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Unmasking Marketing: myths, science, and mastering the art

In the dynamic world of marketing, the power of colour cannot be underestimated. We are naturally drawn to fluorescent shades and bright hues. The colour red, for instance, has long been thought to whet our appetite, a notion that has fast-food giants painting the town red in their logos. 

But here’s the twist: science reveals that this belief is more marketing myth than fact. Instead of making us ravenous, red captures our attention and sparks our curiosity about our hunger level. 

Enter Deakin University’s Dr. Paul Harrison, director of Deakin’s MBA program and a staunch advocate for shedding light on marketing’s scientific side, rather than relying on old tales. ‘There’s much more insightful information that people can get from research than relying on old tales like ‘red makes you hungry.’ 

Research reveals that the colour red doesn’t just stop us in our tracks; it plays a significant role in securing our focus. Dr. Harrison explains, ‘we know from research that the colour red intensifies attention, contributes to memory, and actually induces positive feelings and engagement with positive beliefs.’  

And it doesn’t stop there. Red lingers longer in our memory compared to cooler colours like blue and green.

Behind the red curtain lie three crucial elements: colour, motivation, and risk-taking 

Dr. Harrison contends that marketing is becoming increasingly science-based as more research is conducted. ‘Until a few decades ago, marketing was primarily based on gut feeling, old habits, and anecdote; there wasn’t a lot of research. This is where the colour association probably had its origins.’ 

However, the challenge lies in putting these scientific findings into action and practical marketing strategies. Dr. Harrison observes, ‘we can do research and tell people what works and what doesn’t, but what translates into their marketing activities is not always what they’ve been advised. Marketing is inundated with information, but we often struggle with how to implement it.’ 

In the scientific marketing universe, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula. Dr. Harrison sighs whenever he is asked about the three universal things to consider when launching a marketing campaign, and says that you need to ‘design your offer for the segment you’re targeting. And it applies to any marketing campaign, whether you are a large or small business, a nonprofit, even an organisation trying to change health behaviours.”

Logos aren’t as crucial as we might think 

Contrary to popular belief, Dr. Harrison suggests that logos aren’t the end-all-be-all.  ‘Logos aren’t particularly essential; they’re just a shortcut for consumers.’ While a logo alone may not seal the deal, a memorable one can etch the brand in our minds.  

Dr. Harrison believes we devote excessive effort on logo fixation.  ‘We spend a lot of time and money thinking about logos when, in fact, they’re not as important as other factors like actually working out who your customers are and what you want them to do.’ 

Capturing the attention of the viewer with the peak-end rule 

When it comes to television advertising, captivating and retaining viewers’ attention is paramount. This is where the “peak-end rule” comes into play. Dr. Harrison explains, ‘people remember things when they’re at their peak and at the end.’  

Given that viewers tend to watch in bite-sized, three-second sequences, a 15-second TV ad followed by a break of a few other ads, then another 15 second reinforcing the same message (but maybe in a different way) is often a useful way to approach a TV advertisement. ‘But you need to make it appropriate for your audience – demographic information isn’t enough. It needs to be relevant to them, even if they may not be aware that it’s relevant – there’s a lot going on under the surface,” he continues. 

This principle can also be extended to social media ads too. 

Familiarity influences trust 

If a brand is familiar and a previous purchase was satisfactory, you’re likely to return. This principle extends to food; if you enjoyed a specific dish at a restaurant, you’re more inclined to revisit it time and again. Dr Harrison does caveat, “but don’t assume a satisfied customer is a loyal customer. They’re two different concepts.” Familiarity manifests in various forms too; for example, seeing numerous McDonald’s outlets bolsters trust. 

Familiarity doesn’t guarantee product selection, but it does tip the scale if the brand is top of mind. ‘If you see the brand in many places, you are more likely to choose it. It’s called the mere exposure effect. It doesn’t guarantee your choice, but it makes the decision easier,’ Dr. Harrison concludes. 

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Dr Paul Harrison
Dr Paul Harrison

Senior Lecturer,

Faculty of Business and Law,

Deakin University

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