And we’ll return after this short commercial break…

Wherever you live there will be important cultural events that are impossible to miss. In the USA there is the Super Bowl: the final game of the National Football League. Not only are there rituals and game expectations that intrigue me from a psychological and subconscious perspective, but also there are the commercials that run during one of the most watched television events of the year. These 30-second clips in between sports plays cost around $4 million so you’d think they would be worth something… here are a few thoughts on TV ads, what they are selling and the subconscious mind.

Commercials: Mini Metaphors

Within 15- 30- or, at the maximum, 60-seconds, commercials construct a story. Sometimes the story is obvious – ‘buy this’ – but most times there are other aspects of the commercial that run within the mind in a different way. Sometimes the constructs within commercials suggest something that actually has nothing to do with the product – it may promise more wealth, better health, higher levels of attractiveness… you get it. This is the power of making a cigar more than a cigar, and advertisers create these mini concepts in story form in an attempt to sell something. When we ‘buy’ the idea behind the commercial, imagining a better life by the inclusion of the product or service in it, we become more receptive to the idea of the product or service.

How can you bring this into your life? Think about your presentations, conversations, emails, interactions as though they were commercials – so that you can ‘sell’, share, convince in mini-story form.

Emotional Power Pack 

The commercials that seem to be the most popular are ads that elicit emotions. Why would happiness, fear, anger, love (to name just a few) make them more talked-about? The subconscious mind is the emotional mind, so when we tap into feelings, we travel to that deeper storehouse of memories. Not only do we connect more easily with emotions, but they also become more memorable more quickly. One of the most well-liked commercials was about the relationship between a puppy and a horse which seemed to push the buttons of friendship, love, determination, and connection. Memorable, especially when repeated and added to their earlier relationship commercial between a man and his horse. Powerful. Even controversial subjects light up the subconscious mind so they are more memorable than others that miss all emotional content. The only concern for advertisers who bring forth a negative emotion in potential consumers is whether or not it is compelling enough the stop them from buying their wares.

Translating this to your daily life, remember to include a strong emotional component when you are developing your message – it makes it easier to grasp for the listener/reader, and makes a greater impact.

Directed at the User, not at Me?

Have you ever watched a commercial you didn’t like? Because I watch commercials in a different way I always ask myself to analyse the part that make me feel negatively about it. Often times I have realized that I am simply not the target market. Advertisers work very hard to figure out who buys the products and services and directs the messages at that particular group of people. Many years ago I remember my mom watching a beer ad that got under her skin (in a bad way). She’s not really a beer drinker and as I watched with her, I could see that it was directed at young males. Once we talked about it, she wasn’t bothered by it again and dismissed it simply by understanding that it wasn’t for her in the first place.

Sometimes we are affected by the message in an advertisement because it can actually be directed right at us – or perceptions of ourselves, at least. If we feel that we aren’t sexy, successful or structured enough, then a commercial that shows an ideal result of ‘getting it together’ makes us feel ‘not enough’. Whether it is actual or in the mind, we can look at what we see as an ideal and notice how far we feel from it.

In life, when we are bothered by advertisements, take a moment to see whether the message is directed at someone completely different – a big miss – or comes close to something we hold dear or aspire to  – which is much closer to the bone.

The Subconscious Sometimes Misses the Point

While advertisers do construct advertisements for particular target markets, they still have little control over the associative power of the subconscious. That means that while we may be watching the same commercial, we may get different ideas from it. We may focus on something we find clever or appealing and completely miss the (advertiser’s) point. Many years ago I saw a commercial that first ran on a superbowl night. It was a small child dressed in a Darth Vader (Star Wars) costume, aiming to move or use ‘the force’ on everyday items. As he stood in the driveway, arms extended to ‘control’ the car, his father started the engine and turned on the lights from the car remote he had in his hand. The child was surprised and pleased, I remembered the commercial as though I had just seen it, but I can’t remember what type of car it was. Creative smartness 1, sale 0.

Translating this to your own life, and if you want direct action, make sure that that you link the story back to the situation. If you want the story to be a learning lesson or a moral of some type, it’s not so important to pull it back to specific ‘product’.

Take the Power of Commercials into your own Life

So how can you use these ideas once game night is over? Understand that in our many interactions throughout the day, we can power up our conversations, sales presentations, emails with some of the ideas from commercials. In summary:

  1. Make a mini-story – whether you are talking to a colleague or to your spouse, presenting a metaphor tends to be more memorable.
  2. Use feelings – take your listener or reader on an emotional ride which will engage the subconscious mind and stick more powerfully.
  3. Cater your message to the person you’re talking to – when it is most relevant for him or her, it will take up a more prominent place in the mind.
  4. Reinforce the point – what is the outcome you’d like? When you remember to combine the earlier tips while staying on message, your communication will be more effective.


Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

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