Welcome to the CIMMO Brain to Behaviour Perspective Series – where we will introduce a psychology principle and draw a parallel with modern-day marketing. Enjoy – and feel free to continue the conversation in the comments!


You really have to put aside all grammar rules in order to understand universal grammar. “30-Second Psychology” outlines how Noam Chomsky did just that to come up with universal grammar: the idea that all sentences can have multiple meanings because they are the “outward expression of a much deeper mental structure … shared by all humans” (Jarrett, 2011, p.138). “30-Second Psychology” uses the example of “I know students like pizza” to exemplify the theory, where the sentence could mean “I’m aware that students enjoy pizza, or that I’m familiar with students as I am with pizza” (Jarrett, 2011, p.138).

Now let’s combine this theory with marketing: often, brands will use slogans that provide more than one meaning; this leverages our deeper mental structure to associate the brand with key messages, images or themes. This is done in many different ways. Here are my favourite examples:

  1. Making a pun off the brand name: this ensures consumers can easily relate the slogan back to the brand and the brand is associated with a key message, image or theme.

[JOHN DEERE LOGO] Nothing runs like a Deere

  • This slogan uses a pun on Deere/deer, and in doing so, positions the brand as reliable/fast.

[TRIX CEREAL LOGO] Trix are for kids

  • This one uses a pun on Trix/tricks, and in doing so, positions the brand as fun/cheeky.
  1. A broader example of universal language does not include the brand name at all, but relies on the entire expression to convey multiple meanings: this is often seen with well-known brands whose brand message, imagery and themes are all very well known.

[VEGAS LOGO] What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas

  • This slogan demonstrates that Vegas offers a unique travel experience and there are no consequences to what happens in Vegas.

[GATORADE LOGO] Is it in you?

  • This slogan questions if you have consumed the product recently—pushing you to want to purchase the product, and, if you have the strength and ambition needed to take on life.


  • Sentences with double meaning are very common—think of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, “I have a dream”—dream can be the thoughts that occur during sleep or ambition—does it really pose a problem? Or do we need to rely on more than just syntax to convey our message (like tone, emphasis, etc.)?
  • Is universal grammar more prevalent in spoken language than written?
  • Do strict grammar rules like the Oxford comma eliminate the problem of universal grammar?


Jarrett, Christian. (2011). 30-Second Psychology. Prospero Books.


Welcome to the CIMMO Brain to Behaviour Perspective Series – where we will introduce a psychology principle and draw a parallel with modern-day marketing. Enjoy – and feel free to continue the conversation in the comments!

First, what is classical conditioning? It is actually pretty simple, and a great way to predict behaviour in both animals and humans. “30-Second Psychology” outlines how Ivan Pavlov would ring a bell before he fed his dogs. After much repetition, the dogs would salivate at the sound of the bell. By creating an association between the bell and food, Pavlov had conditioned his dogs to behave in a certain way. This ultimately means by providing a stimulus, Pavlov was able to predict the dogs’ behaviour (Jarrett, 2011, p.134).

Now how does this align with marketing? When creating brand imagery and messaging, marketers want to create an association between their brand or product, and ultimately engage consumers. Netflix is an example of a brand that uses a short, recognizable sound to signal consumers their product is being used—you know, the “dun dun.” But does it elicit a behaviour that is favourable to Netflix? That “dun dun” signals that someone is about to get comfy and stream a show—and you probably want to do the same.

Brand imagery can do the same. Think about those glowing arches of goodness—your brain goes straight to McDonald’s. You likely also think of McDonald’s when you see red and yellow together. Sometimes brands will also piggy-back off other brands to create association, and ultimately get you to purchase their products. When the Toronto Raptors score 12 three-pointers, McDonalds gives away free medium fries; they are creating an association between the two brands.

By displaying repetitive brand images in advertising, brands are conditioning us to think of their brand, products or services. This, ultimately, helps brands predict consumer behaviour, which is a unique form of classical conditioning.


  • What other brands have done a good job of using audio or visual cues to predict/elicit a specific behaviour from consumers?
  • Do you feel any brands in particular have an impact on you like McDonald’s arches have for me?
  • Is there an ethical line that brands can cross in using brand cues to elicit behaviour from its consumers? 


Paige is a passionate marketing professional with experience providing data-driven insights to clients using a wide range of advertising technology platforms. She is Chief Content and Communications Officer at CIMMO. Paige holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours in English and Psychology at Queen’s University, and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Research Analysis at Georgian College.


Jarrett, Christian. (2011). 30-Second Psychology. Prospero Books.