It’s a common reaction of people exposed to adverts to say that they’re never influenced by them.
Adverts, of course, are on TV, radio and in newspapers and magazines, on the Internet, at football grounds, on taxis, on buses – even, as we’ve pointed out elsewhere, on some PowerPoint presentations. Ads, in short, are pretty much everywhere in today’s world.
The inference is that ads do influence people. And the further inference is that some or many of those people don’t even realise it. In Vance Packard’s famous phrase, perhaps adverts really are hidden persuaders.
But if most people are convinced they’re not being influenced, what is doing the persuading?
According to a study done in June 2009, it might be the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain. Scientists from UCLA and the University of Minnesota hooked up 20 subjects to scanning machines that monitored increased blood flow to certain parts of the brain. They then showed them some public health films about the importance of using sunscreen.
Immediately after the experiment, the subjects completed a questionnaire about how likely they were to use sunscreen. They were then contacted a week later to find out whether they did or not.
The interesting finding is that the scientists’ predictions, based on the brain scans, were more accurate than the subjects’ questionnaires. The medial prefrontal cortex correctly identified when people responded to the stimulus of the ads, even when they themselves didn’t think they had.
What has all this to do with PowerPoint, you might ask? Well, in many ways, PowerPoint does a similar job to adverts. Ads basically do two things: tell you about products or services you didn’t know about, and reinforce your loyalty to brands you do know about.
PowerPoint often has a similarly persuasive role: and, as with ads, people often refuse to believe that they are influenced by presentations.
Given its range of applications, PowerPoint can certainly deliver a stimulus in the same way as a TV ad. It can provide a large amount of information and deliver that in a clearly focused manner, aided by charts, graphs, and audiovisual media.
PowerPoint might well be an even better persuader than advertising. The audience at a presentation, after all, is pretty much captive. They can’t mute the volume or go out and make a cup of tea, as many people do during TV ads, for instance.
So the chances are that presentations using this tool are a very good way to convince people, either to change their views or reinforce their opinions.
Although, until someone hooks up an audience to a bank of brain scanners, we might not be able to prove it.
By David Vickery
It’s common knowledge that the visual medium has a stronger impact on people’s decisions — a fact central to effective PowerPoint presentations. I often attend business seminars where nifty use of colors along with subtle audio helped create the desired mood among the assembled audience.