Unconscious Branding by Douglas Van Praet (book review).

Reading Douglas Van Praet’s book ‘Unconscious Branding’, it didn’t take long to dawn on me that I’m mostly immune to most advertising, conscious or otherwise. As a long standing (all right, I do sit down as well) type one diabetic, I have to view most processed foods and anything containing sugar with suspicion. I might admire the odd advert on TV for being clever but I don’t rush out to buy it or a any product. Van Praet does point out that foodstuffs you are brought up with as kids tend to stay with you for life. No wonder the companies want to get your sprogs when young and maintain those sweet dietary habits, often as comfort food.


He further points out that the advertisers don’t fully understand the process, especially as the brain unconsciously processes 11 million bits of information every second while the conscious brain only does 40 bits. I wish he’d gone a bit further with this in terms of how much was disregarded and see what the ratio of difference was. If the unconscious mind dismisses 99% of the data and the conscious mind dismisses nothing then we would be grateful to the former for not clogging up our brains.

Advertising executives tend to qualify their information by comparative statistics rather than understand how the brain functions. When you consider celebrity promotion or the image of what you want to be, that’s hardly surprising, although I tend to think that it affects people who are less secure in their skins because that doesn’t affect me neither as I’ve never trusted endorsements simply because these people are being given a lot of money to say these things to be honest and as discovered in recent years, some of them don’t even use the product in their own lives. Then again, maybe my own geek individualism has ensured that I don’t really fit in any group, not even my own when I socialised more. Considering that I’m also a clinical empath, my mirror neurons are on all the time but after some practice I can recognise what I’m reflecting isn’t my own mindset once I’m away from it.

I loved Van Praet’s Six S’s motivations: survival, safety, security, sustenance, sex and status, even if the Four F’s, combines a couple of them together. I’m less a believer that the whole world saw some American adverts he mentioned though. Then again, his assertion of having a particular name has you gravitate towards some things or someone called Miles would be travelling a lot or Rich would be wealthy.

His discussion about trust on-line belies how people having been burnt are less likely to believe everyone totally. I do go along with how more personal contact is possible through the Net simply because it negates the amount of travel would be needed had you want to meet everyone on your list. Even so, you still have to trust that they are giving you the necessary time to think through your problem or even want to communicate. With instant communication, there is also a tendency to think replies are made quickly as well.

Gravitating towards people like yourself does seem a bit of an over-generalisation in my opinion. Maybe I’m too much of an individualist. I mean, I can mix in a variety of groups and yet none really cross over into my other fields of interest.

I wish Van Praet had explored the hardwiring of authority of the white lab coat and other special clothes of authority on people. Does it imply people want to see authority and others would rather be led? I mean, I don’t think any worse of my doctor for not wearing her white coat. It certainly doesn’t work if you wear a suit to work and less of a requisite, other than looking reasonably tidy, at job interviews any more.

I should point out that Van Praet works for one of the advertising companies so you are getting first hand knowledge of advertising practices. His examples of how slogans get under your skin and product association will tell you a lot about how you are keyed to things. There is also the downside, especially with celebrity endorsements when they break the image requirement and get dropped from said campaigns.

I found this book very useful although it doesn’t explain how I can elude advertising any further, it does explain how most of you reading are influenced which should make this book of interest to many of you. For insight in this, ‘Unconscious Branding’ will certainly be an eye-opener.

GF Willmetts

November 2013

(pub: Palgrave Macmillan. 376 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK), $28.00 (US), $32.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-230-34179-1)

check out website: www.palgrave.com

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