Table of contents

The Fundamentals of Creation

Four pillars that help you to increase the effectiveness of your creation

1. Foreword

There are many ways in which scientific research can contribute to better results: science provides theories, measuring instruments and methods you can use to understand consumers and measure the effectiveness of your creation. However, this whitepaper shows that there is another way in which science contributes to better results. A way that is perhaps much more important than all the others. Science goes beyond 'measuring is knowing' and is a source of inspiration for brand managers, strategists and creatives. Science provides insights and theories that help you look at your customers in a different way. They help you to be better in your profession. But so much has been written and said about that profession. Where do you start reading? How do you use your scarce time as effectively as possible? This whitepaper shows you the way with bite-sized insights based on thorough research. The most influential books, reports and articles in our field have been brought together into a clear foundation: The Fundamentals of Creation. The Fundamentals of Creation consists of 4 pillars: Breakthrough - Engage - Stick and Trigger. For each of these pillars the most important scientific theories are summarized and translated into useful insights. Read them, but think mainly about it: how do I apply this to the case I'm working on right now? Force yourself to formulate at least two applications per pillar, so eight in total. And write them down. You'll see that that really works a lot better and that this whitepaper really deserves that attention.

Have fun reading, and let me know what you've learned!

Prof. Dr. Peeter Verlegh

Professor of Marketing

Free University of Amsterdam




2. Introduction

Solid basis for all Validators' creation research is: The Fundamentals of Creation. They are based on literature research into the effectiveness of advertisements and content. We researched more than thirty important international books and scholarly publications and invested at least a thousand hours in order to gain in-depth knowledge about how advertising works. This naturally includes the latest developments in neuro- and behavioural sciences. The final foundation covers four pillars that form the basis for obtaining clear insights into the optimisation possibilities of creations, namely: Breakthrough, Engage, Stick and Trigger.

All the pillars of The Fundamentals of Creation are equally important and will help you find out if your creation is taking advantage of every opportunity for effectiveness. It is very important that your creation stands out in the current media flow (Breakthrough), that it triggers an emotion (Engage), that it sticks better in the consumer's memory (Stick) and that it ultimately stimulates the consumer to make a purchase (Trigger).

In a competitive and fragmented market, it is sometimes difficult to see why your campaign has or has not worked. Simply measuring a call-to-action (Trigger) is therefore long outdated and gives too little insight into the underlying processes (Breakthrough, Engage and Stick). Continuous deepening of neuro- and behavioral science and innovation in the field of data analytics is therefore crucial to find out this 'why' and to understand what lies behind these results.

Validators use different techniques and methods to determine the effectiveness of your creation on the four pillars. Depending on your marketing objective, the type of expression and the question, a method or a combination of these can be used. After all, no expression, campaign or objective is the same.

For example, with Eyetracking we can map out exactly how well your expression breaks through the clutter and with the help of EmotionFlow we give you insight into the emotions of the consumer at the second level. We also use various implicit and intuitive measurement methods to map the associative connections of consumers with your brand and to find out to what extent your expression is able to trigger consumers.

In The Fundamentals of Creation we discuss all four pillars and take you into the underlying theories. In this way we bridge the gap between science and creation. So that you feel strengthened in the daily practice of making and inventing expressions. And a more solid basis for decisions on the way to a more effective campaign.

3. Breakthrough

Just because your ad looks good is no insurance that it will get looked at. How many people do you know who are impeccably groomed... but dull?'

- William 'Bill' Bernbach (1989) -

Secretly, we all know it: we need to catch consumers' attention to create stopping power. In the overwhelming media flow that consumers face on a daily basis, it is of great importance to get through the ad clutter to break away. This is quite a tricky job, because people simply do not have the cognitive capacity to continuously process all the stimuli in their environment in a conscious manner.

And once you've caught this precious attention from consumers, your creations are processed with little attention. The London Business School revealed in 2003 that during a commercial break, people are more concerned with other things than with the commercials that pass by. They talk to each other, read the newspaper, do household chores and zap. It turned out that even the most ardent commercial viewers only pay attention to a commercial in half the time. Mark Ritson (2003), (then) assistant professor at the London Business School, concluded:

"A commercial break is not a time when we watch advertising.

A large-scale and international study by Nelson-Field and Ewens (2019) also showed that 54% of all attention paid to television is low, while only 32% turned out to be high. The remaining 14% received pre/no attention.

But is it bad that we as consumers process content with little attention? For a long time it was thought that we could only absorb information with a high level of attention, but fortunately the research by Nelson-Field and Ewens (2019) shows that a brand can also be conveyed within a context of little attention. Earlier, Robert Heath (2012) also argued that advertisements can subtly influence us when they are processed with little attention.


Bottom-up triggers

And even though we usually pay little attention to creations, bottom-up triggers can cause our attention to suddenly shift and be drawn to a stimulus. These are triggers that are passive and externally driven. For example, you hardly pay attention to the commercial break on television, but suddenly your attention is drawn to an unexpected event, such as a sound effect. You then automatically have more attention for the advertising as a result of a mechanical process that takes place semi-consciously.

Sensory signals

Attention can be considered at a fundamental level as a protective mechanism against threats and danger. Our brain is (unconsciously) always searching for sensory signals (sensory cues), such as colors, movements, sounds and many other sensations to determine where we should focus our attention on. It enables us to quickly scan our surroundings for possible threats. Incidentally, we are particularly adept at detecting people and animals, the greatest threats to our survival. Human faces in advertisements are therefore very good triggers for attention.

Salience and novelty

In addition to the attention-grabbing capacity of sensory signals, there are two types of stimuli that attract our attention bottom-up: salience and novelty. Salience is the degree to which a stimulus is noticeably different from its surroundings. Such a stimulus stands out in relation to the background because we tend to notice signals that are unique and different from their surroundings.

Novelty is the degree of 'novelty' and this type of stimulus also strongly influences our field of attention. Earlier we mentioned that people have a low cognitive capacity. Because of this low cognitive capacity, people are naturally looking for important changes to determine where we need to focus our attention. This way, we do not have to constantly process everything and it costs our brain a lot less energy. New stimuli create a surprise reaction and draw attention to themselves.

Example salience

Peripheral field of vision

If we look at something we are able to see only a limited part in focus. Mainly the point on which we focus we see sharp. The rest of our peripheral field of vision becomes more and more blurred. However, it turns out that we can process and store observations in this periphery much better than we previously thought.

In fact, the peripheral field of vision allows us to quickly perceive and process fleeting movements. The peripheral field of vision is even better able to do this than the non peripheral field. It protects us from danger, just think of a fast approaching car that you can see coming from the corners of your eye.

Phil Barden (2013) noted that being visible in this peripheral field of vision increases the effectiveness of your expression. After all, consumers are on their way from A to B and even in this brief contact with your creation, from the corners of the consumer's eye, you want your brand to be visible. However, the visibility of your creation does not only have to do with bottom-up triggers, but also with top-down triggers.

Top-down triggers

Top-down triggers are much more personal and task-oriented. They are an active form of attention that is directed by the individual himself. An example: you search your information on the internet in a targeted way and an advertisement passes by that is relevant to you. In that case, you actively focus your attention on it. This process is much more controlled and conscious in nature.

In order to attract attention with a creation, the signals that a brand sends out will therefore have to match the goals of the consumer. In that respect, attention is more a 'pull' than a 'push' system. People let your message come in more if it is relevant to them. It is therefore best to ensure that the message and its elaboration are as close as possible to the goals and wishes of the consumer.

In addition to directing attention, relevance brings other benefits. You can read more about this in the chapter 'Trigger'.


Ingrained unconscious cognitive processes

At Validators we measure different creations using EyeCoding. In this tool, expressions are shown with a so-called peripheral filter. This is a kind of 'blurred' filter with which we imitate the peripheral field of vision. With this filter we simulate the 'ingrained' unconscious cognitive processes of looking and we see very accurately which elements within your creation will get the attention.

Equipped with peripheral filter.


4. Engage

Nobody doubts anymore that emotions play an important role in the functioning of advertising. Creatives knew for a long time that good creations know how to loosen up something in the recipient and really create something. The best engagement with your brand is created by conveying an emotion. And now let this have a very positive effect on the effectiveness of your creation. In order to understand what emotions can do for your creation, it is important to consider what we already know about emotions from science.

Scientists have been working on the subject for a long time and their number is still increasing. For example, Paul Ekman began his research into facial expressions and body movements as early as 1954, which later resulted in his theory of the six basic emotions (joy, sorrow, anger, fear, surprise and disgust) that are the same for everyone (Ekman & Friesen, 1978).

Somatic markers

Around the 1990s neuroscientists Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux (1996) argued that emotion is essential for rational thinking and behaviour. Damasio's 'somatic marker' hypothesis (1996) suggests that we continuously and automatically evaluate our decisions based on how they make us feel. These markers are stored in our (unconscious) memory based on previous learning experiences. Damasio and LeDoux argued that these 'gut feelings' work closely together with our rational assessments when making choices.

From advertising practice, the evidence of the impact of emotions accumulates. For example, Procter & Gamble (2019) recently reported that its own analysis showed that advertisements aimed at creating an emotional response were eight times more successful than those that did not. Binet and Field (2013) are also very clear about this:

 Emotional campaigns produce considerably more powerful long-term business effects than rational persuasion campaigns.  

Emotions are therefore definitely valuable for your creation. But where is the origin of emotions?

The limbic system: emotion and memory

Emotions have their origin in the limbic system, which is evolutionarily one of our oldest brain structures. The so-called 'amygdala' and the 'hippocampus' are the most important structures for emotion within the limbic system. On a basic level you can say that the hippocampus is involved in encoding an event with focus on the context, while the amygdala is important for encoding the emotion itself. The interaction between these two brain areas takes place via 'thick neuronal pathways' and ensures that the coded emotions from the amygdala are merged with the context from the hippocampus. This process forms the basis for our emotional memory.

Several studies have therefore shown that the involvement of an emotion in the 'creation' of a memory ensures that the memory is more clearly stored. This makes it easier to retrieve the memory later on (Dolcos, LaBar & Cabeza, 2004).


"Advertising is a way of conditioning people. It's about creating brand preference through creating emotional associations that buy us human behaviour in an irrational way.'

  - Lesson Binet, Warc Anatomy or Effectiveness, (2019) –

Emotion therefore strongly determines the storage of a brand or message in a consumer's memory. And let precisely this now be crucial for your brand building. Research by WARC (2019) and BBC StoryWorks (2018) shows that this is mainly about the intensity of emotion. So it's not so much about what emotion is evoked by the creation, it can even be negative emotions that cause you to be remembered. But apart from a better memory, emotions also fulfil other important functions in the effectiveness of creations.

More frequent advertising leads to faster brand preference

Zajonc (1980) was one of the first scientists to deal with the interaction between emotion and cognition. He pointed to the mere exposure effect, which means that repeated exposure to a creation promotes the positive appreciation of this creation. This effect is even visible when the creation is not consciously recognised. In other words: by advertising regularly, your consumers will be exposed to your brand more often, which will make them more positive about your brand and ultimately prefer your brand more quickly.

Emotions therefore play a key role in the effectiveness of your creation and are important both for the memory of your brand and for the attitude towards your creation. But how do you make sure that you evoke the desired emotions?

Mirror neurons

In the chapter Breakthrough, we briefly touched on the importance of faces in advertisements. Faces attract and retain attention. An additional advantage is that the use of faces also offers the possibility to convey an actual emotion to the viewer.

The mirror neurons in our brain ensure that we are constantly imitating others. This sounds more annoying than it is. We are very social beings and it enables us to empathize with others. So by using expressive facial expressions in your commercial you increase the chance that you will actually convey this emotion to the viewer.


But how do you measure this emotional response?

As mentioned earlier, Paul Ekman investigated various facial expressions and body movements in the 1970s. Eventually he arrived at six universal basic emotions: joy, sorrow, anger, fear, amazement and disgust.

We took the results of his research into the development of a pragmatic tool that penetrates the emotional experience of your expression: EmotionFlow. This tool combines A.I. and Facial Coding and provides scene-to-scene insights into the perception of your content. Actually, EmotionFlow predicts the power of your creation. Whether it's TV commercials, online videos, speeches or banners, emotion remains the difference for an effective campaign. The Heineken commercial below is a good example of a commercial that scores well on happiness.

5. Stick

"Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.

  - Bill Bernbach, co-founder of DDB, (1982) -

Usually there is a considerable time between the moment we are exposed to an advertisement and the moment we make a purchase. Successful advertisements manage to leave a trail in the consumer's long-term memory. This can be an image, a message, a feeling, a thought or any other association between the expression and the brand. In this way, a form of brand preference is built that is expressed at the moment of the purchase decision. We do not always have to consciously remember this formed connection, even on a subconscious level they do play a role. They stick!

How does our memory work?

Cognitive psychology and neuroscience has taught us that memory is a complex concept consisting of different types of memory, each with their own functions, and that the nature and content of our memories can change over time.

Memory is essentially the process of storing (encoding) and retrieving information (retrieval). And even though our memory seems to work so well on the basis of this process, there are countless moments when we forget things. Fortunately, so-called cues can help us a long way...

Just think of the moment you were standing in the bedroom and you thought of grabbing something in the living room. You walk to the living room and you completely forget what you were going to do. As soon as you walk back to the bedroom, it suddenly occurs to you again. In this example, the bedroom is your cue. It is the room where you thought you were going to do something. Cues are, as it were, small hangers in the memory that make the process of storing and retrieving information easier.


New memories on existing foundation

According to the Associative Network Theory (ANT, Sommer & Wennekers, 2003), new memories are not formed in isolation. They are often related to existing memories. In this way, the associative network in our brain continues to grow.

A big misconception, however, is that memories are in a fixed place in the brain. Memories are spread all over the brain and are connected to each other byneural networks. The brain stores memories by making connections between the different neurons (stronger). Our brain builds connections between signals when they originate together in time or space and especially: when they occur repeatedly.

Networking of connections

Repetition, repetition, repetition

The power of repetition is very important. The more often the exposure, the more the neurons become entangled, the stronger the associative connections become and the better we can retrieve these memory traces. Think back to the other power of repetition that we discussed in the chapter Engage: the mere exposure effect.

Higher brand effects by exploiting emotional peak moments

In addition to the convincing contribution of the mere exposure effect, emotions also play a major role in storing and retrieving information. In The Science of Memory, BBC Global News (2008) conducted research into the relationship between emotion and long-term memory in the creation of brand effects.

The key insights:

  1. The best storage in memory takes place after peaks of emotional intensity. This is about the peaks in emotion and not so much about what emotion is triggered.
  2. The position of emotional peaks is important: the sooner, the better. They show that the emotional impact does not have to be preserved until the end of the commercial, but should be integrated earlier and more often in order to achieve optimal memory effects.
  3. Deliberately placing branding moments just after the more intense emotional moments can lead to a higher brand awareness.


It should be clear: it's important to create branding moments after an emotional response.

This does not mean that you have to show your logo after every emotional response, which is not preferred among creatives anyway. Jenni Romaniuk and Byron Sharp (2018) concluded that brands would do well to make use of 'Distinctive Brand Assetsthat allow for a much more subtle form of branding. Distinctive Brand Assets are visual or auditory cues such as colors, slogans or characters that are linked to your brand in a consumer's memory. In this way, sensory cues (Remember what we talked about in the chapter Breakthrough?) can make a big contribution to building your brand.

They make sure your brand is recognized faster. By using these assets you can also subtly make your brand recognizable, even when your brand name is not in the picture or pronounced. It is important that they are only linked to your brand and not to one of your competitors. Examples of strong Distinctive Brand Assets are the orange hats of Unox, the neighbours of VodafoneZiggo or the golden arches of McDonald's.

The golden arches of McDonald's

6. Trigger

"You decide faster than you think.

- Daniel Kahneman, 2011 –

In essence, the goal of your creation is to realize behavioral change. You want consumers to make a purchase from you in order to ultimately realize your business goal. To achieve this, it is important to gain insights into the decision-making processes of consumers. However, this is easier said than done. Our brain makes 95% of the decisions unconsciously. And we use the other 5% to justify these decisions.

Dual Process Model

Following this is the Dual Process Model of psychologist Daniel Kahneman. This model suggests that we have two different systems in our brain. System 1 is a system that works unconsciously, emotionally and fully automatically, enabling us to make decisions quickly and intuitively. Just think of the calculation 2+2 that we can calculate quite easily and without any effort. System 2, on the other hand, is a lot slower and more rational. This system is conscious and requires much more energy from our brain. An example of this is doing your tax return.

According to Kahneman (2011) we make our decisions in today's world of hyperchoice mainly with system 1. The fully automatic and unconscious character of this system ensures that we can react actively and directly to our environment without it costing our brain too much energy. After all, we are and always will be convenience animals.

Heuristics and biases

There are simply too many daily choices to make them all rational, slow and conscious. A good understanding of system 1 therefore offers interesting opportunities to influence the behaviour of consumers. Cialdini (2007), professor of psychology and marketing, knows this like no other and has been accepted worldwide for years with his basic principles to influence our unconscious behaviour. Responding to consumer heuristics and biases can help to give consumers a push in the right direction, but also to raise awareness of your Category Entry Points (CEPs).

Category Entry Points

In 2010 Byron Sharp introduced the Category Entry Points (CEPs), or: situations in which a consumer needs your product or service. Sharp is convinced about this: the more your brand is top-of-mind, the sooner consumers will think of your brand in potential buying situations. And the more consumers think about your brand, the more likely they are to buy. It is therefore extremely important to conquer an emphatic place in the mind of the consumer, this is what Byron Sharp calls mental availability. But how do you conquer this lucrative mental mockery?

CEP relevance

There are different types of CEPs. It is important to put your creations on the CEPs that are most relevant to your brand and best fit your brand. When a situation arises it is important that your brand is considered and not another (competitive) brand.

We always advise our clients to choose a maximum number of CEPs, depending on the objective of your research. And as soon as you know which CEPs you are going to load, you will see that you can direct your creations much better. A well-considered choice of CEPs is also important because some CEPs will be more relevant to consumers than others. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the relevance of your creation plays a crucial role in the degree of attention the consumer pays to your creation.

Byron Sharp's How Brands Grow


"The trigger is: 'I need a drink', 'I want a car', 'I need nappies', 'I need a home loan', whatever that may be and then the job of the brand is to get into that consideration set..."

  - Adam Ferrier (2018) -

Consistency is most important at CEPs. Prolonged and repeated exposure to the strategy can ensure that a relevant situation is strongly linked to your brand. If such a relevant buying situation occurs, there will be a greater chance that the consumer will think about your brand and proceed to purchase.

Triggers & Barriers

Besides determining the relevance, it is important to identify the triggers & barriers around your brand. They are the reasons to buy your product and not to buy it. Familiarity with a brand alone is not enough. One must have a trigger to proceed to purchase.

In order to make purchases easy and interesting, the 'path to the product' should be as easy as possible and thus contain as few obstacles as possible. After all, they ensure that a consumer abandons the buying process. That is why it is important to find out what these barriers are, so that as a marketer you can focus on removing them.

The ease of execution has to do with two components: is the person able to exhibit the desired behavior(ability) and does the right situation occur to exhibit the behavior(opportunity). Behaviours that arise from a strong motivation of the consumer or from a great ease will occur more often and more quickly. Therefore, always choose behaviors that can be influenced and that have a high chance of occurring frequently. As soon as your brand has these specific behaviors of your consumers in mind, you can focus your creation on them.

In summary, consumers make their decisions mainly unconsciously and intuitively. The trick is to understand these underlying processes and to pop into the consumer's brain at exactly the right moment. Fortunately, you can already give consumers a push in the right direction by responding to heuristics and biases, but also by making the link between relevant situations and your brand always strong(er).

At Validators we measure to what extent your creation contributes to this link. We offer insights into the extent to which your creation contributes to the brand consideration per CEP and whether you are turning the right buttons with your creation.

"Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.

David Ogilvy, Confessions of an advertising man (1963) -


Whatever you encounter, whatever of the elements in your creation you want to test, we like to think along with you.

In every project we do, we keep your end goal in mind: successful campaigns that lead to a change in (buying) behaviour and at the same time yield hard euros. Binet & Field stated in 2013 that it's a win-win strategy to ensure that you develop brand building activities for long-term sustainable growth, and customer activation activities for the short term. We're happy to help you develop the sharp insights you need.

For a clear overview of all our tools and tests we refer you to the STORE, the online platform to quickly test your creation. The Fundamentals of Creation is a solid foundation for all the tests we offer.


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