Logic Can Be Confusing in Advertising

By | June 12, 2014

Our brains really don’t understand math all that well.  And I am not talking about the average person’s ability to solve quadratic equations.

Our Mayonnaise is thicker
therefore it tastes better than Kraft

As mentioned in earlier blogs, our brains can be easily fooled.  And advertising is there to make our clients look good, sometimes with shifty logic.

As advertisers, for example, we can take advantage of the brain’s ability to jump to conclusions without proper data.

We can present two facts and you assume they are related and probably that there is a cause and effect in there.  Even if we don’t tell you there is.

When someone tells you that there is a one in a million chance.  It does not mean certainty although that is what most people conclude.

When you are one in a million, there are at least three others like you in Toronto alone.  If someone is a one in a million it means there are 2,000 Chinese just like them.  And probably about five thousand or more other people shuffling around somewhere who fit the bill.

But our brains filter using our experience and what is familiar to us — and we don’t know a million people, so we conclude one in a million is certainty.

The possibility that something exists does not mean that it does exist or that it exists in a particular case.Text Box: Our Mayonnaise is thicker 
therefore it tastes better than Kraft

Typical of this logic is the TV news thought process that runs something like this: Ebola is a deadly disease from parts of Africa.  This person was recently in Africa therefore they must have Ebola. 

That’s like saying: cars have oil.  This thing has oil on it; it must be a car.  Woops, it is a French fry.  But our brain has a hard time figuring out this logic.

I worked on a mayonnaise brand at one time and we proved it tasted better because a spoon could stand up in the jar.  Our slogan “A little thicker; a lot more taste” (actually it was “un poquito mas espeza, un pocote mas sabrosa”, but I have translated it for you) drove the brand from #5 to #2 in only a few months.  But is that logical?  Well, it was to consumers who gobbled it up.  There was proof shown that it tasted better.

A recent commercial got away with that kind of sketchy logic recently.  Their logic went something like this: Thinner people have less chance of cancer.  This product makes you thinner, therefore it reduces your chance of cancer. This is not logical.  It points out a correlation but not cause and effect.  Our brain doesn’t understand this very well so we accept it.

Here is how to see it is false logic:  We know that people from certain populations have genetic predispositions.  Let’s use the above logic to address this issue.  Blondes have a low probability of suffering from sickle cell anemia.  Our hair colouring will make you into a blonde.  Therefore, our product reduces your chance of sickle cell anemia. Our little brain light starts to flicker go on here; we start to get that this might not be true.

So why don’t we get it in the “thinner” example?  Maybe in these cases because genetics are predetermined by your ancestors and obesity is considered a self inflicted condition.  But really, I believe, it is because our brains quickly translate correlations to cause and effect.

Another logic mistake that advertising takes advantage of is projecting personal experience into universal reality. If it is true for me, it will be true for everyone.

With this the difference between subjective truth and factual truth becomes a blur.

This is a particular peeve of mine when supposed “Journalists” do it.  Our local magazine or newspaper announces their “best” awards to tell me which are the best restaurants, or best whatever.

On what basis?

They use a “panel of experts?”  But these pseudo experts are often just colleagues, friends and assistants. These pronouncements have no validity of fact. However, readers/viewers believe this stuff making it very popular.  The way number ratings help restaurants, wines, all manner of products.

We can’t do these pseudo-ratings directly in advertising claims; there are regulations for advertising requiring scientific support for these kinds of claims.  But we make these kinds of claims in press releases.

We can also suggest brand superiority tangentially by having someone prefer the product subjectively.  And since viewers have a hard time separating subjective from objective claims it can work effectively if applied skillfully.

In short, logic is often used to confuse us because our brains create cause and effect connections all the time.  Think about it. When you drive to work and get two red lights in a row do you conclude that you are going to see a whole lot more red lights, when regular chance just tossed you two in a row.

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