NEW YORK: Brands need to understand consumers' unconscious attitudes as well as their rational decisions, and should rethink their targeting and positioning strategies accordingly, a new study has argued.

Young & Rubicam (Y&R), the advertising agency, carried out a survey of consumers in the US, Brazil and China which blended traditional research to uncover their conscious thoughts with indirect questioning to reveal unconscious motivations.

The Secrets & Lies report concluded that consumers were often hiding their desires from marketers "and maybe even from themselves". But, at the same time, the report identified a new consumer mainstream that was comfortable with their occasionally contradictory attitudes.

Among US consumers, helpfulness ranked as the top value consciously, followed by choosing your own path and the meaning of life. The top unconscious values, however were maintaining security, sexual fulfilment and respect for tradition.

The research also revealed that the disconnect extended to brand perception. For example, Google was ranked in second spot consciously but in 13th, out of 14, unconsciously.

Elsewhere in the report, the top ten conscious brands were Amazon, Google, Apple, Target, Whole Foods, Starbucks, McDonald's, Facebook, AT&T and Prius. But when brands were ordered unconsciously, Google and Prius dropped out of the list.

The top ten unconscious brands were Target, Amazon, Facebook, Whole Foods, National Enquirer, Exxon, McDonald's, Apple, Starbucks and AT&T.

"We think that brands need to understand both conscious and unconscious attitudes," Chip Walker, the Y&R executive vice president who directed the study, told MediaPost. "As our research shows, they each tell us something different, so we need both to fully understand today's more idiosyncratic consumer."

Y&R also found a large group, which it called Generation World, who were able to cope with the contradictions thrown up, who were more digitally savvy and who felt that marketers didn't "get" them.

Walker said that marketers needed to look again at targeting as consumers could not be segmented as simply as before. He suggested that views on positioning would also benefit from a rethink: "Is it time brands moved away from the single-minded idea and embraced conflict and tension?"

This area is the subject of the upcoming annual Warc Advertising Research Conference. The one-day event, Get to the Truth: Researching the Implicit Memory, aims to improve understanding of how to connect with audiences' implicit memory, and how to create campaigns that affect the way people think and feel, as well as what they say and do.

Data sourced from MediaPost; additional content by Warc staff