Desire and advertising

A few weeks ago I went along to ‘Your Brain and the Future’, an Ideas at the House event at the Sydney Opera House. Four leading thinkers in neuroscience, philosophy and psychology spoke about how we can shape our future by expanding our imaginations and being creative. This summary is in relation to what Professor Peter Railton discussed on the topic of Desire.

Desire. A glorious word, with beautiful connotations. It rolls off the tongue poetically, exuding sensuousness, craving and longing.

“Desire is about what is absent, but could be present.” – Professor Peter Railton

Us humans, we’re such complex creatures, yet so basic in certain ways. Through evolution we’ve grown and innovated through finding the motivation and means to change things. Professor Railton said that motivation is found in two forms: one is appetite, the second is desire, and that desire is about imagination and affect. We have a wonderful ability to consider possible situations, be aware that we are not in them, imagine what they would be like, and then pursue them.

Professor Railton told us about time he’d spent in Paris some years ago. He said that travelling on the metro all day could have been dark and dreary, but the Parisian metro has “windows” – large advertisements that tower up the walls of the stations. What were these ads about? Desire. Beautiful women, beautiful men, close-ups of creamy coffee, smooth chocolate, shiny watches and the luxurious interiors of alluring vehicles.

Metro advertising

Image credit: The Anti Blog

Advertisements are “photographic representations of what desire is like” and we connect to them when we can imagine ourselves enjoying the product or being close to the perfect and breathtaking subjects in the images.

When our brains receive information that something good is about to come, there’s a spike in dopamine. We make calculations that we’re not even consciously aware of. When given information, our brains are capable of making “finely calibrated predictions of value.” And it feels good.

What’s a lesson to remember about desire? It’s that desire itself has associated learning. If an object or experience doesn’t compare well with the representation, the ability to desire it again in future is endangered. Whether it’s an awful meal at a restaurant, or a watch that breaks after two days, failing to live up to expectations is challenging to overcome.

Talking about desire in an advertising context alone is hollow and negligent, so here’s advice that transcends to all facets of humanly life:

Create things and experiences that are awesome, encourage imagination and evoke desire that’s worth desiring. 

Repeat! 

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