What do Chameleons, Brands and Mirror Neurons have in common ?

Picture this simple scenario for a moment. You’re at a wrestling match and suddenly one of your favorite fighters gets kicked between the legs. Like most of us, you cringe – especially if you are a man. Could you stop yourself from cringing? Probably not because you can picture yourself in that same situation and imagine how much it hurts. So why do our bodies respond in this way ?

The Chameleon Effect

The “chameleon effect” is the brain-to-brain imitation of postures, mannerisms, and facial expressions, for example it’s what causes adults to smile when they see a baby smiling. Therefore this is an automatic matching that causes humans to connect, even if they’re not aware of the connection.

These mirror neurons are cells in our brains that enable us to understand actions, intentions, and feelings. They are in many areas of our brains, and fire when we perform an action as simple as grasping an apple, but also when we see others doing it.

It all started in the mid-1990s with an ice cream cone at a research lab in Italy. Giacomo Rizolatti and his team had implanted electrodes in the brain of a monkey in order to map out which neurons controlled the monkey’s movements. One of the researchers had brought an ice cream cone back from lunch, and as the monkey watched him lift the cone to his mouth there was a spike in the monkey’s neural activity. The astonishing discovery is that the neurons that fired were the same neurons the monkey used to move his own arm. The monkey’s brain seemed to be having a physical experience just by watching someone have a one.
Mirror Neuron Experiment

In actual fact, our mirror neurons, also called empathy neurons (V. Ramachandran), fire when we experience an emotion and similarly when we see others experiencing an emotion, such as happiness, fear, anger, or sadness. When we see someone in pain, for example, our mirror neurons fire instantaneously. In other words, we don’t need to think about the other person being in pain, we actually experience it firsthand.

If you see an expression, a face which is laughing or is sad, you understand emotion, but it has nothing to do with your feeling of emotion. – Giacomo Rizzolatti

Therefore the chameleon affect enables us to socialize and communicate with others as we read their facial expressions. Yet we don’t seem to be caught up in others experiences, and that is du to our ability to dampen this effect.

Interestingly, human mirror neuron networks are stimulated in response to actions which are apparently meaningless, which means that we all have a tendency to spontaneously model any and all movements by others. (Giacomo Rizzolatti)

So What Has This got To Do With Adverts ?

As we’ve seen, cells in the human brain activate when you observe or perform an action. The problem is, these mirror neurons can’t distinguish between observation and performance. So when you see a wrestler get kicked, your mirror neurons fire-up and your brain thinks you just got kicked. If this is the case, couldn’t we use these mirror neurons to influence people with adverts ?

This actually means that when you see someone perform an action in front of you – in a video, for example – you will think you’ve just performed that same action. And therefore, if you think you’ve just performed an action, you’ll probably be more likely to actually perform it. Why? Because you’re already thinking about doing it.

Nowadays, creating meaningful advertising is getting harder because there is a demand for more content and substance in advertising. As a result, some brands are leaning towards communicating more emotional brand experiences in a bid to hook viewers on a deeper level.

Products that engage people by helping them to feel as others do or to experience product usage, clearly have a greater ability to convince – and therefore the advantage. Demonstrating the use of a product has an important role in advertising because adverts that help us connect in this way are more likely to influence our choices.

There is a lot of opinion about mirror neuron advertising, some believe it’s just a theory whereas others say that this kind of advertising isn’t revolutionary – now we know more about why it works. Even so, when looking at past examples of adverts it becomes clear that “mirror neuron ads” at their purest are rarely found.

But, if we know that these so called “mirror neuron ads” are extremely effective, why aren’t there more of these kind of ads ? Also, if this chameleon effect works with adverts could it also work with pictures ? Could we use the “chameleon effect” on different parts of marketing, like sentences or logos ?

Want to see where I got some of my information ?

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