Google Looks Into Your Brain And Figures You Out

Google isn’t just the mother of all platforms. it’s also got your mobile buying decisions psyched out. The company knows you better than you know yourself.

Google has a concept it calls “micro-moments”: the times when one is using one’s mobile device, multitasking, and vulnerable to marketing messages. It’s up to Google advertisers, the company says, “to reach and influence those moments.”

We find this fascinating. Google likes to cite the work of a “behavioral economist,” Dan Ariely of Duke University, to figure all this out.

In a Google post, here's an example Ariely gives on how these micro moments work: “Robert is sitting on his comfy couch at home. He knows he's traveling on business next week and while watching TV and playing with his dog, he reaches for his phone to decide on a hotel. He has time while browsing to toggle back-and-forth among different hotel options, considering and contrasting the benefits of different hotels to weigh the convenience of location near his meeting versus the ability to earn hotel points at his preferred chain, with a guaranteed king-size bed, nonsmoking room—and also a gym.



"Tom is also on his mobile phone and needs to book a hotel room, but he's at the Denver airport. He had a late connection and just missed the last flight out for the night. He needs to book a hotel room for tonight! He's hoping to get one of the last available hotel rooms while calling his wife to rearrange child care drop-offs for the morning, and postponing his next morning's team meeting because he won't be there in time. Tom is experiencing one of the typical impacts of time pressure—the so-called ‘narrowing effect’—and as a consequence he pays attention only to the hotel's proximity to the airport. He is more likely to focus on location and choose one of the first hotels he finds that fits his criteria.”

As more and more buy transactions are made on mobile devices, it should be obvious that different criteria are at work here. I know that my wife and I, when on the road, have made hotel reservations as described above, but I can’t recall thinking much about it.

Google is unique in that it gets a social scientist to codify such behavior. We could go back to the 1930s, when a car company first utilized the services of a psychiatrist to determine that women strongly influenced car buying decisions, for a precedent. Google wants marketers to know that buying decisions are not random, that they are made when people are at certain points in time, and if you can reach them during that perhaps split second -- ONLY THROUGH GOOGLE, OF COURSE -- you will see buying action.

When Google offers marketing advice, you can be sure of one thing: only Google can deliver results fitting the mobile paradigm it's  outlined. Maybe Facebook could as well, but who else? Yahoo!? Don’t make us laugh.

In essence, time pressure encourages individuals to rule out products based on the one attribute they don't like rather than optimize based on the many attributes that they do like.

Time pressure narrows the consumer's focus, giving the marketer only a brief moment to grab their attention and direct their choices.”

There is definitely pushback on arguments like this. We welcome any marketers reading this to offer counter-arguments in the comments section. Ariely argues, “it’s critical for marketers to be there with their product or message when people are making decisions.” That sounds logical. And that would rule out print ads, access to which is pretty random, or conventional TV ads, ditto. What’s left? GOOGLE.

Some might think we at Programmatic Insider are Google boosters. We’re not. We are simply aware that Google and Facebook so dominate because the arguments they make and the stats they quote are hard to dispute. Brand marketers get the pitch.

Still, if you have a competing ad-tech platform, allowing arguments like this to stand is like conceding the programmatic field to Google. Which we all may have to do anyway.

If you find his ideas interesting, start a dialogue with Ariely. He's the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight, and co-creator of the film documentary "(Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies." His books include "Predictably Irrational," "The Upside of Irrationality," "The Honest Truth About Dishonesty," and "Irrationally Yours." He can be found at He says his free time is made up of “examining the irrational ways we all behave.”

1 comment about "Google Looks Into Your Brain And Figures You Out".
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  1. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, May 25, 2016 at 4:18 p.m.

    If we were to believe this piece from John then we are all one step away from being Colonized. No Constutuion or Privacy rights necessary.

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