Here’s how you don’t get fooled.

Seed Magazine has an illuminating article on your brain (you didn’t even know they were looking at it, did you?): The Ad-Busting Brain.

Do you think that McDonald’s is fun-loving? Is Disney “happy?” Would you ever describe a company as “warm-hearted?” Probably not, despite what advertisers would hope.

The research team found that while the same words were being used to describe people and products, different regions of the brain were activated when subjects were talking about one or the other.

So take this moment to give a little thanks to your brain, that thing that’s always chugging along in the background whether you (and your brain) are aware of it, because it’s helping you to not get fooled by advertisers who want you to associate certain happy traits with their brand.

Studies like this come up every now and again in the advertising industry. The companies take notice, and will adjust their approach to wiggling into your brain ever so slightly, which is why it’s both fascinating and helpful to pay attention to this sort of news. They’re using science to get one over on you.

Here’s a handy exercise to teach kids (and adults, actually) critical thinking: while watching television, ask them to really examine a commercial. What are the advertisers trying to sell you? How are they doing it? Why did they choose that method over others? How does the ad make you feel? Do you want to buy the product? These are basic things that are taught in introductory communication courses in college, but we should be teaching them the moment kids start processing ads. That critical eye is an important tool even beyond its use as an ad-buster — with any luck and a bit of skill, they’ll use it on far more devious forms of quackery.

One solution for companies that want their brands to seem “dependable,” “sincere” or associated with any other human quality, could be to create a fictional character or brand mascot like the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger or Ronald McDonald.

“It could be that associating an actual person with a brand is the only way to get those human characteristics to stick,” said Feinberg.

Hey everybody! It’s Chick Aynery, the skeptical baby chick!

Chick Aynery
Chick Aynery says, “Send Rebecca presents!”

Special thanks to Barbara Mervine for being my unwitting pawn in the great marketing conspiracy by drawing Chick Aynery!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Oooh, cartoon chick: cute, skeptical, looking for presents (even needs a magnifying glass because they're hard to find)…. my medial prefrontal cortex is telling me that must send presents…

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