Goldman has never written a commercial in his life yet you’ll learn more from his storytelling on how to write for the screen than you will from some advertising expert. And you’ll learn in a memorable and entertaining way – what could be better? There is one piece of advice he offers, in particular, about writing a scene that I love. || It’s a piece of advice that could be well employed by most writers: ‘Come in late, leave early’. || And Goldman’s not talking about the hours you keep. His point is that most writers leave nothing for the audience to do – the writer over explains. || When you write a scene, and it could be a screenplay or it could be a television commercial, whatever you do, you must leave room for the audience to participate. You have to get them engaged in the process – that way you’ll get them wanting more. || With screenwriting you move from scene to scene, twisting, turning and surprising, so predictability is the death of a screenplay, as it is for those of us who write television commercials.
If I can work out what’s coming why bother watching? Surprise is a fundamental factor in making something memorable.
Another renowned venture capitalist, Kleiner Perkins’s Randy Komisar takes this idea one step further. He dissuades members of the investment committee from expressing firm opinions by stating right away that they are for or against an investment idea. Instead, Komisar asks participants for a “balance sheet” of points for and against the investment: “Tell me what is good about this opportunity; tell me what is bad about it. Do not tell me your judgment yet. I don’t want to know.” Conventional wisdom dictates that everyone should have an opinion and make it clear. Instead, Komisar asks his colleagues to flip-flop!
Mark Lepper, David Greene, and Richard Nisbett (1973) conducted research on this question. They divided children into three groups:
- Group 1 was the Expected group. The researchers showed the children the Good Drawing Certificate and asked if they wanted to draw in order to get the certificate.
- Group 2 was the Unexpected group. The researchers asked the children if they wanted to draw, but didn’t mention anything about a certificate. After the children spent time drawing, they received an unexpected drawing certificate.
- Group 3 was the Control group. The researchers asked the children if they wanted to draw, but didn’t mention a certificate and didn’t give them one.
The real part of the experiment came two weeks later. During playtime the drawing tools were put out in the room. The children weren’t asked anything about drawing; the tools were just put in the room and available. So what happened? Children in the Unexpected and Control groups spent the most time drawing. The children in Expected group, the ones to had received an expected reward, spent the least time drawing. Contingent rewards (rewards based on specific behavior that is spelled out ahead of time) resulted in less of the desired behavior if the reward was not repeated. Later the researchers went on to do studies like this, with adults as well as children, and found similar results.
In one study, some of our colleagues from the Second city retreat—Brad Bitterly, Maurice Schweitzer, and Alison Wood Brooks—recruited participants to write and present testimonials for Visit Switzerland, a fictional travel company. What the group didn’t know is that the first two “participants” who read their testimonials were research assistants. Half of their prewritten testimonials were serious, the other half were funny (eg., serious testimonial “The mountains are great for skiing and hiking. It’s amazing!” vs. humorous testimonial “The mountains are great for skiing and hiking, and the flag is a big plus!”). …*
When participants were asked to rate the presenters on a handful of qualities, those presenting the humorous testimonial were perceived as 5 percent more competent, 11 percent more confident, and 37 percent higher in status.
In other words, a six-word throwaway pun at the end of a testimonial meaningfully swung opinions.
Tuck your chin into your chest, and then lift your chin upward as far as possible. 6-10 repetitions.
Lower your left ear toward your left shoulder and then your right ear toward your right shoulder. 6-10 repetitions.
The models whose success we admire are, by definition, those who have succeeded. But out of all the people who were “crazy enough to think they can change the world,” the vast majority did not manage to do it. For this very reason, we’ve never heard of them. We forget this when we focus only on the winners. We look only at the survivors, not at all those who took the same risks, adopted the same behaviors, and failed. This logical error is survivorship bias. We shouldn’t draw any conclusions from a sample that is composed only of survivors. Yet we do, because they are the only ones we see.
Our quest for models may inspire us, but it can also lead us astray. We would benefit from restraining our aspirations and learning from people who are similar to us, from decision makers whose success is less flashy, instead of a few idols
Such misleading stories, however, may still be influential and durable. In Human, All Too Human, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argues that “partial knowledge is more often victorious than full knowledge: it conceives things as simpler than they are and therefore makes its opinion easier to grasp and more persuasive.”
Finally, there are the words with inbuilt flawed assumptions. Step forward all those plans aiming to encourage ‘active engagement’, make ads more ‘persuasive’, ‘force reappraisal’, ‘strengthen the brand-consumer relationship’, ‘drive brand loyalty’, and so on. These words all sound harmless enough, but the assumptions and principles built into them are flawed. That means they knock marketing effectiveness off course. By and large, people don’t want to ‘actively engage’ or have ‘strong relationships’ with brands, advertising or even ‘consumer generated content’. And they don’t need to for marketing to be successful. Communication can work without ‘persuasion’ or ‘reappraisal. In fact, it needn’t actually ‘communicate’ much at all. And as we’ve said before, brand loyally is loudly an irrelevance.
The ‘winter detector’ problem is common in big data analysis. A literal example, via computer scientist Sameer Singh, is the pattern-recognising algorithm that was shown many photos of wolves in the wild, and many photos of pet husky dogs. The algorithm seemed to be really good at distinguishing the two rather similar canines; it turned out that it was simply labelling any picture with snow as containing a wolf. An example with more serious implications was described by Janelle Shane in her book You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: an algorithm that was shown pictures of healthy skin and of skin cancer. The algorithm figured out the pattern: if there was a ruler in the photograph, it was cancer. If we don’t know why the algorithm is doing what it’s doing, we’re trusting our lives to a ruler detector.
The advertising industry – whose only important asset is ideas – has learned nothing from this. We keep heading in the wrong direction. We keep bulking up everything in our arsenal except our creative resources. Then we take the people who are supposed to be our idea people and give them till 3 o’clock to do a banner.
Sure, we need people who are tech-savvy and analytical. But more than anything, we need some brains-in-a-bottle who have no responsibility other than to sit in a corner and feed us crazy ideas. We keep looking to “transform” our industry but ignore the one transformation that would kill.
The Big Ben Problem suggests that introducing a limited time window may encourage people to seize opportunities for treats. Imagine you’ve just gotten a gift certificate for a piece of delicious cake and a beverage at a high-end French pastry shop. Would you rather see the gift certificate stamped with an expiration date two months from today, or just three weeks from now? Faced with this choice, most people were happier with the two-month option, and 68 percent reported that they would use it before this expiration date. But when they received a gift certificate for a tasty pastry at a local shop, only 6 percent of people redeemed it when they were given a two month expiration date, compared to 31 percent of people who were given the shorter three-week window. People given two months to redeem the certificate kept thinking they could do it later, creating another instance of the Big Ben Problem
This detachment also makes it harder to remember how much we’ve spent. When researchers asked thirty people to estimate their credit card expenses before opening their monthly bill, every single individual underestimated the size of their bill—by an average of almost 30 percent.
I can think of nothing an audience won’t understand. The only problem is to interest them; once they are interested they understand anything in the world.
When pushed, people push back. So rather than telling people what to do, or trying to persuade, catalysts allow for agency and encourage people to convince themselves.
People are attached to the status quo. To ease endowment, catalysts surface the costs of inaction and help people realize that doing nothing isn’t as costless as it seems.
Too far from their backyard, people tend to disregard. Perspectives that are too far away fall in the region of rejection and get discounted, so catalysts shrink distance, asking for less and switching the field.
Seeds of doubt slow the winds of change. To get people to un-pause, catalysts alleviate uncertainty. Easier to try means more likely to buy.
Some things need more proof. Catalysts find corroborating evidence, using multiple sources to help overcome the translation problem.
Excerpt from: Catalyst by Jonah Berger
2. Since facts are more believable than claims, it’s better to express claims as facts.
In advertising, claim is often a euphemism for lie. Many of these euphemised lies are specially constructed to wiggle past lawyers and network censors. You can’t say your peanut butter has more peanuts, not without a notarised peanut count, but you can say someone will be a better mother if she serves it. At your arraignment all you have to do is plead Puffery. All charges are dropped. Puffery forgives everything. To lawyers and censors, it’s okay to lie as long as you lie on a grand enough scale. To everyone else, a lie is still a lie, and it’s almost always transparent. That’s why, instead of just asserting that BMW was a good investment, a BMW ad used the car’s high resale value to prove the point. And it did so, not by comparing the car to other cars but to other investments people in that target audience might make: “Last year a car outperformed 318 stocks on the New York Stock Exchange.”
Excerpt from: D&Ad Copy Book by D&AD
1. Myopia: a tendency to focus on overly short future time horizons when appraising immediate costs and the potential benefits of protective investments;
2. Amnesia: a tendency to forget too quickly the lessons of past disasters;
3. Optimism: a tendency to underestimate the likelihood that losses will occur from future hazards;
4. Inertia: a tendency to maintain the status quo or adopt a default option when there is uncertainty about the potential benefits of investing in alternative protective measures:
5. Simplification: a tendency to selectively attend to on subset of the relevant factors to consider when making choices involving risk; and
6. Herding: a tendency to base choices on the observed actions of others.
Several kinds of verbiage are perennial targets for the delete key. Light verbs such as make, do, have, bring, put, and take often do nothing but create a slot for a zombie noun, as in make an appearance and put on a performance. Why not just use the verb that spawned the zombie in the first place, like appear or perform? A sentence beginning with It is or There is is often a candidate for liposuction: There is competition between groups for resources works just fine as Groups compete for resources. Other globs of verbal fat include the metaconcepts we suctioned out in chapter 2, including matter, view, subject, process, basis, factor, level, and model.
It helps if your copy has a natural, conversational style. To achieve this, as Jim Durfee has suggested, imagine you’re sitting opposite your prospect and then, in the guise of the brand you’re representing, write as you’d speak.
This means using language they’ll understand instantly. Which words are they? Well, of the 80 most-used words in the English language, 78 have an Anglo-Saxon root. These are the short, simple words we use every day.
There’s one short, simple word you should use a lot. Read your copy and check that “you” appears three times more than “I” or “we”. This helps you write about the subject from the reader’s perspective.
Excerpt from: D&Ad Copy Book by D&AD
In one study, experimenters distributed coffee reward cards, with 10 stamps earning a free cup of coffee.
Condition 1: a 10-stamp card with no stamps filled.
Condition 2: a 12-stamp card with two stamps already filled in.
Participants in the second condition purchased more coffee and at a higher rate than participants in the first condition. Furthermore, participants accelerated their coffee consumption when they got closer to their prize.
Ensure the first step of any journey is simple to accomplish and continue to recognise progress along the way. Avoid making people feel they are starting afresh.
Excerpt from: The Unseen Mind by Ogilvy UK