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The non-conscious mind of Mumbai

When Suketu Mehta described Mumbai, he mentioned it as being all about transaction – dhandha. Sure, since Mumbai originated as a trading city, this culture of making quick money has become very unique to Mumbai. Because of how we naturally evolved as a people, that is why this city is fundamentally wired like this – the never-ending quest to make more wealth. This is the bigger context that has made Mumbaikars far more smarter than others in making money.

No wonder, this city also hosts some of the brightest minds in corporate marketing and advertising. With immense industry clout and persuasion powers, they have managed to rake in truckloads of money. But, shift your gaze from the corridors of corporate Mumbai and see what’s happening at street level, your perspective changes.

While the bigwigs have the power of money that can buy our attention, the other street-smart people are instinctively using a more fundamental understanding of the non-conscious human brain as their weapon in making money. Fundamentally, all of us exist at a conscious level, with our sub-conscious mind drowned out by the daily humdrum of everyday life. This sub-conscious mind shapes how we think, because like a large hard disk, it has stored every experience we have into long-term limbic memory. This influences everything that we do, but, rarely are we able to explain our actions.

It seems that these very street-smart people have developed the ability to speak to the non-conscious mind with techniques only a neuroscience genius can spot. They have identified patterns of sub-conscious behaviour, so subtle, that they are hardly noticed. This is commendable. They know the hustle, and they run it effortlessly.

For starters, by just observing daily life in Mumbai, one can uncover information into how our non-conscious brain influences thinking and behaviour.


Take the example of the waterproof watch seller. He successfully works on your non-conscious at a subliminal level. How is he attracting people? He could have sold them the way everyone other vendor peddles watches. But no, he chose to influence our buying decision by subtly changing the context.

Lets admit it, roadside waterproof watches are hardly waterproof. Firstly, there’s no way of checking its quality. Then, they find their way to the nearest dustbin even after the first monsoon drizzle.

So what this watch-seller did was interesting. He put the waterproof watches into the water, thereby changing the context and telling your brain to evaluate his wares differently than others. Context is crucial in how we perceive things. The human brain cannot start from scratch each time. It has to build from its experiences and surroundings, leading many times to ‘decision illusions’. No wonder these watches sell like hot cakes.

One other thing with Mumbai these days is snarling traffic jams. But what that also means is being subjected to not only to the traffic fumes, but also being troubled by beggars.


Look closer and you will notice a pattern in how people go about begging. Outstretched hands, innocent eyes, pleading expressions. Everything’s in place to trap the sympathetic passer-by. In Mumbai alone beggary is a Rs. 4BN business. Sometimes you’d think it pays to be a beggar in the streets of Mumbai.

The science is perfected. And when you stand still for a moment, it starts to get a little more obvious. Nowadays, its not just by themselves, but begging with a baby in tow.


Some beggars take it one step further by throwing an empty milk bottle into the mix.


Why does this work? All these strategies end up capitalizing on involuntary emotional responses rather than appealing to our rational mind. Remember, it is the emotional part of the brain that responds first to any stimuli, these emotions are an integral part of rational decision making. Emotional memory lies deep within the sub-conscious and influences all our actions.

So, when the beggar looks at you sadly, they are getting your emotional brain to urge rational action and vote “yes” on it. Throw in a baby and a bottle, and there is no way your emotional brain will refuse money to them. They are the real masters of persuasion.


Ever taken a taxi late at night? Ever notice how cabs that have lights on seem to be the first, almost automatic choice? Why does this happen?

It almost seems like these cabbies are engineering your decisions. All this with a simple light inside. But, it’s a part of the larger design, and this works inside the head at a few levels. Our human brain is exquisitely sensitive to changes in light, sound, temperature, pressure, and just about everything else. All of these relative differences are registered by the non-conscious much before they come into our awareness. The taxi driver is just providing a subtle nudge in getting our non-conscious mind to notice his cab over others, and sure enough, your conscious mind follows in that direction.

Its interesting to see how these people, devoid of any marketing wisdom, are selling stuff so intuitively. They get it, in their own way, how the brain functions. So, instead of speaking to the conscious, all of them speak to the non-conscious.

Now, combine that with some solid marketing strategy and brilliant implementation, there you have a winning combination.

#Irrationality #behaviouraldesign #mumbai #context #nonconscious #emotionalmind #maximumcity #taxis #intuitivewisdom

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