Advertising, Behaviour Change, Behavioural Economics, Marketing Strategy, Persuasion, Predatory Thinking, Social Decision Making

Sperm-bank promotion strategy. It’s a toss-up.

Today the news that the UK’s National Sperm Bank, set up a year ago, has only nine donors so far, and is about to unveil a promotional campaign to ramp-up the volume of in-flows.

I can’t wait.

On the surface, it seems a straightforward problem to solve. But read on…

Turns out the sperm bank needs ‘super-sperm’ not just ordinary, run-of-the-mill, 33-Acacia-Avenue sperm. This is because it needs to survive the constant freezing and unfreezing process inherent in the final customer service procedure (giving infertility sufferers the chance of a child).

Out of 100 potential donor applicants, only ten survive the screening process and only 1 of those 10 will actually become a donor.

The lucky participant must attend the clinic twice a week for four months and, in exchange for £70 a session, abstain from ejaculating for two days before each visit, which essentially ensures an entirely monogamous relationship with the clinic, for the duration of the programme.

And that’s before you get to the customer selection process. People in the market for sperm tend to be quite choosy, apparently. They want donors of 6’ or more, for instance, which rules out 90% of potential UK donors straight away. And they all want doctors or barristers – most of whom are too busy, too rich, or both, to sign up.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that most donated sperm in the UK currently comes from Denmark and USA.

The forthcoming advertising campaign will ape a successful precedent in Denmark, in which men are challenged to prove their manliness by demonstrating the ‘vigour’ of their ‘guys’. A follow-up planned for Christmas is going to ask men to consider giving “an alternative Christmas gift”.

I’ll be delighted if either of these approaches works. But I wonder if they’ve learned as fully as they might, the lessons behavioural economics might teach.

In one sense it’s a bit like the Royal Marines campaign, which broadcasts the fact that 99% need not apply. “We’re only for the hardest nuts,” they say.

But the sperm-bank version would have to be – surely – “Have you got the ballsiest, bounciest swimmers in the business? (And are you also over 6’, handsome, intelligent, well adjusted and gainfully employed in a respected professional occupation). If so come and subject yourself to our test and win yourself the prize of wanking into a test-tube for four months in exchange for not much money and the eternal admiration of all your friends – who you’ll definitely tell straight away”.

Better surely to normalise the act of one-off donation, along the lines of blood donorship (where they don’t tell you – and please don’t ask – how many already donated blood samples need to be excluded from the transfusion bank).

That way the largest possible number of men could begin to imagine it was normal, your duty even, to donate, without becoming alarmed as to the potential consequences or commitment.

Once you’ve got your contingent of suitable donors in through the door, you could then explain what they’ve got themselves, and their “guys”, into.

Standard
Advertising, Behaviour Change, Equality, Moral Decision Making, Persuasion, Social Decision Making

Can we all agree to agree? Just sometimes?

I listened to Peter Hitchens’ piece on Stigma yesterday evening on the wireless. You’ll be able to get the full blast on iPlayer for the next few days.

He was arguing that, whilst we often pretend that our society has moved beyond stigma as a controlling force, it is actually alive and well – in a new and disturbing form.

Stimga itself, he suggested, has become stigmatised.

Postulating critical or even questioning views on the situations and lifestyle choices of others is now beyond the pale.

Try and share any kind of non-majority opinion about the way someone else lives, and prepare to be hounded by the Twitterati and Arsebookers with their digital pitchforks and burning e-torches.

It made me wonder about the film we’ve just done for Stonewall, the LGB charity (www.NoBystanders.org.uk).

It launched last Friday at the Stonewall 25th anniversary dinner – and has subsequently been shared (a lot) online.

Übertweeters Caitlin Moran, Stephen Fry, Danii Minogue, Clare Balding, Dame Penelope Keith and countless millions of others have supported, much to our – and Stonewall’s – delight. The elusive Zeitgeist seems to be with us, for a change.

The idea behind it, on the eve of the first actual gay marriages, was to make two points:

Firstly, even in our apparently permissive society, gay people are still routinely teased, bullied and discriminated against in schools, in workplaces and in public areas, up and down the country.

Secondly, the roots of homophobic bullying are similar to bullying levelled against any kind of separately identifiable group (Jews, Blacks, Honkeys, Fatsos, Gingernuts, Spakkas etc.).

We’ve been talking to  Stonewall about beginning to move beyond the core constituency of gay people they represent, and the liberal intellectuals who support their objectives through an innate sense of socially progressive conviction.

With the big legislative battles more or less won, theoretical equality is sorted.

Now they need to find a way to engage with more socially conservative audiences, who probably still represent an overwhelming majority in the UK, even if they have been cowed into the state of seething, non-PC silence that P. Hitchens outlines.

In this case, it seemed we might be able to forge a bond of togetherness by talking about humans in general, rather than humans in particular: How we tend to define ourselves and our groups not by who we are, but by who we’re not.

My enemy’s enemy is my friend – as the old maxim goes.

Our little film begins in the playground, a place where even the most confident have felt the odd-pang of vulnerability as they suddenly find themselves on the outside of the group, rather than the in. For some, it’s the start of a life-time of alienation and abuse.

It attempts to recognise that gay people are not the only individuals who are marginalised because of things about which they can do little or nothing.

So are we just bullying people ourselves?

Foisting our liberal values on the poor traditionalists who cling to their view of the world as it was bequeathed to them by their forefathers?

Certainly one man seems to think so.

A brave lone voice in the relentless digital agreement-fest stands out. Here’s one of his (many) contributions:

RussellTweet

I truly believe no one at Stonewall wants to force their “perverted” way of life onto this dude. Nor do I.

Really.

We were only trying to see if non-gay people were as against bullying as gay people are. And whether we could forge a huge “alliance of the different” to challenge some of the worst excesses of human nature, that we all share.

Surely there are some things on which we can all agree to agree?

It makes me regret we didn’t include “Bigot” as one of the insults.

And to try and get Mr. Russell to realise he’s just like the rest of us – and welcome him to join us.

On the inside of the tent, pissing outwards.

http://youtu.be/agLrVvCUkzI

 

 

 

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, 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, 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
Behaviour Change, Behavioural Economics, Persuasion, Social Decision Making

How to get a bed for the night

I never give money to beggars anymore. If I want to enrich the makers of Special Brew, I’ll buy some myself.

But today I did.

A slightly-younger-than-me black man stopped me in the street as I was popping out for a sandwich. He apologised for bothering me.

He was a floating resident at a seamen’s mission around the corner, he explained. I knew the place.

He said he was ex-forces, down on his luck. Lance-Corporal something-or-other. Before three o’clock, he needed to find four people to give him two quid each, so that he could continue to stay there.

That was the pitch.

Five seconds later, he only needed three more people.

It was as concise a shakedown as I’ve ever heard – and beautifully delivered:

  • He let me know he needed shelter.
  • He showed me he already had a solution – one that I knew and approved of (unlike Special Brew).
  • He advertised his army credentials: placing himself in a society I respect.
  • He instilled a sense of urgency by introducing a limited timeframe.
  • He communicated that I would be one of several helping him (classic behavioural economics)
  • He gave me a specific and easy way to help – clearly well within my means.

Textbook (perhaps written by the British Army).

Standard