The Consumer’s Mind: We Make Irrational Decisions


Do you know the reason casinos make money?

It’s pretty obvious. The odds are in the casino’s favor. Stretched out over the long-term, casinos have a mathematical advantage over gamblers.

Gamblers know the odds yet even when they’re ahead they continue to bet knowing the odds are against them in the long run. Why do gamblers do this?

It’s known as escalation of commitment. Gamblers that are winning will often continue to gamble even though the odds remain in the casino’s favor.

It works the other way too. Gamblers that are losing continue to bet thinking they can get back to even with their money even though the odds are against them.

Gambling is one example of the irrational decisions people make.

How Irrational Thinking Impacts Brands And Consumers

I recently had the chance to watch Martin Lindstrom speak. Martin has written many books and has performed research on the topic of branding. His interest is in the way brands can appeal to the consumer’s irrational mind. A few items Martin discussed align with my view toward The Consumer’s Mind.

Much of what we do each day is irrational. Emotion drives our decisions. We only look for logic to help us confirm our emotional decisions.

Branding has become very much about tapping into the emotional nature of consumers.

A classic example is Coca-Cola and Pepsi. At some point in our lives we became attached to one brand over the other even though the actual taste difference is negligible. These two brands connect positive emotions with their products or more importantly, with their brand. It’s very difficult to persuade someone to change even if there is logic. This is the power brands have when they tap into the consumer’s irrational mind.

Branding Ethics

The reason Martin Lindstrom does his work in branding is to encourage brands to work ethically.

I’ve worked with and have seen brands that have impeccable ethics. They put the community before profits. The great thing is that this approach usually leads to more profits because the brands that have high ethics are trustworthy.

Unfortunately, there have been instances when brands have abused their understanding of the consumer’s irrational mind. One such example occurred in the smoking industry.


When research was coming out that smoking was harmful to one’s health there were service announcements that warned of the dangers of smoking. Yet some of these ads increased the likelihood that people would smoke. The ads that increased the likelihood of smoking had two emotional triggers. First, those that were curious about smoking became more curious after hearing the facts about smoking. It triggered the rebellious and curious nature of some individuals. Second, smoking ads worked as an addiction trigger for those that already smoked. Smoking addiction is often triggered by the thought of smoking. For these people seeing a reminder of smoking reminded them that they could satisfy their need by having a cigarette. The ads that worked to thwart smoking were the ones that also played on emotion. When anti-smoking ads made it seem like others were quitting smoking the ads were effective.

In both cases, irrational and emotion thinking overtook common sense. The facts were the facts in both cases, but people looked past the dangers of smoking for irrational reasons.

Rules For Branding

Consumers have an irrational mind.

We are all driven by emotion. We make irrational decisions about brands and we use available facts mostly to justify our emotional decisions.

As a brand, there are two choices. You can deceive your target market or you can be open and honest.

Here are some of the guidelines from Martin Lindstrom on ethical marketing that I find very useful. Companies I’ve worked with often have similar guidelines and rules and I’ve provided similar items to clients as well:

  1. Don’t do to kids what you wouldn’t do to your own. By extension, don’t do to consumers what you wouldn’t do to your friends and family.
  2. Almost any product or service has a downside. Don’t hide the negatives. Tell it as it is and be open.
  3. All your endorsements and testimonials have to be real. Don’t fake it.
  4. Be open and transparent about environmental impact.
  5. Secure ethnical sign off from your target group each time a new campaign or product is about to be launched.

We’re all irrational.

Consumers make irrational connections to brands and decision makers at companies can sometimes get caught up in unethical marketing by irrational thinking.

Use these rules to help keep your brand on the right track. It’s good for you and it’s good for your customers.

About the author

Jeremy Choi

I’m a husband, father, entrepreneur, mentor, and an irredeemable golf addict. Possibly like you, my big hairy audacious goal (vision) is to make a positive dent in this world. I write about creating better leaders, workers, and people. I also write about my experiences in all aspects of my life. These ideas are my experiences living & learning through my own core values; integrity, authenticity, leadership, inspire, and health.

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