Adam Curry Experiments with “Soundvertising”

For a few podcasts now, Adam Curry has been referring to something he has dubbed “Soundvertising”, in which during his podcast he asks his audience to stop what they are doing, and remember where you are, and look around you and focus on one object as he says the word “Senseo“, a coffee machine that he has been promoting on his web site. He then tells his audience that he guarantees that every single time you look at that item, you will hear the word “Senseo”.

Adam then wondered if there was something to that, and if an advertising model could be built around it.

On episode 240, he played a snippet from the “Across the Sound” podcast in which the podcaster was talking about the fact that he was at a Starbucks listening to Adams podcast during one of these “experiments” and he found that he now associates the Starbucks logo with the Senseo.

I was actually surprised to hear that people were surprised by this “phenomenon” as this has been documented since the 1970’s when Richard Bandler and John Grinder came out with a model of human experience and therapy that they called NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) in which the human experience is broken up into “representational systems” (visual / auditory / kinesthetic). Their argument was that all human experience, both internal and external, is represented to the brain in one of these representational systems.

Part of their model was a technique called “Anchoring”, in which you can bring a person to the peak of a particular state, and touch them or position yourself visually, or even use a certain tone of voice and be able to re-access that state by replicating the action in which you anchored them. The Neuro Linguistic Programming Glossary defines anchoring the following way:

The process of associating an internal response with some external trigger (similar to classical conditioning) so that the response may be quickly, and sometimes covertly, re-accessed. Anchoring can be visual (as with specific hand gestures), auditory (by using specific words and voice tone), and kinesthetic (as when touching and arm or laying a hand on someone’s shoulder). Criteria for anchoring:

a) intensity or purity of experience;
b) timing; at peak of experience;
c) accuracy of replication of anchor.

Tony Robbins (author of Unlimited Power : The New Science Of Personal Achievement, the book that actually gave NLP a ton of attention in the 80’s through his Personal Power infomercials) defines anchoring with the following definition:

The process by which any representation (internal or external) gets connected to and triggers a subsequent string of representations and responses. Anchors can be naturally occurring or set up deliberately. An example of an anchor for a particular set of responses is what happens when you think of the way a special, much-loved person says your name.

Here’s a good example of auditory and visual anchoring. When I was a kid, my father was one of those people that did not get angry easily. He had a lot of patience. However, when he got really angry he would have a particular tone in his voice that would actually cause a lot of fear in his kids. I remember to this day hearing that tone in his voice and seeing the expression he has on his face and the fear which it triggered in me, knowing I had finally pushed him over the edge. That is an anchor that spans across representational systems. It still elicits an emotional response in me to this day, and all I have to do is imagine the tone and picture him using it in the way he did at the time.

Here’s another example. I was in a facilitation class in which we were required to be video taped facilitating a session with a group. I picked a strategy format for my presentation in which the goal was to move to a zero downtime environment during deployment of new software to the production systems. At the opening, I used position in front of the audience to mark points in time from the year 2000 over on the audiences left hand side (Americans internally represent time from left to right) and 3 years from now to their right. I then moved over to the right most side of the time-line I had drawn positionally on the floor and asked the group what the systems looked like “now”. When the group got caught up in certain problems that we had now, I was able to, with my hand, point to their left and say “we’ve already solved that back there, so lets describe what the environment looks now” (while pointing to where I was currently standing) and see an immediate shift in the level of anxiety in the group, allowing them to describe the problem as if it was in the past and talk about what we “did” to solve it, even though we hadn’t gone through those exercises yet. The presentation was only 10 minutes in length, but it was a great learning experience for me in the power of anchoring.

One final example. In a podcast in the Manager Tools series on One on Ones, the hosts talked about a new manager that began having One on Ones in his office soon after taking his position. He found that his employees were extremely stressed when they came to his office for their One on One sessions. After some time he spent asking questions, he found that the previous person in his position used to call people into this office to ream them and that they called the room the “Room of Pain”. This is a very good example of a location based anchor in which multiple representational systems are involved and the response was attached to the room in which the manager was having his sessions. When he switched the location of the One on One sessions, he changed the way in which his employees reacted to the sessions.

According to the many books I’ve read on the subject of NLP, when you can anchor a set of responses across representational systems at the peak of someones emotional state, the responses can be replicated when those stimuli are repeated with greater efficiency due to the multiple representational systems used in the anchor (making it more unique).

This is the core of the "remember exactly where you are right now (visual / auditory / kinesthetic anchor), pick an object and focus on it (visual) and I guarantee that the next time you see that object (presupposing to the listener that it will happen / visual anchor) you will hear the word (auditory) Senseo" "Soundvertising" technique that Adam is experimenting with.

There is a ton of work that has been done in the field of NLP and representational systems. Not all of it is understandable to the layman (I include myself in that category), but there are some really great books that make the material more accessible to the masses. The book that, in my opinion, explains the technique the best (and actually explains many of the concepts in NLP in the most understandable way) is still Tony Robbins book Unlimited Power : The New Science Of Personal Achievement. While its been about 12 or so years since I’ve read it and I’ve read many others since on the subject, this is still my favorite book of them all in explaining the hard core concepts of NLP in a way that non-scientists or non-therapists can understand.

So, in summary Adam, you are definitely on to something, and its quite astute of you to notice it if you haven’t had exposure to this material. However, it has been around for quite a while. Unfortunately, the way many NLP practitioners marketed NLP got it a characterization of “pop-psychology’ (or how Tony Robbins described it, a religion) more than a real model of how the brain works.

Still, there is some useful information if you actually study the stuff represented in the materials available on the subject. If you’d like to know more, there are quite a few books available on Amazon.