How to Communicate your Brand by Understanding the Brain

Damian Pandolfo

Damian Pandolfo

Product Manager

Our brain is an intriguing phenomenon; we think that we know what’s going on in our brain exactly. We aspire to be thoughtful, mindful, and well-informed about the world around us and the decisions we make. We can’t just be influenced by that annoying TV commercial or random popup banner on a website. We can ignore them, right?

It could not be further from the truth. We are influenced by our environment on a daily basis; advertisements are part of that. Most people do not realize it since a lot of processes occur in our brain subconsciously.

So if people and thus consumers are influenced by their surroundings, organizations need to know how this process works. Luckily, achieving this is possible by understanding the brain, which will then provide a better sense of effective advertising and brand communication. But where do you start?

What exposure achieves

Most people will think that a consumer needs to pay direct attention to an advertisement to have any chance of influence. However, this is not necessarily true. 

Without paying direct attention, you can still receive information from sources around you. An environment exposes you to surroundings, even without your awareness. Research has shown that this exposure will create familiarity, and with that comes trust.

This effect is known as the mere exposure effect. It is particularly potent for a new brand or product. Consumers are not familiar with it yet, but by creating enough opportunities the mere exposure will create familiarity and therefore trust. Check out an interesting example from National Geographic’s Brain Games below.

Great advertisement, but what’s the brand? 

As marketeers, we want advertisements to reach their goal of changing consumer behavior. When you want to buy a product, you need to remember the brand. But very frequently, commercials fail at communicating the brand. Consequently, there is no change in behavior. 

There are ways to avoid this. For example, integrating the brand into the storyline of an advertisement is a good strategy; the brand could be the hero of the story by saving the main characters from a bad situation. We humans love stories, and a decisive role of a brand within the story will ensure the brand's communication to the consumers. 

However, ensure the story is communicated accurately because the brain is efficient and very capable at filling gaps in narratives. It is thereupon crucial to test and know how exactly consumers will observe an advertisement. We think we know and see everything, but we actually miss the majority of things happening around us. 

When people watch an advertisement, they feel they have seen and understood everything. However, ad testing results show the opposite. The brain is just highly capable of filling in the gaps to create a coherent story.

Attention vs. Salience

Understanding the difference between attention and salience is the key to successful advertising. We use the term salience frequently; it describes what object within an area will draw attention. Our brain is wired from birth and trained our whole life to prioritize. So what is the difference between saliency and attention? 

Salience is reactive and driven by bottom-up attention, as discussed in a previous blogpost. It draws attention independent of our goals: abrupt sounds or images out of the ordinary. Attention related to our goals is top-down attention. For example, I need my keys, where are they?

So how can we apply saliency to advertising as a means to communicate our brand? The first step is to understand how salient your advertisement is overall. Will my advertisement break through the clutter and attract people?

This can be done by testing your ad in a realistic environment, like an instagram feed for a social media ad, or the YouTube web display. Check out our previous blog article on how to do this. Additionally for YouTube video ads, we have developed a new platform that specifically focuses on pre testing YouTube ads. It’s called, check it out!

The second step is about the elements inside the advertisement, after drawing people in, you need to provide the correct information about your product and brand.

One of the most common and crucial mistakes in the industry today is an overload of information. Too much salience will be processed unsuccessfully. A simultaneous call to action, tagline, logo, and pricing in flashy colors will overload the consumer and fail in communicating the message. Be careful and prioritize what you want to communicate.

Attention vampires

Particular components of an advertisement can grab too much attention and distract from your brand; we call them attention vampires. For example, faces (animal faces too) can suffer from the vampire syndrome. A face projects social queues, and we: as social creatures, are immediately drawn to them. 

A face has excellent salience: it will stand out from the clutter very often. However, you need to beware that it should not distract from your message. You will probably guess that a call to action (CTA) right next to a smiling dog face is ineffective. The dog's face will draw all the attention, and your call to action is lost. 

To know precisely which components in an advertisement are attention vampires, use the predictive eye tracking from It will reveal if essential components (like a call to action) get the attention they need. You can sign up for free to see how it works with your own content. 

Effectiveness through experience and coherence

The philosophy of advertising is the activation of memory. Some advertisements are more action-oriented, while others are focused on brand building. Experiences (especially positive ones) with a brand cause a higher degree of salience. If you really like Starbucks coffee, you will start to notice the Starbucks logos and stores everywhere.

The biggest brands in the world like Apple and Nike have mastered this concept. Even the people who never bought a product from them will probably know what the brand stands for. Consumers are willing to pay more for the same product purely based on the brand. Check out the video on how these companies have managed to brand our brain.

The experiences teach you what value a brand can provide. When seeing their logo, you instantly recognize what needs it can fulfill because you will be thinking of your previous experiences.

Understanding and tracking attention, as well as salience, is vital to communicate your brand. However, it does not  equal effectiveness. If you want to take your advertisement to the next level, you have to ensure coherence. For a perfect promotion, more exposure is beneficial. However, if the promotion is incoherent, the effectiveness is non-existent no matter how many consumers are exposed to the ad. 

An example: the message you communicate via product packaging needs to make sense. If you have a picture and a call to action (CTA) which do not match, the packaging will not be effective.

Packaging for food that includes an image of an old-style grandmother's kitchen combined with the words: fast, add water, and 'easy to prepare' will fail. Consumers will assume that a dish made in your grandmother's kitchen cannot be quick to and easy to prepare. 

Wrapping up

We hope this short guide will help you communicate your brand more effectively in the future. Stay tuned for more interesting blog articles from us in the future. If you want to know more about marketing, attention, design and other relevant topics, check our previous blog articles. Also don’t forget to get started with a free account and test 5 of your images for free. 

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