AssociationsImplicit MethodsMarket Research

King Kong in your brain: How ‘seeing’ a loose gorilla at the London Zoo changed my view

By 14. October 2016 June 2nd, 2019 3 Comments

Sirens are sounding at the London Zoo, the speakers mention something about the gorilla cage, so like a mad man, I stumble into the direction of obvious danger. As a speaker of the wwwf conference, I was at the Zoo to talk about implicit market research, but now my heart was racing.

The first human apes I meet are two older ladies, I jokingly say: ‘did you hear about the gorilla on the loose?’ but seeing their wide eyes and how they appear to physically shrink, I smile wider and tell them that its possibly nothing and they shouldn’t worry… but should I?


Next day, all Major Newspapers ran the Story


I’m at the entrance of the gorilla enclosure and am looking for the king of the jungle. There are no people, no sounds, and so far luckily, no apes or Kumbuka the gorilla. All the boxes, surrounded by glass are empty. I glimpse the odd monkey-bar but all I sense is the familiar Zoo stench.

Guys, seriously, where is the gorilla?

Finally, at the end of the corridor, I find two staff members, a guy and a woman. They look stressed, worried, frantically looking at me, then at a gate next to them. Again, I smile and ask them, “Where is the gorilla?”  The guy answers very, very seriously: WE DON’T KNOW, PLEASE GO OUTSIDE. And I do.

Walking away from them, I hear their walky-talky going off and someone asking: ‘so what exactly is the emergency?’, I get onto a green path and can’t hear the answer.

My heart is thumping. My fingers tingle. Did I just see a black shadow in the bushes? Did that noise sound too close?

All I can think of is a 29-stone gorilla on the loose, maybe close by, certainly much much stronger than me and possibly hungry (apparently they put him on a special diet days prior).



Seeing the Gorilla

So what does it mean to be primed with a primate? Pretty sure that adrenaline and cortisol are doing their business on my brain giving me energy and stress.

Lets think about that for a second. While we live in a mostly save society, our behavior is still governed by primal instincts and reactions to cues in our world. When Cadbury released an ad with a gorilla playing the drums, they had a viral hit on their hands. But why does King Kong sell Chocolate?

We, at NEURO FLASH believe, it is all about the implicit associations. A black, strong gorilla works because when you bite into a piece of dark chocolate, associated with the jungle, nature, organic, raw, in balance etc. the experience becomes more than just chocolate, it becomes a little more exciting, compared to competing brands.

From Stimulus to Product

That’s exactly what we measure with our market research methodology,  the associations that we automatically have with a stimulus (gorilla) and whether they match the concept of the product (chocolate). A synergy between those two is golden.

So, while I feel my heart in my throat, thinking about the gorilla makes every bush a source of possible doom, every sound a matter for concern. I too am currently living out all the associations I have with gorillas. The movies I’ve seen, documentaries, my own experience with monkey in Thailand, they all influence the way I interpret everything that I see and hear. And trust me, I will always be excited to go to the London Zoo from now on!

Back to the story. Another staff member comes our way, looking close to tears but still composed. She says to go to the nearest building immediately and to stay put.

So I go to a bird cage nearby and invite the two old ladies, who just come around the corner from another direction and anyone in view to join the safe place.

We are spending the next 30 minutes seeing red cars driving by, more staff members and a helicopter circling the area.2016-10-13-18-34-57


Closing notes.

I think the London staff handled the whole thing very professionally. While I was an idiot to go towards the danger, they did everything to keep us safe. And in fact, it appears that we were never in any real danger.

After we were allowed back into the zoo, I spoke with some staff and they told me that the Gorilla went into a service area and was tranquilized quickly. But while he never was in the bush next to me, the people I shared the bird cage with were very, very anxious. They trembled and almost fainted. The thought of a gorilla is more than enough to make you see it in your head and thereby feel the fear.

picture1Lastly, it is important to note that a gorilla in a zoo makes sense (in terms of common association). But when we apply the situation to marketing, an image can end up not working because it does not match the product concept.

Don’t Be the Guy in the Tutu (unless it makes sense)

For example, when this guy (image) got millions of views because he broke into an Olympic competition in Athens 2004, the concept of the product (casino) had little to do with the event and hence, the effect was not beneficial for the casino site (little traffic and no beneficial associations). Giving athletes golden Nike shoes, is clearly a better way.

Thank you to the London Zoo staff who made the whole experience safe and organized. They were overly helpful, they even tried to get my bag from the kangaroo cafe when the whole zoo was on lockdown.

I’ll be back, partly because together with our sample partner Research for Good, we are now following the Brand development of the London Zoo to see how the Gorilla associations will influence.  And also because I now associate primal excitement with the Zoo 🙂

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Jonathan T. Mall

Author Jonathan T. Mall

Jonathan is a computational Neuropsychologist turned entrepreneur. Seduced by the opportunity to optimize consumer experience using machine learning, he led the Science team in a IBM Big Data Venture ( Afterwards, he founded, a market research institute, using online experiments that illuminate the true drivers of desire and purchase behaviour. When he’s not combining Neuroscience and Big-Data to test innovative ideas, he eats burgers and trains for the next marathon.

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