When You Pair Image and Narrative Psychology with Behavior Design, You Get Prevagen® Commercials
This meticulous dissection of Prevagen® commercials underscores just how brands leverage image and narrative psychology, as well as elements of behavior design, to create monetizeable storytelling.
If you’re into commercialized brand storytelling, advertising design (with behavioral design contexts), and the realms of image and narrative psychology, this super deep-dive and granular dissection of Prevagen’s® ‘Susan, 52’ TV spot is right up your cognitive marketing alley.
But first, the fine print.
As I’m no lawyer nor litigator, the ensuing exploration does not address:
- ethical implications related to brand storytelling, and/or
- the misleading claims, in particular, related to Prevagen’s® marketing narratives;
Very simply, I’m merely pointing out noteworthy observations on ***HOW*** image and narrative psychology, when paired with advertising that takes behavioral design aspects into account, CAN be stitched together to create commercialized, visual stories that penetrate the consumer psyche.
Let’s start with the commercial itself
In case you haven’t watched my chosen Prevagen® commercial for granular dissection here on Medium, I’ve embedded it below for your 1:25-minutes of viewing pleasure (and you should absolutely spare the 1:25-minutes to watch if you want to follow along beyond this point)👇🏼
This Susan-52 spot runs for 1:25-minutes exactly (iSpot.tv showcases the abridged, 28-second version in case you’re interested) and cost Prevagen® $2M to air.
Now let’s see how the Prevagen® brand optimizes each and every single second of their ‘Susan-52' commercial with elements of image and narrative psychology and with behavioral design contexts.
The first opening second (0:00–0:01)
So when we’re talking about brain and memory supplements, why on earth then would the marketing folks at Prevagen® start their pill commercial with a place image showcasing the Golden Gate Bridge hovering over the San Francisco Bay?
In other words: what the heck do this bridge and bay of water have *anything* to do with memory supplements? :)
Well, when we start to take aspects of narrative and image psychology into account, then this first opening second of the Golden Gate Bridge — majestically shown amidst open blue skies and shimmering bay waters — starts to make some gentle sense.
And that’s because, from a narrative psychology perspective, we as audience members are visually (and cognitively) transported away from sterile, medical laboratories or boring manufacturing plants producing pills or distributing Prevagen® pill products … to this stunning urban landscape set outdoors; a scene bustling not only with human activity but also ripe with infinite possibilities and awaiting adventures; an everyday city scene juxtaposed amidst the grandiosity of nature’s open skies and azure waters.
A quick word about ‘place image’
To those not trained in image psychology, a ‘place image’ isn’t just an image about a place. I mean, yes it is’ish … but it’s a bit more involved than that.
Place image in the realm of image psychology incorporates “concepts including brand, visual image, reputation, the sense of place, and the identity of the place — all of which create an overall image of a place and can lead to investment or abandonment” (Clouse & Dixit, 2017).
Last but hardly least, place image has “serious ramifications for decisions made about the place as people choose to stay, work, visit, and invest” (Clouse & Dixit, 2017).
Given the above description about place image, then it becomes more clear to see how and why Prevagen® marketing folks meticulously cherry-picked the Golden Gate Bridge setting before introducing the Susan character into their commercialized brand narrative.
Color theory, for one, seems to be playing a definite role in their selection.
In fact, the Golden Gate Bridge place image is, upon observation, predominantly blue, and those familiar with color theory know that the color blue is a primary color. So right away, our eyes (and brains) are visually exposed to a foundational color; a color that belongs to what colorists define as one of the “the cool colors” of the color wheel, which are colors referencing “cooler” temperatures. Blue, in fact, is often akin to water, snows, skies, and generally nature’s softer side.
So this blue dominance in the Prevagen Susan-52 spot’s opening first second subconsciously communicates to our brains a certain level of peace and soothing tranquility and helps sets a soft tone of the narrative as we shift gears beyond the setting into the character of Susan. The carefully selected gentle guitar music playing the background underscores this intended, relaxed space in narrative time.
Meeting Susan (0:01–0:13)
So now we meet Susan.
At the tail end of 0:01, we hear Susan introducing herself; her voice is superimposed over the Golden Gate Bridge place image before the visual setting image changes and that’s when we actually get to SEE Susan, not just hear her, by 0:02. This masterful voice (auditory)-to-visual shift to Susan helps not only to transition the narrative from the Golden Gate Bridge to Susan but ALSO to purposefully enable our auditory attention without the Susan-visual. We can hear Susan’s voice, which heightens interest and intrigue because we can’t yet see her. So we subconsciously stick around for another moment or to for the “Susan reveal” so that we may learn what she actually looks like; so that we may pair voice to face, and face to human.
Notably, the first words out of Susan’s mouth are, “I’m Susan, I’m 52 and I live in San Fransisco.”
This purposeful, laser-focused introduction cuts through the narrative chase as, with any television commercial, we have an extremely finite time to work with in terms of character development.
In contrast, film directors usually have 1–3 hour windows to play with so the storytelling can devote far more time to get us, the audience, to care about a protagonist. With a commercial, however, brand storytellers only have mere seconds. And in this specific Prevagen® commercial, the company dedicates exactly 14-seconds towards their Susan-protagonist’s development.
In these 14-seconds, Susan notably shares with us:
- her age (52)
- where she lives (San Francisco)
- her profession (“a Sales Manager”)
Notice the “Marathon Runner” caption on the lower left part of the screen (see Figure B above). While Susan doesn’t dive into this aspect of her life in her immediate intro, she does share it in upcoming scenes so stand by for that because this part of the narrative plays an important and supporting role, as we’ll soon cover.
Yet while this augmentary, “marathon runner” aspect of Susan’s life is not delved into in her intro, it is an immediately important and indirect aspect of her character; because we generally tend to understand that marathon runners are much more than casual joggers — they’re pretty hardcore and optimal athletes who align themselves with all things fitness and health. Such a person goes out of their way to align themselves with diet and exercise and this persona is known to carefully research whatever they put into their bodies and so on. This implicitly-made point helps reinforce our understanding that Susan is someone deeply passionate about her health and it’s THIS VERY POSITIONING that’s vital towards connecting with Prevagen’s® intended target audience.
One more positioning note worth mentioning is Susan’s “Sales Manager” title, which speaks not just to a professional person but actually a longtime careerist, and also someone who’s educated and holds a white-collar role. Again, this is all about crafted positioning, and Susan (or rather the Prevagen® brand storytellers) tie this vital, professional aspect of Susan’s life to the need for memory supplements, a critical point we shall explore shortly.
Overall, the whole point of these 14-seconds is to get us to identify with Susan.
But it’s not enough for us to idenitfy with Susan; we must also learn to CARE about her as well.
Identity is one thing; it speaks to feeling some kind of affinity, a kinship or relation of sorts, implicit or explicit. But you can be close to something, or someone, and not really care that much about them. Identity, to some degree, is more proximity than it is affective.
Therefore, it’s not enough for us to rotely get to know Susan and her “demographic fact sheet” … the Prevagen® brand storytellers want us to EMOTIONALLY CARE about Susan as well, and that’s what the next 3–4 seconds in the commercial are about.
Caring about Susan (0:14–0:43)
To get us to emotionally care about Susan well beyond her stats, we learn that she “LOVES READING.” Oooh wow! :)
With this avid bookworm confession, Susan starts to become less of “just a person” to “more human.”
Susan’s sharing more relatable aspects of her narrative by telling us she enjoys not only a relatively cognitive activity, something often deemed as honorable and “educated” but ALSO is a highly enjoyable pastime many folks can relate to.
Susan also explains she’s deeply passionate about healthy cooking, a confession visually underscored with Susan chopping super perfectly fresh vegetables, accentuated by bountiful produce and a corresponding, jumbo yellow bell pepper waiting to be sliced on the cutting board scene (Figure D).
Susan then goes on to share how much she looks forward to Saturday mornings to go shopping for fresh produce at the local farmer's markets (more positioning).
These scenes are masterfully playing their intended roles: they are helping us, the audience, understand that Susan’s passions for reading and healthy cooking are “just like us.” We relate to Susan, and if we can relate to her, we can start to like her, and if she becomes more likable, we’ll care about her.
To expand on Susan’s health passions and character likeability, the brand storytellers now weave in how much running has “always” been a huge part of Susan’s life.
The scenes from 0:37–0:43 show Susan not just running or exercising but rope back into the introductory place image from 0:01. This looping back to the original setting scenery helps create narrative continuity; the Golden Gate Bridge visual serves as a symbol our brains can easily identify and recollect from the beginning of this brand story, thus creating a sense of familiarity and relevance.
By the time we reach 0:43, the Prevagen® brand has devoted nearly 30-seconds to not just present Susan’s character but to get us to care about Susan as a real person.
And this is key because if we can learn to emotionally care about Susan, then we’ll care about her plights or challenges as well as how she overcomes or solves them.
So now that we’ve been primed for Susan’s “pain point;’ or in narrative scholarship, the story’s climax, we’ll learn that Susan has a problem, a challenge of sorts in need of resolution (and not just any resolution but one that’s tightly aligned to her healthy lifestyle).
Remember: everything before this pain point gets introduced has helped build a climactic rise of sorts. We met Susan, now we care about her, and now we’re going to find out what the heck has been ailing her, despite all her fitness and healthy diet efforts.
The memory loss problem … and Susan’s solution (0:44–1:17)
So Susan confesses she has trouble remembering stuff.
But trouble “remembering” stuff is a broad problem with an even broader spectrum so the Prevagen® storytellers immediately have her micro-frame her issue as “small things” (so that audience members don’t think Susan’s talking about all-out amnesia, for example, lol) and immediately back that up with a widely-relatable example, such as not “remembering if someone had called back” and so on.
But the key detail in this small memory problem confession is that Susan, as she explains it, wasn’t just dealing with annoying memory loss. It was just enough memory loss to alarm her. In Susan’s own words, “it started to scare me.”
Scared enough, it seems, to go try Prevagen after she “heard about it.”
Ok, let’s pause for a moment.
The operative word in Susan’s rather fat-free memory loss dilemma is “scared.” Scared = fearful or fear. Fear, in turn, can be a great motivator for action. And the action here that Prevagen® is trying to influence consumers with is the one by which anyone with similarly small memory loss problems will go buy some Prevagen®.
Of all descriptional emotional words, why use “scared?”
Because fear is primal. If we fear something, we’ll likely want to do something to mitigate or prevent the fear outright. Reducing fear, in turn, reduces risk and increases safety and well-being. This fear aspect of our primal brains is innate in all of us and while the intensity of our fears may vary, we can broadly agree that fear — as a whole — is not an emotion or state of mind most of us would like to perpetually walk around without addressing to some degree.
Therefore, the motivational focus that Susan’s story aspires to influence consumers with is that of PREVENTION; preventing the fear of (small) memory loss as well as preventing (small) memory loss itself.
Susan does go on to explain how her taking Prevagen® started to work for her. She noticed her memory became “sharper” and was glad she regained some of her recall.
And then Susan concludes her story with an expression of regret; if only she had begun taking Prevagen® 5–6 years ago.
With this ending statement, we learn that Susan, despite turning her small memory loss ship around, laments she did not enlist Prevage® memory supplements much sooner into her health buff repertoire.
Susan’s regret speaks to time scarcity/urgency as another behavior motiviator.
Time, as we know, is finite. And we can never turn back the clock, so to speak. So all you consumers out there, beware! Don’t miss out on Prevagen®. Don’t be regretful like Susan; go do something about your small memory loss drama ***NOW*** … because time is of the essence.
Last but not least, the blatant product plug
As with most brand storytelling commercials, the blatant product plug usually gets saliently showcased at the end of a commercial (at least on Prevagen’s® 28-second spot on iSpot.tv, it does).
Some final thoughts
The image and narrative psychology recipe as outlined above, peppered with elements of neurodesign, brand psychology, consumer psychology, and behavior design (whew! that’s a mouthful), is pretty much the foundational base from which other Prevagen® commercials follow suit. And it’s not just Prevagen®, it’s other brands as well as these collective approaches are not exclusive to one brand’s form of commercialized storytelling.
In sharing these granular insights, I hope I’ve opened your eyes to how literally EVERY SINGLE SECOND of a commercialized brand story is *** devoted *** to penetrating your psyche.
The brand’s ultimate goal is, of course, monetization, which is — in turn — the overarching goal of business: to grow revenue. But growing sales requires making not just topical, superficial connections with consumer audiences but instead immersive infiltrations into the influential and decision-making parts of your brain. This requires a concerted onslaught of combined tactics, as shared in my post, to help capture not just your attention and imagination but also impact your emotions to any degree.
Emotional marketing is, as we can see, an art as well as a science. It’s not just about designing something that “looks good” or “pretty.” Every single design choice and every single word incorporated into a brand story is cherry-picked and handcrafted to garner your attention, inspire your mind, and ultimately make you open up your wallets :)
I hope you’ve found this post enlightening and hope you’ll share it with others who care about neuromarketing, neuroaesthetics, brand storytelling, and more.
Clouse, C., & Dixit, A. (2017). Defining place image. In Strategic place branding methodologies and theory for tourist attraction (pp. 1–20). IGI Global.
Smith, A. (2006). Assessing the contribution of flagship projects to city image change: a quasi‐experimental technique. International Journal of Tourism Research, 8(6), 391–404.
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Thanks for reading!
I write about human-technology interaction, mediated technologies, cyberpsychology, positive media psychology, narrative psychology, social psychology, brand psychology, transmedia storytelling, neuro design, behavior design, and so much more.
And once in a very blue moon, I’ll also creatively write about completely random stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with my profession :)
Mayra Ruiz-McPherson, MA, MFA
left 🧠: Media Psychologist • Cyberpsychologist • Brand Psychologist
right 🧠: Neurodesigner • Visual Artist • Creative Writer
P.S. Wanna hire me?
Go here to learn more about me, access resumes, see samples, and more.
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