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October 23, 2008 12:02 PM   Subscribe

"You aren't in as much control as you think you are." Buyology by Martin Lindstrom. Cigarette Health Warnings Stimulate Smoking. Subconscious Encounters: How Brand Exposure Affects Your Choices . A sign is anything that can be used to tell a lie.

Semiotics

Advertising Semiotics

A couple of other books about the brain and social interactions:

Google book: A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

Google book: On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee

Decoding advertisements

Branding and Religion

The Mad Men popsicle ad with Virgin Mary.
posted by nickyskye (27 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is not a comment.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:04 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


"The researchers found that the warnings had no effect at all on the cravings of smokers. This applied not only to the rather subtle messages on US packaging, but even packages that included bold text and gruesome disease photos. None, zero, nada. Even worse, they found that the health warnings stimulated the subjects’ nucleus accumbens, an area associated with cravings!"

It's terribly misleading to say that it stimulates smoking when it has no effect on smoking behaviour. The fact is that it activates an area of the brain associated with smoking, which on the face of it should seem obvious since it's a message about smoking.
posted by tybeet at 12:06 PM on October 23, 2008


Using EEG technology, the researchers measured the brain activity of subjects while screening three new television shows: The Swan, How Clean Is Your House, and Quizmania.

Was this the basis for Saunder's Jon? Cause it sounds like it's only a few market controls away.
posted by The Whelk at 12:06 PM on October 23, 2008


to say that it stimulates smoking when it has no effect on smoking behaviour.

The nucleus accumbens is the part of the brain connected with pleasure, craving, addiction. So if the nucleus accumbens is stimulated by a warning sign, it's not just a passing thought about smoking, it's the craving impulse stimulated to have a cigarette.
posted by nickyskye at 12:14 PM on October 23, 2008


The nucleus accumbens is the part of the brain connected with pleasure, craving, addiction. So if the nucleus accumbens is stimulated by a warning sign, it's not just a passing thought about smoking, it's the craving impulse stimulated to have a cigarette.

I realize it has to do with addiction, but if it was the impulse itself, then there would be a change in smoking behaviour (i.e. craving impulse -> causes person to have another cigarette), but there wasn't -- therefore it has a weak association at best with smoking.
posted by tybeet at 12:43 PM on October 23, 2008


This is fascinating stuff. To even UNDERSTAND some of these images, you MUST implicitly accept the framing. You can't ignore it; you can reject it, but you've been changed by the exposure.

I see less direct advertising than most, because I don't watch much mass media, and I can tell you; looking at this stuff with relatively fresh eyes, it's powerful. It does change how you think, just being aware of the framing. It's harder to look at other people with clear eyes with you're being muddled up this way.

Myth and storytelling are central to humanity, and it's a bit appalling how thoroughly they're being hijacked into the service of consumerism.
posted by Malor at 12:45 PM on October 23, 2008


This is a great book advertisement.
posted by ZaneJ. at 12:52 PM on October 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


if it was the impulse itself, then there would be a change in smoking behaviour (i.e. craving impulse -> causes person to have another cigarette)

?

Craving does cause the person to smoke more. Triggering craving causes more smoking.
posted by nickyskye at 12:53 PM on October 23, 2008


A sign is anything that can be used to tell anything, right? Letters are signs, words are signs, images are signs. Why does it have to be associated with lying? What is a lie? What is truth? I'm still a little confused.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:59 PM on October 23, 2008


This is a great book advertisement.

I was going to snark that too, but it's really not. I can't even remember the name of the book or the author and it's at the top of the page (I think). That goes along with the failure of product placement in one of the links, I guess.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:01 PM on October 23, 2008


Hey nickyskye, what great timing! I've been thinking about researching this very topic online for the past week or so, since I'm being forced to revisit my undergraduate courses in semiotics oh so many years ago in my current graduate seminars. I'm with Malor, there's a couple of decades between myself and at least half of my fellow students, and a lot of the younger students don't find this sort of thing jarring, and fail to see the reason why a lot of postmodern art from the 1980s and early 1990s was so preoccupied with this very thing. To them, advertising and propaganda manipulations are so commonplace as to be utterly banal; most of them feel like they are always in on the joke and believe they are above being affected. They might well be, since they've been so bombarded in advertising and competing messages, maybe they do tune it all out better than someone like myself who came of age when there wasn't a constant stream of of the stuff funneling into my brain all the time. Anyway, I was curious about what the latest studies in psychology suggest and/or science suggest, and here you've already gone and compiled a whole bunch of useful links for me. Thanks!
posted by stagewhisper at 1:09 PM on October 23, 2008


Myth and storytelling are central to humanity, and it's a bit appalling how thoroughly they're being hijacked into the service of consumerism.

Malor, such a good point.

One of the things that has bothered me most about recent advertising is how it has hijacked so much work by artists. a lot of the great visuals, animation, music, graphic design are commercial. I want to enjoy the artwork but flinch at the commercial manipulation, especially when it's Big Corporate manipulation.

mrgrimm, Did you click on the links of that site about the sign? It explains the deceit quite well.

That goes along with the failure of product placement in one of the links, I guess.

I went out of my way to try and avoid the author's hype in the links. I just thought some of the concepts were intriguing and worth talking about.

hey might well be, since they've been so bombarded in advertising and competing messages, maybe they do tune it all out better than someone like myself

stagewhisper, When I put this post together my computer crashed and I lost a few of the best links. drat. There was one link I wish I could have refound and if I do will repost it in this thread. A video which included an amazing bit about 79 cent soup. If a sign were put up that said just 79cent soup nobody paid it any mind. But when a non-fancy, simple sign was put up that said 79cents, limited to 12 per customer, people loaded up on the stuff.

Trekking with American friends in the 70's who grew up on TV, most of them didn't know songs but all knew tv ads and jingles by heart. That shocked me and those were ye olde days before this advertising thing got down to a science, literally, neuroscience.
There was initially tremendous ridiculing of the idea of subliminal messages in advertising, as all just conspiracy theory bs. Now, as discussed in this book, it's apparently routine.

I disagree with you that this generation is immune by overload. I think they are quite brainwashed. The PBS series The Merchants of Cool (seeable free online), is a brilliant examination of just that. To a great extent, I think that advertising brainwashing/branding, the entire so-called 'designer' glut and the consumerism of the 80's and 90's kept the population in the USA lulled and made plenty of room for the BushoCo gang to take over the economy. And look where that got the planet.
posted by nickyskye at 1:26 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, some suggest the Brand at least is in crisis .

Granted, the authors are ad men, but still.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:10 PM on October 23, 2008


Cigarette Health Warnings Stimulate Smoking.

Fucking duh. Why do you think the tobacco industry pays for them?
posted by Citizen Premier at 2:25 PM on October 23, 2008


Great semiotics links.

As for Buyology and "respected marketing guru" Martin Lindstrom ... I'm sure the book is very interesting. I'm presently reading (in order to review) another book by a respected branding guru that deals with very similar ideas. My feeling is that, ever since Vance Packard, marketing types have been extremely impressed with their own godlike talents, and audiences have been happy to agree because they actually like the idea that they're not wholly free to choose how they behave. It serves the popular imagination to elevate admen and marketers to the status of Svengali because in doing so we psychologically diminish the extent to which are willing actors in consumerism. The irony is that the marketers have wholeheartedly bough into their own ad copy, to the extent of actually believing it.

Nickyskye, you used the word "lulled" in your reply to stagewhisper, and that's exactly right, the populace is lulled by this sort of thing, but retains free will. I repeat: it has willingly bought the role of consumer-puppet. And it can step out of that role.

Well, maybe. That's my theory, anyway.
posted by WPW at 2:27 PM on October 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


mrgrimm: A sign is something that stands for something else. While there is a connection between the two, the sign and its object are not one and the same. Basically, lying means pretending that the sign stands for what others think it stands for in this context. In different contexts, of course, the same sign can be used to signify different things. You can use it to tell the truth as well.
posted by daniel_charms at 2:37 PM on October 23, 2008


nickyskye, I think so too! I am trying to give their argument the benefit of the doubt, but I think they underestimate how surreptitious this stuff is, which is why I was so interested in researching the topic. I can't wait to read what you've found so far!
posted by stagewhisper at 2:52 PM on October 23, 2008


In his book, Semiotics for Beginners, Daniel Chandler has a chapter about Codes in which he speaks of, among other things, the golden plaque that was placed on interstellar probe Pioneer 10 for its journey into deep space.

The art historian Ernst Gombrich offers an insightful commentary about this plaque:

" The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has equipped a deep-space probe with a pictorial message 'on the off-chance that somewhere on the way it is intercepted by intelligent scientifically educated beings.' It is unlikely that their effort was meant to be taken quite seriously, but what if we try? These beings would first of all have to be equipped with 'receivers' among their sense organs that respond to the same band of electromagnetic waves as our eyes do. Even in that unlikely case they could not possibly get the message. Reading an image, like the reception of any other message, is dependent on prior knowledge of possibilities; we can only recognize what we know. Even the sight of the awkward naked figures in the illustration cannot be separated in our mind from our knowledge. We know that feet are for standing and eyes are for looking and we project this knowledge onto these configurations, which would look 'like nothing on earth' without this prior information. It is this information alone that enables us to separate the code from the message; we see which of the lines are intended as contours and which are intended as conventional modelling. Our 'scientifically educated' fellow creatures in space might be forgiven if they saw the figures as wire constructs with loose bits and pieces hovering weightlessly in between. Even if they deciphered this aspect of the code, what would they make of the woman's right arm that tapers off like a flamingo's neck and beak? The creatures are 'drawn to scale against the outline of the spacecraft,' but if the recipients are supposed to understand foreshortening, they might also expect to see perspective and conceive the craft as being further back, which would make the scale of the manikins minute. As for the fact that 'the man has his right hand raised in greeting' (the female of the species presumably being less outgoing), not even an earthly Chinese or Indian would be able to correctly interpret this gesture from his own repertory.

The representation of humans is accompanied by a chart: a pattern of lines beside the figures standing for the 14 pulsars of the Milky Way, the whole being designed to locate the sun of our universe. A second drawing (how are they to know it is not part of the same chart?) 'shows the earth and the other planets in relation to the sun and the path of Pioneer from earth and swinging past Jupiter.' The trajectory, it will be noticed, is endowed with a directional arrowhead; it seems to have escaped the designers that this is a conventional symbol unknown to a race that never had the equivalent of bows and arrows. (Gombrich 1974, 255-8; Gombrich 1982, 150-151)."

Chandler goes on to conclude that codes are fundamental in semiotics. "Signs are not meaningful in isolation, but only when they are interpreted in relation to each other. Since the meaning of a sign depends on the code within which it is situated, codes provide a framework within which signs make sense. Indeed, we cannot grant something the status of a sign if it does not function within a code."
posted by netbros at 3:09 PM on October 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Can I interest any of you in any of these fine facial care products?
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:19 PM on October 23, 2008


How about some nice friendly broccoli with these comments?
posted by Auden at 5:38 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nice comment netbros. Boy, do I remember the hullaballoo about that plaque way back then in the last millennium. Oh the fundies were up in arms about putting images of nekkid people on a rocket. Oh my gawd, those poor poor aliens would be so violated!

I loved the points you made and now I think, duh, that is obvious, no way could imagined aliens make heads or tails (heh) out of that plaque for the reasons you gave.

I can't wait to read what you've found so far!

stagewhisper, Oh dear, nothing special to read really for somebody already in the know, just basic stuff for any MeFite who didn't know what semiotics is, so the post would make sense. What was interesting to me about the Buyology thing is that advertising is looking to neuroscience to sell stuff.

Years ago I heard that in the old day buyers of gems in Hong Kong wore dark glasses when they bought stones, because it was known that the pupils of one's eyes dilate when they see something attractive and the seller would up the price if they saw this. So gem buyers concealed their eyes. Naturally, the gem seller would prefer to take away this barrier and know their customers' interest in order be able to profit more easily. But it was the buyer's choice to conceal their preference, so as not to be taken advantage of by the seller.

Studying neuroscience seems to be taking away the buyer's barrier even further and giving corporations, who can afford to do a 4 year, 7 million dollar study on ways to use neuroscience to manipulate consumers, a pretty disturbing advantage.

willingly bought the role of consumer-puppet. And it can step out of that role.

WPW , Yes, you're right about the ability. The populace can but not unless they know. Knowledge, I think, and awareness are key to that freedom from being puppeted.
posted by nickyskye at 5:41 PM on October 23, 2008


Can I interest any of you in these fine links?

Tools for Cultural Studies - lots of links on Semiotics and Communication Studies.
Semiotics - information about topics in Semiotics, semioticians etc.
Another collection of links.

If you want to learn more about Semiotics, then these should be a good place to start.
posted by daniel_charms at 11:03 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not a pipe, eh?
Will this *$20* change your mind?
posted by Smedleyman at 11:03 PM on October 23, 2008


Nice post. This stuff always reminds me of the Illuminatus Trilogy, in which a malevolent midget realized the power of signs and used it to ruin people and businesses who he felt had mistreated him. He signed everything with "the Mgt", which obviously people assumed meant "the management". For example, in a very upscale clothing store, he posted a sign saying something like, "Employees must wash hands before returning to work. --the Mgt." Now, in a place like McDonald's or a diner, we would expect to see a sign like that. But not at a more fancy store, especially not a place selling clothing rather than food. The effect is (in the narrative) to subtly offend the customers, driving away business, eventually resulting in the closing of the shop.

It seems like hyperbole, but perhaps its not so far a leap as one thinks on reading it.
posted by voltairemodern at 5:08 AM on October 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


netbros:

Gombrich's commentary makes some pretty ridiculous assumptions itself. For example:

These beings would first of all have to be equipped with 'receivers' among their sense organs that respond to the same band of electromagnetic waves as our eyes do.

We're talking about intelligent, technological aliens. They would by definition be able to either see the image themselves or with technology. If our scientists received an "image" made out of ultrasonic sound waves or x-rays or whatever, they would be able to "read" it.

The trajectory, it will be noticed, is endowed with a directional arrowhead; it seems to have escaped the designers that this is a conventional symbol unknown to a race that never had the equivalent of bows and arrows.

It's simply inconceivable that an intelligent, technological species would never have invented arrowheads/spearheads.
posted by callmejay at 9:05 AM on October 24, 2008


This is Zazen Boys' 4th album. Recorded and mixed by Dave Fridmann at Tarbox Road Studios. ZAZEN BOYS 4

Also:

XTC Go2
posted by NemesisVex at 9:11 AM on October 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


oh I love that CD cover NemesisVex. Nicely done. Love that honesty, wit and intelligence combo. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 9:42 AM on October 24, 2008


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