Advertising, Behaviour Change, Behavioural Economics, Equality, Moral Decision Making

Fighting for equality is a job for the many, not the few.

StonewallBuilder

Our new campaign for Stonewall launches this week.

Stonewall are an amazing organisation, sensational campaigners and very nice folk to boot.

They’ve been fighting tirelessly for The rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual people since their foundation in 1989.

And they’ve been extremely successful: helping achieve equalisation of the age of consent, lifting the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the military, securing legislation allowing same sex couples to adopt and the repeal of Section 28, the clause in the Local Government Act designed to prevent the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools. More recently they’ve championed equal partnership rights for gay people under law, recognised first with the civil partnerships bill and then, last year, with the same sex marriage legislation.

All of these hard-won battles are vitally important milestones.

But as any campaigner for racial or gender equality can confirm, there’s a big difference between securing equal rights under law and actually putting an end to prejudice and discrimination.

Sad to say, prejudice seems to be hard wired into all of us and discrimination is very hard to prevent as a consequence, even when we’re trying super hard. (If you think you have your prejudices in check and under control, go to the YourMorals.org website. Trying a few of their online tests for yourself will swiftly relieve you of your illusions.)

Unfortunately we are still very much in the foothills when it come to getting the UK to accept gay people for who they are.

Nearly a million Brits have witnessed physical homophobic bullying at work in the last five years and two and a half times that number have witnessed verbal bullying over the same period.

No wonder a quarter of all gay people still keep completely schtum about their private lives at work.

In sport it’s still practically taboo to be openly gay. That’s why people like Thomas Hitzlsperger (football) Tom Daley (diving) and Gareth Thomas (rugby) should be so roundly applauded when they have the courage to buck the trend.

And you have to ask yourself whether we have the right to be proud of the progress we’re making when we all hear children all over the country (and many others too) using the word “gay” as a pejorative catch-all term for anything a bit rubbish and we nevertheless shrug it off because we know they don’t mean any harm.

Our campaign simply pictures two individuals in the same profession next to a headline that says, “One is gay. if that bothers people, our work continues”.

It draws attention to Stonewall’s continuing mission, in the aftermath of the equal marriage landmark, to help build a society in which we can all be open and confident about who we are, and who we love.

It’s running in the press and on buses and in the tube in London.

Our campaign is an uncontroversial statement of fact, underpinned by the presumption of equality under UK law of all gay and straight people. The literal and legal equivalent of a gender rights action group picturing a male and a female executive under a headline that read, “we’ll carry on campaigning until he no longer earns 20% more than her for doing exactly the same job.”

And yet it still wasn’t easy to get our message heard.

Transport for London are currently having to defend a legal case against a Christian organisation called the Core Issues Trust. This body has been suing TfL for rejecting one of their campaigns, offering religious support to “cure” anyone who has experienced homosexual feelings but feels they may want to reduce, subdue or extinguish them. TfL had judged the campaign offensive (I know!) and successfully defended the case without difficulty, but their very well funded opponents have taken it to the Court of Appeal and that judgement is still “in the oven” at the time of writing.

So TfL were initially rather nervous about accepting a campaign from Stonewall in case anyone deemed it antagonistic. Luckily common sense prevailed.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I think that standing up for the right of people, supposedly equal in law, to be equal in actual life, is actually the responsibility of the many, rather than the few.

Through their pugnacious determination to be accepted for who they are, brave members of the gay community have campaigned and secured their legal right to be treated equally.

It’s now up to us all, gay and straight, to turn legal law into living law.

And to oppose the efforts of other groups wishing to deny gay people legitimacy.

If you agree and you feel you can help, please spread the word and add your voice.

And if you see or hear homophobic bullying, teasing or joshing in your workplace, or in the playground for that matter, try turning that blind eye into a properly civilised glare of disapproval and a few harsh words.

Thank you to Richard Hayter for creating the campaign and to Si Micheli, Rob DeCleyn, Mike Dobrin, Mark Lloyd, Mark Goodwin, Ruth Chapman and Graham Baker for making it all happen.

Standard
Advertising, Marketing Strategy

The mad-men are gone. But Advertising is still the Daddy.

I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Financial Services Forum next week: 5 speakers, each defending a different piece of the “integrated marketing mix”.

The premise is that we’ll all argue about which marketing “discipline” deserves the biggest share of your marketing budget and have a right old ding-dong.

I bet you can hardly wait?

Someone’s doing PR, someone else is doing Digital & Direct, someone’s doing Sponsorship etc.

I’ve got poor old, dusty old Advertising.

Of course, I’ll be arguing that all the disciplines in the marketing mix are important.

Of course, I’ll agree that all disciplines always work better when they work together.

I’ll be conceding that using new techniques to create deeper engagement and interaction can hugely increase effectiveness

(always assuming, of course, you have high quality people with enough bandwidth prepared to hold up your side of the debate)

But I’ll also argue that a strong central idea, compellingly expressed to enough people for an apparent consensus to form is still THE prerequisite of any successful integrated marketing communications intervention.

And for this, Advertising remains the Daddy.

It’s still the best place to set out your stall because the content remains under your control, unlike many of the other elements of the marketing mix.

And rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated, with a compound annual growth rate in global spending on advertising of almost 5% predicted between 2011-2016.

mediaadvertisinggrowth

The European picture over the next three years shows all advertising media growing except Newspapers and Magazines (down 7% and 8% respectively). TV advertising remains the largest single medium and is predicted to grow at just under 2%. And, of course, spend on digital advertising, fuelled by mobile, is racing away, with almost 30% growth. It’ll be almost as big as TV by 2015.

EuropeanSpendingForecasts

Tracking advertising revenue vs. the time people spend watching/using, gives a useful way of predicting where the growth/decline in ad spend is likely to be. The figures below are from the US, but the European picture is extremely similar.

adspendingvsmediaconsumptionIt shows a rapid decline in the amount of print media being consumed and a corresponding rise in Internet and Mobile usage.

But, if you look at the data, this merely reflects a switch in the way print media is ‘consumed’ as people begin to read publications through tablets and mobile apps. It’s very far from a death knell on print advertising.

TV viewing and ad revenue remain firm (and huge).

And Tablet and Mobile usage within the home appears to be more additive than substitutive, with 85% of users claiming to use their device whilst watching TV:

simultaneous-mobile-tv-usage

The figures also disguises, in my view, a significant increase in the influence of Advertising, because of the rise in video sharing on the internet and, increasingly, through mobile.

The convergence of technology now allows static ads to move, broadcast techniques to be targeted and two-way communication to become a part of previously one-way channels.  An increase in effectiveness Vs. other disciplines is surely not TOO much to expect?

Internet soothsayers predict that audio will be the next sharing revolution.

So, if you have any sense, now’s a good time to get your creatives to remind themselves how effective radio advertising is constructed.

(I’m particularly delighted about this, since I’ve been predicting the comeback of the “jingle” since the turn of the millennium.)

Before we leave this, there’s one other area of significant advertising growth that usually gets left out of most pieces of analysis.

Gaming completely dominates tablet and smartphone usage once time spent is taken into account as well as reach:

(Ask anyone with a young child in the house, how much they get to use their own device)

gamingmobilechart

Ad spend within the gaming market will have grown by a factor of 10x between 2010-2015 ($87M to $894M).

Looked at within the US numbers, ad-supported gaming revenue is showing a CAGR of almost 40%:

em-rapid-growth-2

And again, this media usage and consumption of advertising appears for the moment to be largely additive, not substitutive.

I hope that this barrage of data from different respected sources has done something to persuade you that advertising has a brighter future than many would have you believe.

But I’m not expecting my City-based audience to equate commercial success and growth potential with effectiveness – despite them using this very same argument when hawking their own wares.

My reasons for believing that advertising still remains the primus inter pares amongst marketing disciplines is based on something a bit different:

Its proven effectiveness in generating consideration and trust through sheer familiarity.

This is not a speculative hypothesis. It is a fact.

Our brains are hard-wired to prefer familiar things and to suspect unfamiliar things

(See previous posts or just Google ‘Availability Heuristic’)

A brand that is well-known, that is apparently dynamic and that seems to be ‘up to stuff’ is always a comforting choice.

That’s why even bad ads work quite well.

Consider the completely nauseating Patek Philippe campaign running at the moment:

Pic of coiffed, preppy millionaire with equally repellant mini-me son-and-heir, with the line, “You never really own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation”.

Even whilst making you want to spew, it has worked its magic on you.

You don’t see the ad and think, “ooh, that’s an excellent reason to buy an obscenely expensive watch. Watches of Switzerland, here I come”.

But you have clocked (sorry!) that PP makes gorgeous, crafted timepieces (they do, in fact!) that appear to be desired by super rich over-achievers, world-wide.

And your brain has probably subconsciously salted away the “I’m not buying it for me” excuse that said over-achiever can use for treating him or herself.

Most importantly, because you’ve probably seen the ads quite a bit – as I have, you have had the idea of PP as a desirable status symbol ‘normalised’ because you recognise that others will have seen the same thing and reacted in more or less the same way. If Patek weren’t successful at selling beautiful watches to rich people they wouldn’t be able to afford their premium position advertising, after all.

Only a fool would invest in advertising that didn’t work, right?

And that’s the way lots of ads work… Car ads, ads for investment funds, and ads for hundreds of other things that are essentially just the same as each other.

(Try and explain to me, if you can, the real qualitative difference between a Patek Philippe, an IWC and an Omega).

Advertising sells branded analgesics like Nurofen, that are (by law) chemically identical in formulation to own brand versions but retail for three times the price. Customers prefer the branded versions and will swear they are more effective. Even though they can’t possibly be.

And all through familiarity.

Of course you can create familiarity and get well known without using advertising. Here’s 3 ways for starters:

1) Be so distinctive, appealing and successful that journalists will write constantly about you

2) Hone your customer proposition and service delivery to the point where your customers will always publicly evangelise about you in the digital ether, and never complain.

3) Develop a CRM programme so sophisticated that you hit the precisely the right people at precisely the right time with precisely the offers they want.

Let me know how you get on.

Standard
Skydiving, Social Decision Making

Thrillax beats chillax every time

“Why on earth would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane?” everyone asks me.

They always use the same, rather quaint, phrase, “perfectly serviceable aeroplane”, as if they’ve just clambered out of their RAF overalls.

At least it tells me they’ve never been anywhere near a jump ‘plane, which are mostly antique, rotting hulks held together with binder-twine, bubble-gum and gaffer tape.

It’s true that most of us do offer up a silent prayer as we exit the ‘plane at 13,000 feet.

But it’s only for the safety of the poor pilot who has to land the damned thing when he gets down.

We’d all rather trust our parachutes.

So this week, I’m on holiday. Jumping in Eloy, Arizona, home of the largest fleet of jump ‘planes in the world.

And, all credit to the wonderful owners and organisers of Skydive Arizona, this huge fleet is in fact way more than just “perfectly serviceable”.

But still the question persists, so I thought I’d try and give my best shot at an answer.

Most of the studies into so-called ‘dangerous sports’ seem to focus on an imagined enhancement to status and self-esteem amongst those who attempt things that seem brave/foolhardy to others.

This is another way of saying people take risks to get noticed and to get girls.

Actually the research is very conclusive on the subject: the status of a person who puts themselves purposefully at risk is only enhanced when they do so in order to benefit others.

That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Fireman rescues damsel from burning building = hunky hero.
Middle-aged bloke jumping from aeroplane for no ‘good’ reason = feckin’ eedjit.

I’ve heard other skydivers explain away their enthusiasm by distancing themselves from the whole dangerous sports crowd entirely.

And it’s perfectly true that skydiving is way safer than you’d imagine.

You think it’s dangerous because a) it’s unfamiliar, and therefore not to be trusted by ‘normal’ people and b) you’ve almost certainly recently read about skydiving accidents.

Journalists far prefer to write about skydiving accidents than car crashes.

It’s the good old “Availability Heuristic” at work – with added “Recency Effect”!

Using US figures (where more skydiving happens than in every other country combined) there’s 0.0007% chance of dying from a skydive, compared to a 0.0167% chance of dying in a car accident (based on driving 10,000 miles).

Put another way you are about 24 times more likely to die in a car accident than in a skydiving one.

It looks even better when you compare it to other things people consider perfectly safe and normal like riding a bicycle in an urban environment (insane) or any form of equestrianism (probably the single most dangerous activity of all).

Skydiving is all about safety, not about danger.

All about mitigating risks with training and technology.

And the average number of skydiving fatalities per year is almost half of what it used to be in the 1970s.

But these statistic apologists are missing the point too.

We do do it for fun, no question about it.

So what is that fun precisely?

My perspective is that almost all participants in almost every sport benefit from a physiological thrill provided by endorphins.

People who do risky things get the additional benefit from a blast of adrenaline – the body’s drug of last resort.

It’s adrenaline that has helped mothers lift cars that are crushing their children.

It’s adrenaline that explains how indifferent runners can outrun athletes, when they’re in danger.

It helps you focus your mental and physical resources in times of need. And it’s strong stuff.

I skydive to relax.

When I lie on a beach, I worry about all things I ought to be doing at home and at work.

When I read a book, even when I’m really enjoying it, I feel a bit guilty I’m not ‘getting on with something”

When I’m jumping out of a ‘plane I’m thinking about how to get back on the ground in one piece.

And if I do that five or six times a day, I end up physically exhausted with a mind that feels like it’s been down the boot-sale and unloaded a whole attic full of neural junk.

And I’m properly relaxed.

I know I get some of the same benefits from skiing and scuba-diving.

The special appeal of skydiving, to me, is the combination of max-adrenaline (that comes from the high-stakes involved) and high levels of control (equipment, training, focus) that give me the confidence to enjoy it.

As I think of the poor Prime Minister “chillaxing” with his Angry Birds, I wonder whether he wouldn’t be better off thrillaxing with us?

Standard
Behaviour Change, Moral Decision Making, Persuasion, Politics, Social Decision Making

Think you can force through a change as big as Obamacare? Think again.

I want to talk about the controversial healthcare reforms that are causing such a kerfuffle on the other side of the pond.

“That’s rich”, I hear you snigger, “A Brit, with an opinion about US healthcare. Let’s see now…”

Well, it’s true that I barely understand it. So I’m certainly not going to try to explain it to you.

If you want a quick, bluffers’ guide to the “Affordable Care Act”, this is the best one I’ve found:

“It’s complicated”, as they say, even explained by the You Toons.

One joker has even tried to put into infographic form:

ObamacareInfoGraphic

And although people talk about the “closing wonk gap” (i.e. members of the general public figuring out facts about Obamacare that policy wonks on both sides of the debate have known for years), I guess you’d be prepared to agree with me that probably only a fraction of the people who need to understand the ins and outs of the proposed changes, actually properly do.

To give you some extra quick context, the video clip above has been viewed just 1.1 million times, which equates to it been seen by about 0.3% of the US population (Miley’s “Wrecking Ball” is on 327,294,077 views at the time of writing).

This hasn’t stopped anyone taking a position of course. And a strong one at that. There really aren’t very many ambivalent people in the US it seems, when it comes to this particular debate.

And it’s led to the fiercest, most destructive political brinksmanship and grandstanding in most of our living memories.

Why?

The concept is straightforward: Universal access to affordable healthcare ought to be the hallmark of a civilised well-developed society. Even at either extreme of the political spectrum, one ought to be able to get a nod on that, surely?

However even here in little Blighty, our precious NHS, providing care free at the point of use to all, is creaking and cracking as the apparently opposing forces of quality and affordability clash their irreconcilable heads. Even here it’s a nettle with a politically lethal sting.

The implications of realising a goal of this kind in a country (or more accurately countries) as huge and diverse as the United States go straight to the central ideological differences between the Elephant and the Donkey. And this is where the practicality of implementation simply falls apart.

Because democratic politics is really only successful when elected politicians of different persuasions propose, debate, negotiate, vote and repeat until a deal is brokered.

“Obamacare” is the first instance for 100 years where one party has simply steamrollered a bill with huge national implications without garnering any kind of even partial agreement from the opposing party.

To see this more clearly, look at the J. P. Morgan chart below, which shows that almost all the important and controversial bills in living memory were passed with at least some level of participation and consent from both parties in both chambers.

Now look at the bottom and contrast with Obamacare.

Obamacare JPM 1

The Democrats inability to empathise with their opponents implacable opposition to their solution has led to adopt a kind of “fuck you” politics, which can only provoke a “fuck you back, with knobs on” response. The Republicans, for their part, are now in the ludicrous position of proposing spoiling measures which may end up increasing the need for state intervention in the commercial supply of health insurance policies – one of the things they fundamentally oppose. The fight will go on, and the animosity between the two sides of legislators continues to grow.

And, just to remind you, 82% of Americans were perfectly happy with their health care system, before this all started (according to Gallup).

Now just 36% of voters support the bill.

And President Obama is now enjoying the worst popularity rating of any president except R. Nixon Esq.

A sharp reminder that big change needs broad consensus not just bright answers.

And establishing that broad consensus takes time, effort and excellent persuasion and communication skills – something noticeably lacking on both sides of the political divide in this instance.

It’s also a salutary reminder of another more important principle:

A democratic mandate gives you the right to try and govern. It doesn’t give you the right to get your own way.

That’s called something different.

Standard
Advertising, Behavioural Economics, Marketing Strategy

Seek familiarity, not fame

Everyone who comes in through our door wants a “viral” these days.

I explain as patiently as I can that “full-service” doesn’t include that sort of thing anymore and we’ve all had our jabs in any case.

They then look a bit confused until I put them out of their misery.

“Oh!” I say, “you mean a punchy little film created for next-to-no-money that suddenly hits the webby-big-time and gets shared by countless millions of chortling geeks, all for free?”

“That’s it!” they say, brightening visibly.

I guess it’s just a function of our preoccupation with celebrity and the parallel attraction of something for nothing.

But there’s usually a problem.

Scan the list of most shared videos online and count how many have commercial/branded origins?

Now take that list and count how many have succeeded in a way that is consistent with their brand idea and character and doesn’t contain a moonwalking Shetland pony.

(Although that was quite a good one.)

There are some, but we’re entering Lotto-style percentage territory.

What you can’t check is the same picture looked at the other way round.

How many truly appalling, cringe-worthy attempts have been made to leap this particular existential chasm, and how many mangled examples of ill-conceived, out of character nonsense now languish at the bottom of the trench, their abject failure indelibly tattooed on them for all to see: “143 views”.

More extraordinary still are those organisations that seem to think that they can swap their successful strategy of carefully deploying professionally crafted integrated marketing communications assets for an approach where you essentially stick everything on red and hope you hit the jackpot.

My point goes further, though, than showing how slim your chances of digital glory are.

Because even when it works, it doesn’t do you as much good as you might imagine. Successful brand marketing is about achieving everyday familiarity not about getting famous.

If the difference between these two things seems mostly semantic to you, consider the following:

Branded products are trusted over non-branded products. This is a fact. Branded products are more considered by potential customers than non-branded products. They also command higher price points and (usually) margins too. These things are also facts.

But why is this?

Marketing people, who seek constantly to impose rational order on the behavioural chaos that surrounds them, will usually argue that it’s because they have come to stand for something on which the customer can rely.

This is true. But it’s not as true as they imagine.

Research we conducted into a very undifferentiated, apparently price-driven market threw up some rather astonishing results.

Before I explain these results I need to emphasise a crucial difference between two commonly used marketing research measures: spontaneous brand awareness and prompted brand awareness.

Spontaneous brand awareness is measured by asking a question like:

“You’re thirsty and fancy a (non-alcoholic) drink. Which brands come to mind most easily?”

Prompted brand awareness is measured by asking a question like:

“Have you heard of Coca-cola?”

(Sorry if you already know this.)

We discovered that brand consideration was almost perfectly correlated with spontaneous brand awareness.

The correlation between brand trust and spontaneous brand awareness was also extremely high, in excess of 0.8.

Familiarity

We were a bit shocked. But we shouldn’t have been.

Actually the recent research into behavioural science confirms the power of familiarity. It seems our brains are hard wired to prefer the things they recognise and to fear unfamiliar things, people and concepts.

If you want a really shocking demonstration of how these effects influence all our judgements and prejudices, visit yourmorals.org and take a few of their online tests.

When you get into the science itself, it’s all part of the way in which our brain conserves energy, using data from previous experiences rather than recalculating anew each time.

We make choices that have worked for us in the past. When we have no experience, we search for instances of other people (as like us as possible) having positive experiences and we use that as a proxy.

“500 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong”, we say to ourselves and the job is done.

Another effect (called the “availability heuristic” in Behavioural Economic Science) means that we also tend to overestimate the prevalence of things we are familiar with and/or have experienced recently.

“Is this phenomenon widespread?” we ask ourselves. Off scurries the brain, searching for examples. If it can find two or three examples easily, it concludes the phenomenon is indeed widespread. If no examples come to mind, it concludes the opposite.

Here’s the next thing.

There is practically no correlation between prompted brand awareness and either brand consideration or brand trust.

So being famous (‘have you heard of) doesn’t get you trusted or considered. But being familiar (‘which brands can you think of now’) does.

I’ve used data from an undifferentiated market (where products are considered quite similar to each other) because that’s where this effect is most marked.

The more differentiated your product is within your particular category, the less important everyday familiarity will be, relative to other brand dimensions. But don’t underestimate its power, even in these instances.

Until you are talking about real fashion brands and high-end luxury purchases, familiarity remains the single strongest driver of both consideration and trust.

Despite this, an amazing number of marketing people insist on using prompted brand awareness as their key measure of success even though they can link it to no commercial effect.

Standard
Advertising, Behavioural Economics, Persuasion

I’d rather have the courage of your convictions

Years ago I ran the global advertising account for a huge multinational company.

It was my first experience of ‘stakeholder engagement’ on a global and massive scale.

The company prided itself on being a ‘consensus culture’.

So two dozen plus people had to sign-off on the global corporate ad campaign.

Since these were senior executives who thought their daily dollar unearned unless they had ‘added value’ to the things on which they were consulted, this was something of a challenge.

But I found a neat way round the problem.

It turned out that these senior people had one concern greater than the need to add their own twopenny-worth to the process.

They were extremely concerned to know how their peers were voting.

Having read “The Righteous Mind” by the wonderful Jonathan Haidt, I know why this is.

Actually we rely more than we would care to admit on the opinions of others, rather than our own judgement.

We use our peer group – the people whose approval enhances our status and self-image and whose censure has the opposite effect – as a sounding board for our own sentiments. More often than not we’ll change our mind to ensure our views fit the consensus, whilst all the time persuading ourselves that we are masters of our own mind and others merely agree with our common-sense view of our surroundings.

Which made my task considerably easier.

“Nigel, I’d love your view on these new commercials we’re proposing”, I’d begin, “I showed them to Colin in Kuala Lumpur last week and he said they were a breakthrough for a company like ours”.

“Yes, It’s about time we stood up for what we believe”, Nigel would agree.

The following week I would talk to Simon,

“Nigel says it’s time we stood up for what we believe”, I said.

“Quite right,” says Simon, “And the way you’ve used our people in the commercial lends it great credibility”

“Simon says using your people in the commercial lends it great credibility”, I’d tell the next guy.

Eventually, I would actually go and see Colin in Kuala Lumpur, with everyone’s feedback in my bag (and with a bit of a lump in my throat).

Every time, after hearing the opinions of his peers, Colin would say – entirely of his own volition,

“This kind of thing is a breakthrough for a company like ours”.

I know you’ll think me underhand and deceptive. But these individuals – 90% of whom knew next to nothing about creating commercials – were genuinely delighted with the decisions they had taken.

And because skilful and talented creative people had crafted the ads in good faith to a brief written by a planner who cared about the company’s commercial success, everything ended extremely happily ever after.

Standard
Advertising, Persuasion

Dear client, no one is really reading your ads.

There. I’ve said it. Sorry.

Before we go on, let me clarify:

I’m talking about the copy, not the headline

And, I admit I’m exaggerating a little.

The copywriter who wrote it has read it, obviously. And our proofreader has checked it for spelling mistakes.

The person who commissioned the ad at your end has read it (and usually re-written it several times too!)

A few of your sales guys and gals have read it (and have pointed out that they would have written it rather differently).

But that’s about it.

So don’t put anything you need people to remember in it, please.

Ads don’t work that way.

They are absorbed, not read.

The copy is there to reassure the viewer (yes, they’re viewers NOT readers) that – were they to feel inclined to read it (which they’re not) – they would find there all the information they need to rationally justify the proposition in the headline that they’ve already absorbed.

Even if it’s a real corker, the headline and concept will usually only sink in gradually, over repeat viewings.

Your proposition will be trusted by a factor of how familiar it is to your audience and how trusted your brand is already.

Key to effective print advertising is a strong creative concept that

a)    Stands out from everything else

b)    Can be unmistakeably attributed to your brand alone

Without these two criteria, your proposition can never save you.

I hope you can nod along to what I’m telling you armed only with your personal experience of interacting with prints ads yourself. If not, we have plenty of data to prove it to you.

So do us all a favour. Try to encourage your people (as we do) to spend slightly more time creating well-branded ideas that really stand out, and slightly less time jamming twenty-seven proof points into the larger and larger copy section.

(NB. People commissioning classified ads, or direct response ads with coupons can ignore all of the above, because different rules apply. So too can people commissioning tube cards or any other print spaces in which your audience can be forced to stare at your ad for ages, because the battery on their electronic hand-held device of choice has run out.)

Standard
Behavioural Economics, Marketing Strategy

Only a producer society can give consumers what they want

Boy, I’m falling out of love with ‘customer-centricity’.

I embraced it, like everyone else, not just because the idea of customers getting decent service and value in exchange for their hard-earned cash just seems like common sense, but also because the single-minded pursuit of shareholder value had been such an obvious and abject failure.

The concept famously advanced by Milton Friedman – now widely known as “the world’s dumbest idea” – had spectacularly failed to drive improved outcomes, either for customers or – ironically – for shareholders.

But now I worry we’re getting ourselves into an even bigger pickle.

And I’m beginning to think marketing people are to blame.

Part of this is down to what Deloitte have called the ‘Big Shift’ – an apparent conundrum in which return on capital invested has fallen relentlessly since the 1970s even though productivity has more than doubled over the same period.

bigshift2

Deloitte’s theory is that customers have got the jump on corporations.

They’re technology enabled and so they can compare all the offers on the table in real time.

More often than not they know more about the product or service that they’re considering than the distribution channel selling it, because of the research they’ve already done (new business-to-business research suggests that 70% of the purchasing decision has been taken before the customer even touches the company making or selling the product or service).

Finally, their expectations of product delivery and levels of service have been rising exponentially as people compare their experiences – and certainly faster than companies are able to innovate or improve.

Companies are increasingly reliant on creative (expensive) employees to drive the improvements in customer experience that they believe are key to maintaining market share – which puts even more pressure on margins.

“Well, that’s a pisser for the corporations,” I hear you cry, “but at least the customer must be getting more of what they want and at less cost to boot”.

But if the customer is indeed king – it’s a very constitutional monarchy.

Because actually there’s almost no evidence that customers are more satisfied with what they’re getting.

And there’s plenty of evidence that exactly the opposite is true.

I blame professional marketing people. I blame the research companies they use. And I blame their bosses and the people who hold their purse strings for lacking the conviction of their predecessors.

Most of all, I blame the quarterly reporting public ownership culture, and super-computer driven trading optimisation algorithms that set more store by short terms results than long-term vision.

Here’s what’s happening in this increasingly vicious circle (IMHO):

Margins are under pressure, ergo business models are examined.

Patterns of increased customer dissatisfaction and purchase promiscuity are discovered.

Customer research is conducted using quantitative (quite dangerous) and qualitative (very dangerous) surveys.

Please note: all the competitors are going through the same process, using the same process and the same methodologies. They’re also asking the same customers.

They’re also (of course) getting the same answers.

So they do the same things:

  • Process improvements (which costs money)
  • Staff recruitment and training (which costs money)
  • Product and proposition innovation (which costs money)

Soon the customer has got what he or she said they wanted. And they have plenty of people to buy it from – because they’re all the same.

So margins remain under pressure and business models are re-examined.

More patterns of increased customer dissatisfaction and purchase promiscuity are discovered.

More customer research is conducted.

And so on.

Why does the customer remain dissatisfied, when his or her needs are being so slavishly satisfied?

The first part of the answer is that customers don’t know what they want. And so there’s no point asking them.

Henry Ford is supposed to have said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Later on David Ogilvy put it even better, from a marketing perspective:

“Consumers don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”

But actually the answer goes deeper.

Psychological and social research reveals that satisfaction depends as much on the have-nots as it does on the haves.

Humans turn out to be significantly more loss-averse than they are acquisitive. And these tendencies ossify as age increases.

Other studies show that miserable people remain miserable when their circumstances improve and happy people are stoic when their luck fails.

It’s all about relativity.

A broken nail can ruin a whole day in downtown LA, whilst many an African woman can consider herself very fortunate indeed if only half her offspring die before their fifth birthday.

Equality seems to be such hell for humans that even the most idealistic communist and egalitarian societies quickly introduce their own hierarchical conventions.

How to escape? Grow some balls.

Businessmen and women need to grow some balls. They need to stop asking people what they want and just do what they feel is right to the best of their ability.

They need to remember that the secret of success in business, just as in art and negotiation, is to charge a great deal for something that costs you very little (most businesses at the moment appear to be increasingly predicated on the precisely opposite notion).

Investors need to grow some balls and invest in the ideas that show genuine vision for the future – recognising that some (most?) will fail, but the ones that succeed will enjoy spectacular growth and high margins, whilst they last.

Most of all Marketers need to grow some balls and to stop doing everything by rote. They need to recognise – or rather remember – that needs and desires can be created far easier than they can be satisfied. And that weakness can be spun into strength simply by a change of emphasis, of environment – sometimes just through the passage of time.

By Malcolm Gladwell’s reckoning David was never the underdog. We should sympathise instead with poor old Goliath, whose size, strength and heavy armour equipped him to deal only with enemies of a similar stature, fighting in a similar way.

Standard
Behavioural Economics, Marketing Strategy, Persuasion

When did you stop beating your customers?

I don’t for a moment imagine that the clever and experienced marketing people employed by Britain’s banks have failed to keep up with the latest thinking in behavioural economics. I know quite a few of them and they’re all super sharp cookies.

So I’m really scratching my swede as to why they’re all spending so much money reminding us how shabbily they’ve behaved for the last umpteen years.

 “We’ve changed,” they’re all shouting.

“We’re on your side now,” they’re all bleating.

“We’ll make things simple for you,” they’re all promising.

Virgin Money – who I never really lumped in with the “really-evils” anyway – are promising me “Banking you can see through”.

“I’ve always been able to see through it, matey,” I mutter to myself.

Every penny they spend reminds me about the problem. Every ad they issue makes me question (again) their motives.

And – as is usual in financial services – they’re all doing and saying the same things, reaching for the same solutions, exploiting the same insights, gleaned from the same customers, in the same focus groups, through the same research companies.

And they’re reminding me that banks are all still the same: still shit and still wishing they weren’t.

If you can’t be bothered to read “Thinking Fast & Slow”, I’ll give you something easier to absorb:

  1. Telling people you’ve changed just reminds them what a monster you used to be (people in advertising used to have a name for this phenomenon called, “When did you stop beating your wife?”)
  2. If you must advertise, find something you’re actually good at (perhaps even a little better at than others?) and try and make that thing desirable to the people you’re trying to attract (You may not succeed with everyone, but at least they won’t hate you for standing up for what you do best and trying to have a go)
  3. If there is literally nothing even potentially desirable about the things you do and the people you are, keep your head down, rather than flushing even more of your customers’ and your shareholders’ money down the bog.

As my hero Tom Lehrer once said, “I feel if a person can’t communicate, the very least they can do is to shut up”.

Standard
Moral Decision Making, Politics

Please let’s be parliamentary, not paramilitary

What is it about talk about missile strikes and Syria that makes me think of those old-style punishment beatings the IRA and UVF used to dole out to the local drug dealers?

It’s horrific to think of people being poisoned and gassed. We can all feel outraged on behalf of our fellow man.

But doesn’t taking unilateral action on the grounds of an arbitrary red-line transgression imply a de-facto elevation of our role from compassionate humans to judge, jury and – almost inevitably – executioner?

Our people are trying to work through the UN, as they certainly should.

But just as in the past with previous conflicts (some of which haven’t turned out that well in hindsight), the implication of a failure to agree is clear:

We’ll do it anyway. Because we think it needs to be done. So there.

And increasingly, politicians left and right seem happy to write-off the UN as a paralysed body, through which it is impossible to work.

I’m not even talking about the inherent dangers and consequences of unilateral, morally-derived action on a complex social, political and religious hornets’ nest (“Monkeys playing with Grenades”, according to the Russians).

In this world of grey areas, this one seems clear to me. It’s a simple question of working out the difference between your right to hold moral opinions and your right to enforce them on others:

Step One: Work through the UN to establish a proper consensus. Then Act. Together.

If that doesn’t work…

Step Two: Fix the UN and return to Step One.

If that doesn’t work…

Step Three: Accept that the world is a horrible place and will remain so until you go back to Step Two and get it right.

Standard