underwhelming ads or letting your ads get stale, but it does show how consistently repeating certain branding elements in your ads helps build and reinforce positive attitudes towards that brand.

Advertising VooDoo Series

Advertising VooDoo is a series of articles that explore neuroscience and psychology of what makes advertising work.

Advertising Voodoo #2: Information Incongruency Applied

found on https://i0.wp.com/www.thedistractionnetwork.com/images/illusions-for-the-mind-206.jpg
In, “Advertising Voodoo #1: Incongruous Information = Stopping Power“,  I explained the concept of Information Incongruency, but how does it work in practice?

Information incongrunecy has to do with expectations of your target audience – in this example, the readers of a magazine. One expectation has to with general look and feel of a magazine. Another has to do with the expected style of an ad in that magazine.

Each magazine has an overall style set by the editors. There also tends to be a general style of ads within any particular industry. For example, ads in technology trade publications almost stereotypically employ imagery that is serious; quasi-futuristic (bonus term borrowed from Austin Powers); analogous to sports, animals or high-performance machinery; composed of serene vistas and landscapes that attempt to covey some secret knowledge of the “big picture”; or completely technical with graphs and schematics.

A magazine is a noisy environment. Each publication has a unique style that readers learn to expect in terms of content and ads. Ads that “fit the mold” can just disappear into this white noise.

Magazine layout contributes to the noise with the predominance of full page ads on right-hand pages. With most of the full-page ads on the right, readers eyes – out of habit – tend to be drawn to the magazine’s content on the left.

Getting Their Attention

Incongruous information comes into play when your ads do not conform to reader expectations. Readers of electrical engineering publications are used to seeing stereotypical engineering ads with schematics, graphs and technical illustrations. They are not used to coming across and ad with a bold image of a masked, shirtless pro wrestler diving off the top ropes of the wrestling ring about to land on the product being advertised.

Imagery that is unexpected gets the reader to stop turning the page momentarily to try to identify what it is he is looking at and its information relevancy to the magazine. The reader has to “make it fit”. To do so, he has to examine, read and comprehend the ad in addition to making a judgment regarding its information value.

Tie it Together and Make It Relevant

But stopping power alone isn’t the only measures of an effective ad. You have to close the deal. Unexpected images need to be combined with short, relevant and resonating copy that ties the image and the product you’re selling together in an appealing way.

Relevancy, in this case, refers to the degree to which an item or a piece of information contributes to the identification of the primary message communicated by the ad.

Research has shown that ads composed of unexpected imagery combined with relevant information score higher on attention getting ability, believability, information value, and elicited more favorable attitudes towards the product or company than did ads with expected imagery and relevant information. Additionally, adding humor to the mix boosts ad recall.

Don’t confuse this with shock-value. Shock value alone doesn’t work. Ads with unexpected imagery and irrelevant information yield the least favorable attitudes. You have to combine these unexpected images with additional content that reinforces your message and drives cognition in your audience.

  • Unexpected/Relevant = Good
  • Expected/Relevant = Not as Good
  • Unexpected/Irrelevant = BAD


The process of resolving the cognitive dissonance can open a reader to new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs about a product. Ads that can create cognitive dissonance with imagery AND help the reader resolve that cognitive conflict with information that both makes sense to the reader and relates to the image in a clever way get results.

Advertising VooDoo Series

Advertising VooDoo is a series of articles that explore neuroscience and psychology of what makes advertising work.