Online branding: How marketers vie for our mindspace

As attention spans dwindle, more devious tricks are employed to attract consumers' interest online

Jonathan Gabay: ‘Spending on real-time bid driven advertising is set to become the fastest growing segment of digital advertising.’

Jonathan Gabay: ‘Spending on real-time bid driven advertising is set to become the fastest growing segment of digital advertising.’

 

Ever had that feeling you are an unwitting pawn in a powerful game of brand exploitation? If so, your suspicions are probably justified.

As time spent online increases and attention spans plummet, brands are devising ever more devious ways to capture a greater chunk of what marketers call your “mindspace”.

The first step towards getting into that profitable space require brands to use data-crunching “programmatic advertising” technology. This automates the buying and selling of desktop, laptop, display, video, and mobile ads by pitching brands against each other in a bid for real-time, highly targeted online advertising.

Here and now branding

Just as attention spans are diminishing, increasingly consumers are following existential types of behaviours. This “living in the moment” frame of mind is perfect for data-driven advertising software.

For example, one of the leading suppliers of programmatic advertising software delivers 26 billion impressions (each time an advert is displayed on a site) per day across 700 million users.

According to the US-based International Data Corporation, spending on real-time bid driven advertising is set to become the fastest growing segment of digital advertising.

By this time next year, the UK will become the first country whose spending on digital advertising outstrips all other traditional formats combined. By then the estimated total UK advertising market will hit £15.8billion (€22.2 billion), A little under £8 billion of that will go on digital ads, including mobile apps, search engines and video-on-demand services.

Let’s go native

Reaching a consumer audience is one thing; the message itself is a mindfield all of its own. With more and more people opting out of receiving adverts, getting the content right is tricky.

This is where developments like Native Advertising step in. It grew out of a statement made in 1963 by David Ogilvy, one of the “fathers” of contemporary branding:

“If you make adverts look like editorial pages, you’ll attract about 50 per cent more readers.”

Native adverts appear as editorial-type content, crafted to blend seamlessly into a page’s layout. Each piece typically features a topic-related headline enticing the consumer to follow a virtual rabbit hole into branded content.

For example:

“How to cook up the perfect Dublin Coddle/Colcannon /Limerick Ham/ /Boxty in just ten easy steps.”

Or:

“Thinking of investing in a new business/house/car/caravan/shed? Read this leaked report first.”

Online adverts are made even more alluring by involving users in something called “brand gamification”. For example, a Facebook advert promoting a cream egg for Easter could invite consumers to “join friends in a fun game of ‘splat your mate with an egg’”. (The more friends who sign up, the wider the brand’s reach).

More broadly, branded online gambling sites and apps are a huge business. Brands operating in this sector often draw on something called “operant conditioning”’. This encourages loyalty by rewarding persistent behaviours with early incentives. For example, “€50 worth of free plays as soon as you join.”

I’ve got a brand crush on you

With over 93 million daily players and installations on half a billion phones, Candy Crush takes brand gamification to a completely different level. Part of its appeal is down to brand psychology. The game’s addictive qualities have parallels with classic experiments conducted by the American behavioural scientist B F Skinner. His “operant conditioning” theory stated that behaviours followed by gratifying consequences probably get repeated. On the other hand, a behaviour followed by unpleasant consequences is likely to be stopped.

Similar to gambling sites advertising “free plays”, the early stages of a typical app game are easy. Yet, as new ‘”achievement”’ levels are reached, the game becomes progressively difficult. Obligingly, the game offers the chance to pay for new “lives” or “energy’” or invite friends to offer “lives”. Without additional “lives”, the player must wait a few hours before getting back into the “swiping match”.

Surprisingly, restricting a player’s access to playing app games actually makes them want to play the game even more. By willingly paying for extra lives, the player falls into another psychological trap: “gambler’s fallacy”. This is the mathematically unfounded belief that the more someone tries something the greater the odds of success. (As Einstein put it, “The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing year after year and expecting a different result”’).

These are just a few of the psychological mind games brands often use to win you over. My new book, Brand Psychology, reveals many more.

Jonathan Gabay’s Brand Psychology: Consumer perceptions, corporate reputations is published this week by Kogan Page

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