Last week I was watching catch up TV online on All4. During the ad break, I opened a new tab on top of what was playing so I could do something else. I wasn’t giving much thought to the adverts on in the background, but suddenly, something caught my attention.
‘This one’s for you, Sophie’.
I quickly switched back to the tab the adverts were playing on and skipped backwards a few seconds to make sure I had heard right. I had. My name had been incorporated into a Fosters advert where they shared with me a personalised pint. I’d seen adverts with my name written on before, but this audio personalisation was something new. I have since found out that this was part of an innovative marketing technique developed by David Amodio, Channel 4’s digital and creative leader, and has been used in adverts for multiple different companies including Coca Cola and Ronseal.
So why use this technique?
According to studies such as Levy and Weitz (1992) and Witsman (1987) the use of a customer’s name should increase sales. In this case, its effectiveness is likely to be because in general, people do not pay a great deal of attention to adverts, but when they hear their name, their focus is likely to return. This is an example of the Cocktail Party Effect (Cherry, 1953). The idea behind this is, at a party where lots of people are talking, you are generally able to focus on and keep track of one conversation at a time and ignore what is going on in the background (selective attention). However, if you hear something that is of particular interest in another conversation, such as your name, your attention is easily able to switch to follow that conversation instead.
Attracting the attention of potential customers is not the only benefit of personalised ads though. According to Carmody and Lewis (2006), hearing your own name can increase activation in certain areas of the brain’s left hemisphere. The superior temporal cortex is one of these areas and is associated with long term memory, meaning that it is possible if someone hears their name in an advert, they may be more likely to remember it, increasing the likelihood of them buying to product. The cuneus, which is associated with visual processing, also becomes more active, allowing people to better process the visual elements used in adverts.
Perhaps more importantly than this though, the use of someone’s name is often an effective tool to get them to like you more. In Dale Carnegie’s well-known book How to Win Friends and Influence People, he says ‘Remember that a person's name is to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.’ So not only have these personalised ads caught your attention and activated relevant parts of your brain, they’re subconsciously encouraging you to like the product too, meaning that they could come to be one of the most persuasive forms of advertising yet.
Carnegie, Dale. "How to win friends and inﬂuence people (Revised ed.)." New York, NY: Simon Schuster. Original work published (1936).
Carmody, D. P., & Lewis, M. (2006). Brain activation when hearing one's own and others' names. Brain research, 1116(1), 153-158.
Cherry, E. C. (1953). Some experiments on the recognition of speech, with one and two ears. Journal of the Acoustic Society of America, 25, 975-979.
Levy, Michael and Barton Weitz (1992). Retailing Management, Homewood, IL: Irwin.
Witsman, Karl (1987). "No More What's His Name Again," American Salesman, 32 (February), 24-27.