Yesterday I was just about to pull out of my neighborhood and start my automatic drive to work. As I sat there and shifted into first gear (yes I drive a standard car in 2016 and it’s great), I noticed something I had overlooked for months now. It hadn’t quite caught my eye like this before, and it wasn’t until this moment that I had thought about how much my heuristics skewed my perception of the world. The “Vaughan Foods” I had been used to driving by for several years was now proudly displaying a company name entitled “Fresh Creative Foods.”
My first thought was that they had to have hired the same marketing department swine as the Carl’s Jr. on the corner with a sign reading, no shit: “Juiciest. Butteriest. Craviest.”
Wowzers, now that’s a good ad. The thought of both of these signs quickly sent my stomach into knots and I felt my mouth start watering, I took my foot off the clutch and threw my sad shell of a car into neutral. The subtle words started provoking my memory banks and getting my body churning. I still couldn’t put my finger on it quite yet, but something was different, and it wasn’t just the new sign.
Lifting The Fog: How Heuristics Distorted My Reality
If we rewind back to late September 2014 we can see why the brand needed their recent re-dubbing. A horrifying incident involving multiple people, a beheading, and shots fired played relentlessly on terror-loving media outlets across the nation. The world continued on after the news spread, but the Vaughan Foods was left with a gloomy haze protruding from the building and engulfing its surrounding parking lot. I had a strange feeling every time I drove by it, even if the fog was a metaphorical makeup in my mind.
Snap back to me sitting alone in my hail-damaged Ford thinking about what had caught my attention. The fog was lifted from the Vaughan Foods and the Fresh Creative sun was shining down on the place like I couldn’t remember.
Let’s Expand The Idea of Heuristics
Why had the construct of this brand changed my entire outlook on it? Was it really just the wording? As it turns out, it was just that. We all (as humans) have an innate predisposition to construct our own unique definitions of words. Those words come with mental shortcuts that quickly pull up concepts of what they mean. Let’s expand this concept by looking at the following image/symbol:
What came to your mind? What did you think about, maybe without even knowing you were thinking? I thought of psychology (psi root), a pitchfork, a person with their hands outstretched, graduating from college, and the letters ‘i’ and ‘u’. This all flashed out as quickly as I could write it and if I stared longer, I could’ve attached more concepts to the symbol.
Besides the headache from staring at the psi on my blisteringly bright LCD, you can see semantic and episodic memories dancing into thought. Personally, my emotions started stimulating a little arousal toward the well-designed figure as a hint of pleasure permeated through me. You may have felt a negative tone toward the symbol. Hell, it could have even been because of the pitchfork look that you associated with the biblical devil. Then again, maybe you saw a young flower in bloom at first glance.
Everyone’s Heuristics Are Different
We each associate every object, person, word, kitten, piece of food, pitchfork, etc. differently. This is heuristics at its finest. If we processed each part of the world consciously, it would be far too unkind on your and my mental stability. So, we can feel one way toward a brand and then something as small as a name change can change your neural patterns to fire in a subtly different way. All of a sudden you start to see a bustling business where you had just seen a decrepit and unstable atmosphere. It’s all in the way our brains have evolved over the past millennia to do what dey do (that’s some ugly street slang for you old folks).
Relying on our innate schemas and heuristics inevitably leads to us all to have different perceptions, and therefore opinions. This is how we ultimately derive our reality. It is an amazing feat for the brain, but it can sometimes get us into as many problematic outcomes as it can help. Advertisers and marketers understand these psychological concepts. They and show how small changes can affect the overall public perception over time. As I sat parked in my car I realized I had thought far too long about the matter and that my car was slowly rolling backward without the E-brake locked in.
Try to Change Your Heuristics
Since then I’ve stopped analyzing the way my thoughts fill my head without making sure I’m properly parked. Now when I stroll by Fresh Creative Foods I no longer have my distorted perception of some strange sci-fi fog overshadowing the corner lot. It seems like a normal business and my thinking rarely trails to the grim moment a year or so ago. What I associate with that building has changed for the better and I feel better because of it. A name can tell you a lot about something, but remember, a little introspection into your own thought can reveal even more.