Secret World: Your Brain gets Fooled Again

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Three people check into a hotel. Sounds like the beginning of a joke. Well in a way it is, as they clearly don’t, they use Airbnb and get a really good deal. Unless, like me you try and book a room in Edinburgh in August when nothing is as it seems. All the advertised rates for booking are suddenly ‘unavailable’ when you book (because of demand for the world’s largest Arts Festival) and therefore they are doubled or triple the advertised price. Particularly annoying as I am doing a brilliant 4 week show there this August.

But imagine they did check in to a hotel and they got to pay the standard rack rate of £300 to the manager and go to their room (let assume there was no room tax or VAT and the manager accepted cash). The manager finds out a bit later that the special daily room rate is actually only £250 and gives £50 to the bellboy to return. On the way to the room, the bellboy reasons that £50 would be difficult to share among three people, so he pockets £20 and gives £10 to each person. Now, each person paid £100 and got back £10. So they paid £90 each, totalling £270. The bellboy has £20, totalling £290. Where is the remaining £10 pounds gone Who cares? Well if you do, the answer is at the end.

Your brain is so easily tricked that the retail and hospitality industries use this processing error for good and less ethical reasons. Tricks begin as soon as you walk into a shop or hotel, or are handed the menu… whether we like it or not, they playing brain and neuroscience games with us.

People aren’t rational thinkers because our brains takes short cuts all the time. In truth, research shows that a huge amount of decision-making is actually based on subconscious factors. An example of these subconscious factor comes from smells; they can transport us back to powerful and emotional memories from the past more effectively than sounds. The theory behind this has been around a while. French writer Marcel Proust, who in his novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time – yes I have read it) describes a character vividly recalling long-forgotten memories from his childhood after smelling a tea-soaked madeleine biscuit. It is a well known fact that your memory and smells are tied closely together and there is a brilliant paper on this called ‘Odour-evoked Autobiographical Memories: Psychological Investigations of Proustian Phenomena’. Let’s call it (for simplicity) the Proust effect. It is used across retail, hotels and restaurants. Companies know this all too well and make use of scents and sounds to jolt your brain into liking or enjoying something. The true secret of successfully marketing a product is to pair a store or a product with a specific scent. If you feel at home in a store, you are more likely to buy.The first time you notice a new type of scent you will subconsciously connect this scent to an item or a person. After that the scent will trigger the response that you experienced to that person or item and hopefully a happy response.

Lets take a simple example: M&M’s don’t actually smell – try it next time you buy a packet. M&M’s are as I am sure you know, colourful button-shaped candies produced by Mars, Incorporated. M&M’s originated in the United States in 1941, and are now sold in as many as 100 countries. The company’s longest-lasting slogan reflects this encasing and sealed in essence:

Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

But the famous M&M World Store in London (35,000 square feet store selling M&Ms products and merchandise is the largest candy store in the world) has a surprisingly strong chocolate scent when you walk in. You would expect that wouldn’t you? You want to feel like you are entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate lab when you go there. But then you look around and realise that all their wares are prepackaged. And you realise that the strong smell of chocolate is being sprayed at you with a vengeance. And your happy chocolate bubble bursts.

The Holiday Inn hotels chain has been using scents combined with the right kind of music to invite you to stay longer in their rooms, lobbies and bars. The company uses a rose scent for weddings and a leather-based scent for business meetings and similar functions. Even the chlorine pool smell comes from a bucket of powder that is added to the air system in the mornings! Should you have something to celebrate, the Holiday Inn will make your party smell fruity! This type of sensory marketing is used by many hotel chains.

This leads to an odd unintended consequence in hotels. Your glasses (on the fridge, mini bar or shelf of most hotels) have a lemony flavour. According to industry expert Jacob Tomsky, it’s Pledge lemon furniture spray. Jacob should know, he has worked on the front lines of hotels for more than a decade, starting as a lowly valet in New Orleans and ultimately landing at a front desk in New York City. He’s also the author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality and a man with some hospitality secrets to spill.He says that furniture polish is sprayed on a thick white base, rub it in, and you’ll be face-to-face with a spotless, streak-free mirror. The housekeepers kept this move behind closed doors along with another dirty secret he didn’t discover until he walked in on cleaners with Pledge in one hand and a minibar glass in the other. Keeping those glasses clean-looking was also part of the job. So the next time you put a little tap water into the glass and wonder why it has a pleasant lemon aftertaste, it’s because you just took a shot of Pledge.

Another neuromarketing experience that you should know (but probably have never thought about) it that you go into a restaurants or hotels knowing exactly what they want to order or how much they want to spend, and we can be influenced by all sorts of things that we’re not aware of. It appears there is a growing industry at the centre of all this is, the humble menu. You might think that the restaurant menu merely tells you what items are available in a certain establishment. Actually, it is a very sophisticated piece of marketing and advertising. In fact, it’s the only piece of advertising that restaurant owners can be certain their customers will read. As a result, restaurants invite in specialised menu consultants (people like me) whose job it is to lay out a menu that will persuade you to spend more money than you’d expected. I know it is all my fault and I apologise.

You may have noticed that increasingly the prices on menus no longer employ the Pound sign (£) (or Dollar $ Sign) or even any evidence of pence. Where once a steak might have cost you £16.00 now its price is stated as ‘16′ no full stop or pence. Have you noticed this happening? well it’s not just happening in the high end restaurants. I have found there are no pound signs at Carluccio’s, Byron, Giraffe or Cafe Rouge either. This is not a coincidence. A study by Cornell University’s Centre For Hospitality Research in America found that when, in a similar move, dollar signs were left off a menu, sales increased by eight per cent. For that same reason, you now never see dots leading the eye from the description of the item to the price.

Why might an item on the menu have a box around it? It’s not because it’s a dish the chef is particularly proud of, it’s because it earns a high profit for the restaurant.Alternatively, the menu might use other methods to draw our attention: an item in a different colour; an accompanying illustration; a different typeface.

Professor Charles Spence, a psychologist at Oxford University, is the co-author of The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science Of Food And Dining, and alert to the techniques in play. ‘I was in the burger restaurant Byron the other day,’ he says. ‘The menu is all in black and white, except for one item, which is highlighted in bright red. And it’s their most expensive item.’ Professor Spence says that people are also likely to spend more if menus and especially wine lists are heavy to handle. Even the use of hypnotic language words that menus now use (sorry again – my fault) can persuade us to splash out more.

If you want to learn more about the is exciting field, I suggest you take a look at the very brilliant Kate Nightingale’s Style Psychology site. She really is the expert on how you can use the human brain for good in the retail sector.

 

Oh and to put you out of your misery about the missing £10 (or should I say ‘10′ Count how much money each person started with and how much each person ends up with. Each person paid £90, totalling £270. The manager has £250 and the bellboy has £20. The bellboy’s £20 should be added to the manager’s £250 or subtracted from the guests’ £270, not added to the guests £ 270. Simple really.

Now who has a nice place in Edinburgh for me to rent in August at a fair price?

Be Amazing Every Day.