John Kay, an economist at Oxford University, argues that advertising doesn’t work because of explicit messages. He suggests that one context is particularly important that of waste. By waste he means spending more on adverts than is necessary to functionally communicate the explicit message. That could be a 90-second ad, acres of white space on double-page spread or extravagant production values.
Advertising known to be expensive signals the volume of the resources available to the advertiser. As Kay says in his landmark paper:
The advertiser has either persuaded lots or people to buy his product already, a good sign, or has persuaded someone to lend him lots of money to finance the campaign.
Advertising works, not despite its perceived wastage, but because of it.
To test this possibility, Bail set up a clever experiment. He recruited more than 1,500 Twitter users and had them low accounts that exposed them to opposing viewpoints. For a month they saw messages and information from elected officials, organizations, and opinion leaders from the other side. A liberal might see tweets from Fox News or Donald Trump. A conservative might see posts from Hillary Clinton or Planned Parenthood.
It was a digital version of reaching across the aisle. A simple intervention that could have big effects for social policy.
Then, at the end of the month, Bail and his team measured users’ attitudes. How they felt about various political and social issues. Things like whether government regulation is beneficial, whether homosexuality should be accepted by society, and whether the best way to ensure peace is through military strength.
It was a huge undertaking. Years of preparation and thousands of hours of work. The hope was that, as thousands of pundits, columnists, and other talking heads have argued, connecting with the other side would bring people closer together.
But that’s not what happened. Exposure to the other side didn’t make people more moderate.
In fact, just the opposite. Exposure to opposing views did change minds, but in the opposite direction. Rather than becoming more liberal, Republicans exposed to liberal information became more conservative, developing more extreme attitudes toward social policies. Liberals showed similar effects.
Excerpt from: Catalyst by Jonah Berger
To manipulate the number of syllables of a given price Coulter, Choi, and Monroe (2012) introduced a comma into the same four-digit price and let it mention in a radio commercial as, for example, $1,645 (one thousand six hundred forty-five: 9 syllables) vs. $1645 (sixteen forty-five: 5 syllables). Then participants were asked to rate the magnitude of the price on a 10-point scale.
Participants rated the magnitude of the price with the comma higher than the same price without a comma.
I’ve never been much of a theoriser about copywriting but here are five things that I think are more or less true:
1. Put yourself into your work. Use your life to animate your copy. If something moves you, chances are, it will touch someone else, too.
2. Think visually. Ask someone to describe a spiral staircase and they’ll use their hands as well as words. Sometimes the best copy is no copy.
3. If you believe that facts persuade (as I do), you’d better learn how to write a list so that it doesn’t read like a list.
4. Confession is good for the soul and for copy, too. Bill Bernbach used to say “a small admission gains a large acceptance”. I still think he was right.
5. Don’t be boring.
Excerpt from: D&Ad Copy Book by D&AD
The taxpayers of New Jersey and Pennsylvania felt the brunt of this firsthand in a real-life experiment in 1992. Both states switched that year to a no-fault insurance regime where consumers could save money by limiting their right to sue for tort damages, but the way the option was framed differed by state: New Jersey made limited right to sue the default option, while Pennsylvanians were presumed to select full right to sue, unless they opted out. This small change in the status quo had a profound effect on their behavior: 75 percent of Pennsylvania consumers paid to retain full tort, while only 20 percent of New Jersey consumers did.
Similar effects have been found with many other kinds of behavior, including student loan repayment and even, interestingly, willingness to donate organs.
Many years ago, the Ford Motor Company wanted to tell American motorists that they sold more convertibles than did any other automobile manufacturer. They could perfectly well have said: ‘America’s bestselling convertible.’ Instead they ran a headline that read: ‘The only convertible that outsells Ford.’ And the picture was of a baby-carriage. That is a kind of humour; and it’s almost a joke. It certainly depends entirely on a contribution from its audience for the communication to be complete. But the contribution is a small and pleasurable one, well within the capacity of anyone in the market for a car. And what could have been a piece of self-congratulatory manufacturer’s so-whattery became engaging evidence of confident leadership. The point had been seen.
The long-distance telegraph began with a portent—Samuel F. B. Morse, standing in the chambers of the US Supreme Court on May 24,1844, wiring his assistant Alfred Vail in Baltimore a verse from the Old Testament: “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT.” The first thing we ask of any new connection is how it began, and from that origin can’t help trying to augur its future.
The first telephone call in history, made by Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant on March 10, 1876, began with a bit of a paradox. “Mr. Watson, come here; I want to see you”—a simultaneous testament to its ability and inability to overcome physical distance.
The cell phone began with a boast—Motorola’s Martin Cooper walking down Sixth Avenue on April 3, 1973, as Manhattan pedestrians gawked, calling his rival Joel Engel at AT&T: “Joel, I’m calling you from a cellular phone. A real cellular phone: a handheld, portable, real, cellular phone.”
So they ran a recruitment poster.
But the visual didn’t show massed ranks of soldiers.
With the headline, ‘THE BRITISH ARMY IS SHORT OF TWO MILLION NEW RECRUITS’.
The visual was Kitchener pointing out of the poster, straight at the person looking at the poster.
And the headline said, ‘YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU’.
And that poster worked.
It got millions of recruits.
By talking to people one at a time.
It was so successful the USA copied it a few years later with a picture of Uncle Sam and the same headline.
And it recruited millions of men there, too.
Of the twelve journals, only three spotted that they had already published the article. This was a grave lapse of memory on the part of the editors and their referees, but then memory is fallible; however, worse was to come. Eight out of the remaining nine articles, all of which had been previously published, were rejected. Moreover, of the sixteen referees and eight editors who looked at these eight papers, every single one stated that the paper they examined did not merit publication. This is surely a startling instance of the availability error. It suggests that in deciding whether an article should be published, referees and editors pay more attention to the authors’ names and to the standing of the institution to which they belong than they do to the scientific work reported.
Excerpt from: Irrationality: The enemy within by Stuart Sutherland
Scarcity is a great way to make something seem more attractive and valuable. The Blues Brothers famously played ‘for one night only’ and Bernd Pichetsrieder, the great BMW marketing guru insisted on ‘always selling one less than you can’.
This kind of strategy is sometimes called the ‘velvet rope’ – ‘you can’t come in’ often makes something that much more appealing. This was also the trick behind the story of how Frederick the Great turned Prussia into a potato eating nation – he insisted that no-one but the nobility could eat the potato. The ‘aspirational’ root vegetable? Believe it.
Recently, the Behavioural Insights Team began altering the letter sent to British citizens if they failed to pay taxes on their car. The traditional letter was all text, informing the subject that if they didn’t pay now they would be hit with various penalties, including a clamped or and hefty fines. To increase the effectiveness of the letter, the scientists began experimenting with various forms of personalization. The first variant involved making a more specific threat, telling recipients that they would lose their particular model of car if they didn’t pay the tax. The second variant featured a personalized visual, so that the letter came attached with a photograph of the actual car question. While both approaches increased compliance, the customized picture was the most effective—it increased the compliance rate from 40 to 49 percent.
So we use others as a helpful shortcut. A filter. If a book is on the best-seller list, we’re more likely to skim the description. If a song is already popular, we’re more likely to give it a listen. Following others saves us time and effort and (hopefully) leads us to something we’re more likely to enjoy.
Does that mean we’ll like all those books or songs ourselves? Not necessarily. But we’re more likely to check them out and give them a try. And given the thousands of competing options out there, this increased attention is enough to give those items a boost.
Knowing others liked something also encourages people to give it the benefit of the doubt. Appearing on the best-seller list provides an air of credibility.
Be careful. People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things . . . well, new things aren’t what they expect. They like to know that, say, a dog will bite a man. That is what dogs do. They don’t want to know that man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds … Not news but olds, telling people that what they think they already know is true.
—Terry Pratchett through the character Lord Vetinari from his The Truth: A Discworld Novel
There was a perhaps apocryphal tale about a time when Reeves was out sailing with a client. The client made bold to ask why he should continue paying the same fee when the ad was never really changed. “What do you need all those people on my account when you never do anything?” Reeves, who could be surly, gruffed, “To keep your people from changing what I’ve done.”
Stories depend on the artful manipulation of what Loewenstein calls information gaps. In McKee’s words, ‘Curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close open patterns. Story plays to this universal desire by doing the opposite, posing questions and opening situations.’ The storyteller plays a cat and mouse game with the viewer (or reader, or listener), opening and closing information gaps as the narrative unfolds, unspooling the viewer’s curiosity.
Davison dubbed this the “third-person effect,” and it goes a long way toward explaining how lifestyle advertising might influence consumers. When Corona runs its “Find Your Beach” ad campaign, it’s not necessarily targeting you directly—because you, naturally, are too savvy to be manipulated by this kind of ad. But it might be targeting you indirectly, by way of your peers. If you think the ad will change other peoples perceptions of Corona, then it might make sense for you to buy it, even if you know that a beer is just a beer, not a lifestyle. If you’re invited to a casual backyard barbecue, for example, you’d probably prefer to show up with a beer whose brand image will be appealing to the other guests. In this context, it makes more sense to bring a beer that says, “Let’s chill out,” rather than a beer that says, “Let’s get drunk and wild!”
Unless we’re paying careful attention, the third-person effect can be hard to notice. In part, this is because we typically assume that ads are targeting us directly, as individual buyers; indirect influence can be harder to see. But it’s also a mild case of the elephant in the brain…
They started by collating the information about what GP practices across England were doing, and used this to identify practices whose prescription rate for antibiotics was in the top 20 per cent for their local area. Half of this group of over-prescribers were then sent a letter, signed by the Chief Medical Officer, with feedback about their prescription habits, together with three specific things they could immediately do to reduce the number of prescriptions they gave out. For example, doctors can give patients delayed prescriptions, which enable them to get their medication in the future, so long as their symptoms persist. Alongside these tips, the doctors were told how their performance compared with others. They were informed that ‘the great majority (80 per cent) of practices in [your local area] prescribe fewer antibiotics per head than yours’. When Michael and his team compared the subsequent behaviour of those doctors who received the feedback letters to that of those who got no such letter, they were surprised by the impact. Over a six-month period, GP practices receiving the feedback letters prescribed an estimated 73,400 fewer antibiotic items than those that didn’t.
A few years ago a mathematician friend explained to me that the game of tennis is enjoyable to watch only because of the scoring system.
If players swapped serve alternately, and the tally worked as in basketball, (Nadal now leads Murray by 127 points to 43; new balls please) it would be almost unwatchable. But because tennis breaks the score into watertight compartments, namely games and sets, it creates a structure wherein a losing player feels he is still in with a chance right to the end. That makes the narrative of the game far more enjoyable to fans and players. And because some rounds (break-points, set-points) are more critical than others tennis’s moments of high tension are interested as in a good opera or play, with quieter moments when spectators can relax.
Excerpt from: Rory Sutherland: The Wiki Man by Rory Sutherland
Half of the respondents, drawn from a national sample of relatively affluent households, were asked whether they could comfortably save 20 percent of their income, and the other half were asked whether they could comfortably live on 80 percent of their income. Of course, to save 20 percent of your income is to live on 80 percent of it. Nevertheless, whereas only half of the respondents thought they could save 20 percent of their earnings, four out of five thought they could comfortably live on 80 percent.
This difference in reactions cannot be chalked up to simple financial illiteracy. People find beef that is 80 percent lean more appealing than beef that is 20 percent fat. They are more impressed by condoms whose manufacturers boast of a 95 percent success rate rather than a 5 percent failure rate. They are more supportive of taxes on the rich when the existing level of income inequality is described in terms of how much more the rich earn than the median wage earner tan when it is described in terms of how much less the median wage earner earns than the rich.
So when word got out that the main tea competitor, Tetley, had a bizarre new product up its sleeve, we and our client weren’t unduly worried. PG Tips came in square tea bags, like the rest of the market in those days. Tetley’s new tea idea was round bags. This made no sense at all to us. The tea would taste just the same, wouldn’t it? We gave it a few months, at best. But how wrong we were. People loved the new round bags Tetley shot to brand leader in a year. We were reminded of this when we visited a Paul Smith exhibition. Among his mantras was: “Don’t make sense”
Yet marketers very rarely acknowledge this distinction when debating the role of the brand – and it pays little attention to the job of being assuredly not crap – even though I suggest it is by far the more valuable economic role that brands play: not to be a promise of ultimate superiority but a cast iron assurance of pretty dependable non-shitness. The Fina ad is one good example. Even better is that great CDP ad for Smirnoff: “why waste money on real lemons”, which I can’t find, or the Volkswagen promise of reliability. But overall this proposition of “loss avoidance” is rare – most ads seek to boast a lot more than they reassure. Yet when you are handing over £1,000 to buy that flat screen TV, how much of your brain is worried about whether it is the best TV you can buy for £1,000, versus the part of the brain thinking “I hope this TV isn’t a crock of shite?” I’d put the ratio at about 1:2.
Because we all work in the field, marketers and advertising people are by temperament maximisers when it comes to brands. They use the fine distinctions between them to delineate themselves and to highlight their individuality.
Excerpt from: Rory Sutherland: The Wiki Man by Rory Sutherland
To sail as close to the wind as we can without capsizing.
Castlemaine lagers campaign, Australians wouldn’t give a XXXX for any other lager.
The poster campaign for French Connection UK:
FCUK FASHION and FCUK ADVERTISING.
The shop in Kings Road that sold brass front-door fittings, called Knobs and Knockers.
The Sun’s headline when Tammy Wynette died,
COUNTRY STAR TAMMY: D-E-C-E-A-S-E-D.
Eddie Izzard’s joke, “I come from a very traditional family.
My granddad hanged himself on Christmas Eve and we couldn’t take him down until January 5th.”
This is a naughty, schoolboy, playground sense of humour.
Excerpt from: Creative Mischief by Dave Trott
The gin brand Hendrick’s engaged in a very clever bit of non-sense, when they suggested that their product be served not with lemon but with cucumber, which gained immediate salience. Being British, I failed to notice the genius of this move, which was that it also positioned the drink as sophisticatedly British in the United States; Americans find cucumber sandwiches a British peculiarity. To a Brit, of course, a cucumber is not seen as being particularly British – it is just something we make sandwiches with.
Listerine was invented in the nineteenth century as powerful surgical antiseptic. It was later sold, in distilled form, as both a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea. But it wasn’t a runaway success until the 1920s, when it was pitched as a solution for “chronic halitosis”— a then obscure medical term for bad breath. Listerine’s new ads featured forlorn young women and men, eager for marriage but turned off by their mate’s rotten breath. “Can I be happy with him in spite of that?” one maiden asked herself. Until that time, bad breath was not conventionally considered such a catastrophe, but Listerine changed that. As the advertising scholar James B. Twitchell writes, “Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis.” In just seven years, the company’s revenues rose from $115,000 to more than $8 million.”
The very meaning of the message, Asch (1948, 1952) insisted, changes as a function of the source to which it is attributed. Thus, to cite Asch’s classic example, an assertion to the effect that “a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing” is much more widely endorsed when attributed to Jefferson than to Lenin, because it has a different meaning in the former case than in the latter. When the statement comes from Thomas Jefferson, it conjures up images of honest farmers and tradespeople throwing off the yoke of corrupt and indifferent rulers. When it comes from Lenin, the images (at least to Americans) are quite different – a revolutionary reign of terror in which mobs run amok and harsh new authoritarians take the place of the old oppressors.
Excerpt from: The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson and Joshua Aronson
Richard Feynman: “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird…So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing—that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
Caught off the Cornish coast before being salted and shipped all over Europe, they had been a delicacy for centuries, until the advent of domestic refrigeration and freezing caused the appetite for salted fish – at least outside of Portugal – fall away. “The market was dying fast as the little shops that sold them closed down,’ says Nick Howell of the Pilchard Works fish suppliers in Newlyn. ‘I realised I needed to do something about it.’ Fortunately, Nick though creatively. He discovered that what the Cornish often called the pilchard was related to the fish that was served, with lemon and olive oil, to British tourists in the Mediterranean as a fashionable sardine. So he changed the name from the pilchard, a name redolent of ration food, to the ‘Cornish sardine’. Next, a supermarket buyer who called to ask for French sardines was deftly switched to buying ‘pilchards from Cornwall’. A few years ago Nick successfully petitioned the EU to award Cornish sardines Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, and the result was extraordinary: the Daily Telegraph reported in 2012 that sales of fresh sardines at Tesco had rocketed by 180 per cent in the past year, an increase that was partly explained by a huge increase in the sales of Cornish sardines.
When you think about it, it is rather strange how explicit low-cost airline are about what their ticket prices don’t include: a pre-allocated seat, a meal, free drinks, free checked luggage – such deficiencies help to explain and destigmatise the low prices. ‘Oh, I see,’ you can say, when you see a flight to Budapest advertised for £37, ‘the reason that low price is possible is because I won’t be paying for a lot of expensive fripperies that I probably don’t want anyway.’ It’s an explicit, well-defined trade-off, and one that we feel happy to accept.
Imagine if cheap airlines instead claimed: ‘We’re just a good as British Airways, but at a third of the price.’ Either nobody would believe them, or else such a claim would raise instant doubts. ‘Maybe the only reason they’re cheaper is because they don’t bother servicing the engines or training the pilots, or because the planes are scarcely airworthy.’
In her study ‘Brilliant but Cruel’, Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, asked people to evaluate the intelligence of book reviewers using reviews taken from the New York Times. Professor Amabile changed the reviews slightly, creating two different versions: one positive and one negative. She made only small changes in terms of the actual words, for example changing ‘inspired’ to ‘uninspired’ and ‘capable’ to ‘incapable’.
A positive review might read, ‘In 128 inspired pages, Alvin Harter, with his first work of fiction, shows himself to be an extremely capable young American author. A Longer Dawn is a novella – a prose poem, if you will – of tremendous impact. It deals with elemental things – life, love and death, and does so with such great intensity that it achieves new heights of superior writing on every page.’
While a negative review might read, ‘In 128 inspired pages, Alvin Harter, with his first work of fiction, shows himself to be an extremely incapable young American author. A Longer Dawn is a novella – a prose poem, if you will – of negligible impact. It deals with elemental things – life, love and death, and does so with such little intensity that it achieves new depths of inferior writing on every page.’
Half the people in the study read the first review, the other half read the second, and both rated the intelligence and expertise of the reviewer. Even though the reviews were almost identical – the only difference being whether they were positive or negative – people considered the reviewers with negative versions 14 per cent more intelligent and as having 16 per cent more expertise in literature. Professor Amabile writes the ‘prophets of doom and gloom appear wise and insightful’. Anyone can say something nice – but it tales an expert to critique it.
The concept of sushi was introduced into the United States during the late 1960s, a period of whirlwind change in tastes — entertainment, music, fashion and food. At first, the idea of sushi did not bite. Keep in mind that the average family at the time was sitting down to a dinner of cuts of meats with sides of mashed potatoes swimming in gravy. The thought of eating raw fish was bewildering, even dangerous, in the minds of most restaurant goers. And then a chef by the name of Ichiro Mashita, who ran Tokyo Kaikan, a small sushi bar in downtown Los Angeles, had a clever idea. He asked, ‘What would happen if the strange ingredients were combined with familiar ingredients such as cucumber, crabmeat and avocado? Mashita also realized that Americans preferred seeing the rice on the outside and seaweed paper in the interior. In other word, the roll would feel more familiar if it was made ‘inside-out’.
Demand exploded. The Californian Roll was a gateway for many people to discover Japanese cuisine. Americans now consume $2.25-billion-worth of sushi annually. As Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked, writes, ‘The lesson of the California Roll is simple – people don’t want something truly new, they want the familiar done differently.’