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Tap into the subconscious brand-building power of the airport environment - airports deliver on key attributes for the B2B sector
Welcome to the third extract from the recently released global research, ‘Airports - Open for Business’. In this part, we examine the influence of advertising on the subconscious and its role in our decision-making processes. Previous instalments available here: part 1, part 2

The research comes from a comprehensive study of over 4,400 C-suites and senior Business Decision Makers (BDMs), from 12 major markets.

A law of 'least effort'

The human brain loves taking shortcuts when it comes to decision-making. Conscious and rational thinking processes are a taxing affair for the brain, and so naturally, they’re avoided most of the time. ‘Thinking slow’, coined by Psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, is the act of thoughtful and deliberate thinking; weighing up options and using evidence from our conscious memory in an attempt to predict and control the world around us. It’s a system of thinking we like to believe is the default setting on our life and is known as System 2.

But System 2 is not our default mode. Our day-to-day thinking is dominated by another system, System 1, which is ‘Thinking fast’. As the name suggests, responses from this system are ready in less than 600 milliseconds (ms). Feeding into these responses is a vast network of subconscious associations that’s been quietly constructed from all our experiences and interactions in life so far. A network of nodes representing thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Nodes which activate together more frequently become closer; their path of activation quicker.

Psychologists call the way one node can prepare the next one for activation ‘priming’. By measuring the time taken for a response after being prompted with something, we can get an insight into how one node (thoughts/feelings/behaviours) ‘primes’ the next. In this way, we get a glimpse at the network of subconscious associations informing System 1.


Bringing that theory to a real-world challenge at JCDecaux, we sought to explore what key B2B brand qualities are already associated with different media types in the subconscious of our BDM audience. Our main hypothesis was that different media had different subconscious associations with certain qualities (e.g. modern, established, influential) and that these qualities would transfer themselves to brands advertising in that media space.

Using Implicit Association Testing (IAT), we primed participants with 1 out of 5 possible videos of advertising environments: Airport, Online, TV, Newspapers, and Magazines. The IAT test works by priming participants with a clip from a media environment (e.g. airport advertising), then asking participants whether they would associate various attributes with brands advertising in that environment. The test is designed to be responded to quickly, with button responses for yes and no. Their response times are measured, and this provides the basis for inferring their subconscious association between attributes and media environment. With strong associations, agreement comes easily, and so response time is shorter. Conversely, weak associations take longer to process. 


When looking at the attributes B2B brands need most in the modern age: they must be agile and adaptable to change; forward-thinking market leaders, with international reach. The airport environment delivered substantial increases for B2B brands on these attributes, standing out from all other media.
Graph 1. Global level reaction speeds for top-performing attributes, ranked by difference between Airport and ‘Other media’ (largest to smallest)
Many of these attributes make sense with our experience of the airport: it’s a vast, modern hub of transport. It commands an immediate authority and wields supreme influence over the travel plans of all its occupants.

The above results are based on aggregated comparisons of all other media types versus the airport environment, but there are interesting results coming from its comparison with specific media types. Online, for example, provides some surprising results.
Graph 2. Global level reaction speeds for top-performing attributes, split by Airport and Online media conditions
The above chart clearly demonstrates the strength of advertising a B2B brand in an airport versus the online space: the brand becomes ingrained in BDMs’ subconscious as much more international, agile and influential, without compromising on a sense of modernity. Airports are some of the earliest icons of modern international business, and as an advertising space, the benefits of this for brands is clear.


The study has helped us understand how the airport environment can help B2B brands appear more ‘influential’, ‘forward-thinking’ and ‘international’ (to name just the strongest performing attributes) in the subconscious of global business decision makers. Looking at these findings through the lens of Tversky & Kahneman’s Nobel prize-winning theory, it’s only natural that changes in the strength of subconscious associations will feed into decisions people - like the C-suite travellers at the airport– will eventually make about the brands preferred by their company.

The airport environment can deliver important implicit messaging for a B2B brand at an emotional level, just by virtue of advertising in this space. The feelings a consumer has for a brand are critical for decisions they make about them, and airports help develop these feelings quickly.

For brand-building, Out of Home is unrivalled - the airport environment fosters powerful brand sentiment, delivering on key attributes for the B2B sector – authority (‘market leader’/’influential’), scale (‘International’) and modernity (‘forward-thinking’).

View the Airports: Open for Business infographic here

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Published in For brands