Puppies, Branding, and The Dopamine Effect

Dogs behave mostly by instinct and it illustrates the reason people select their preferred brands.

A few months back, we added a new member to the family at the Herndon house. His name is Asher. He has long blonde hair, is very cuddly, and loves chewing on plastic cups.

Asher is our labradoodle. For those of you who have dogs, you know that for the first few weeks, you spend a lot of time training them to behave and not ruin your stuff. You may train them to sit, stay, shake or go p**ty. When Asher does well, we lavish him with attention. When he doesn’t, he gets a much different response. After only a few weeks, the dog may behave better than the average teenager.

Dogs behave mostly by instinct, they respond to commands and drool upon hearing the dinner bell. Interestingly, this is for the same reason people develop habits or select brands. The reason?


The natural effects of dopamine plays a big role. In short, dopamine is the chemical released by nerve cells, sending signals to the brain’s reward and pleasure center. Basically, a dopamine release makes you feel good. Dopamine is associated with addiction, often because it helps regulate movement and emotional responses.

Functionally, it helps move us toward the things that are rewarding and away from those that are not. Certain activities or environmental influences trigger a release of dopamine, motivating you to return to that activity to seek that feeling again. It can also work in reverse, essentially warning you what to avoid. It’s a natural survival mechanism that shows up in interesting ways in our everyday life.

Why do you think it’s so hard to put down those sweets even if you know the calories won’t serve you well? On the other hand, when you see that scale hit the number you like, it gives you the motivation to stay the course of your diet. It’s because these are dopamine triggers. The trigger to keep eating for survival, or keep achieving a goal that represents progress.

As marketers, If we understand how this chemical reaction happens in the brain, we can use that intelligence to our advantage, and increase the efficacy of our message.

It’s through telling stories that we trigger the brain activity that induces a rush of dopamine in the listener. In fact, when you share facts, people hear the information, and process logically, but often, are not motivated. However when you provide the same information in the form of a story--perhaps a person, with a name and a face who is affected by those facts--your audience is experientially carried through the emotional journey within the story. In a way, storytelling is synchronizing the speaker and listener. Telling effective stories is a powerful way to encourage a customer response.

This means that a dose of dopamine increases the likelihood that someone will remember your brand and be motivated to buy.

Reward. Motivation. Behavior.

Dopamine is triggered by laughing, creating, learning or experiencing. This can come from lots of things like engaging images or moving music. The positive feeling is a dopamine reaction, which motivates our future behavior. That’s why ads that show us a moment in life that we want to experience can increase the chance that we will buy the product being advertised. Because it appeals to our emotional reward center. Most decisions (and many would argue that perhaps all decisions) that we make are first emotional, after which we rationalize them. An alternate ad focusing on the features of a product appeals to the rational side of us, but no matter how logical it is to buy a product, the impact is not nearly as strong. How many smokers do you know that are already aware that it is not healthy? The information is not more powerful than the dopamine stimulation they get from the experience.

Dopamine and Memory.

Things that trigger a dopamine rush tend to stick in our brain. This is because our brains are designed to seek that reward yet again, so we remember the source and the characteristics and clues that that reward experience. This means that a dose of dopamine increases the likelihood that someone will remember your brand and be motivated to buy.

Think about your brand, and how you present your product or service. Perhaps as simple as the copy and images in your advertising or on your website. Do you present features or services for people to forget, or induce a dopamine rush they will seek again and again?

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