Early in the ‘Love/Hate’ Marmite campaign, an ad showed a couple on a first date going back ‘for coffee’. After eating toast and Marmite in the kitchen, the girl returns to the sofa. They kiss. Her boyfriend retches violently at the Marmite taste.
Most people in research thought it was hilarious. But older Marmite users didn’t. You could say it ‘alienated them. But the ad ran. And the older users changed their view when they saw how popular it was. In fact, it turned out to be the ‘lift-off’ ad of the now-famous campaign, awarded for its creativity and for its results. Market research overestimates people’s resistance to change and boldness, and underestimates ‘herd effects’.
Alienation worry isn’t just wrong, it’s also dangerous. Because it can kill the bold, penetration-gaining ideas that you need for brand growth. So relax: it’s actually quite hard to win friends and alienate people.
Ephron still remembers the first day of her journalism class. Although the students had no journalism experience, they walked into their first class with a sense of what a journalist does: A journalists gets the facts and reports them. To get the facts, you track down the five Ws-who, what, where, when, and why.
As students sat in front of their manual typewriters, Ephron’s teacher announced the first assignment. They would write the lead of a newspaper story. The teacher reeled off the facts: “Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.”
The budding journalists sat at their typewriters and pecked away at the first lead of their careers. According to Ephron, she and most of the other students produced leads that reordered the facts and condensed them into a single sentence: “Governor Pat Brown, Margaret Mead, and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the Beverly Hills High School faculty Thursday in Sacramento … blah, blah, blah.”
The teacher collected the leads and scanned them rapidly. Then he laid them aside and paused for a moment.
Finally, he said, “The lead to the story is “There will be no school next Thursday”.
Say you had the choice between two surgeons of similar rank in the same department in some hospital. The first is highly refined in appearance; he wears silver-rimmed glasses, has a thin build, delicate hands, measured speech, and elegant gestures. His hair is silver and well combed. He is the person you would put in a movie if you needed to impersonate a surgeon. His office prominently boasts Ivy League diplomas, both for his undergraduate and medical schools.
The second one looks like a butcher; he is overweight, with large hands, uncouth speech, and an unkempt appearance. His shirt is dangling from the back. No known tailor on the East Coast of the U.S. is capable of making his shirt button at the neck. He speaks unapologetically with a strong New Yawk accent, as if he wasn’t aware of it. He even has a gold tooth showing when he opens his mouth. The absence of diplomas on the wall hints at the lack of pride in his education: he perhaps went to some local college. In a movie, you would expect him to impersonate a retired bodyguard for a junior congressman, or a third generation cook in a New Jersey cafeteria.
Now if I had to pick, I would overcome my sucker-proneness and take the butcher any minute. Even more: I would seek the butcher as a third option if my choice was between two doctors who looked like doctors. Why? Simply the one who doesn’t look the part, conditional on having made a (sort of) successful career in his profession, had to have much to overcome in terms of perception. And if we are lucky enough to have people who do not look the part, it is thanks to the presence of some skin in the game, the contact with reality that filters out incompetence, as reality is blind to looks.
Here’s how it works. If you want to be a successful consultant or marketing guru you must to convince the hysterical and gullible (that’s us!) that things are changing dramatically and they danger of becoming irrelevant if they don’t understand the new type of human that is now changing the world. The only way to stay ahead of this curve is to rely on…hmm, let’s see… Us!…and our proprietary knowledge and expertise about this new species.
So every fifteen or twenty years they invent a new generation that’s completely different from the last. They have distinctive, mysterious characteristics that only the deeply connected and erudite (that’s Us!) can explain.
It’s all bullshit. It’s astrology. How can you possibly take an enormous component of the population – tens of millions of people – and say they all have this or that characteristic? The absurdity is thrilling.
Excerpt from: Advertising for Skeptics by Bob Hoffman
It is not only history that misleads us. The future also misleads us. If you attend a lot of conferences as I do, you have undoubtedly noticed that speakers love to talk about the future. In fact, it’s almost the only thing they ever talk about. Why? Because the present is too confusing, too complicated and largely incomprehensible. But the future is great. You can’t be wrong when you talk about the future. No one can factcheck the future. You can say anything you want and people will think you are brilliant. They will applaud you and quote you in the news.
And then 10 years from now when it turns out you were wrong, who cares? Nobody remembers.
Excerpt from: Advertising for Skeptics by Bob Hoffman
Here’s a cautionary tale of how ‘humankind cannot bear too much reality – especially in the world of women’s fashion. Despite what people in research might say…
Back in 2000, M&S were facing a slump in sales. Brand appeal was declining Women’s clothing was key to turning this situation around. In an attempt to be brave and zig against the zag of women’s fashion, M&S decided to celebrate the fit of their clothes – whatever women’s shape and size.
Their new ad broke in the Autumn of that year. It didn’t show any of the new M&S fashion range. In fact, it didn’t showcase any clothes at all. But it did show a real, size 16 woman. In the now infamous ad we see the woman casting off clothing as she runs up a sun-drenched hill. On reaching the top, she stands naked, arms outstretched, proudly shouting ‘I’m normal’ The voiceover tells us that M&S has conducted the largest ever survey of women’s bodies, and, ‘You’ll be pleased to hear that if you’re not average, you’re normal’.
In groups, women loved it. They were fed up with seeing women advertising fashion brands who looked nothing like them, they said. It was a great idea to instead show ‘someone just like them, they said. And with 68% recall soon after airing the ad clearly made a big impression
But sales in M&S women’s fashion tanked. And the campaign was replaced the next year by a new, more conventional fashion campaign featuring a stellar line-up of models including Twiggy. Lizzie Jagger and Erin O’Connor. They were all wearing M&S new fashion lines. And they were all several sizes smaller than a size 16.
So be very careful when people say in research that they want to see people like them. What they really want to see – especially in the world of fashion and beauty – is their ‘Idealised Self’: the person they strive to be. Them at their very best. Not the warts-and-all ‘Actual Self’ they see when they look in the full-length mirror.
Be careful with reality. And be careful with what people say in research. It might not be what they mean.
TIGER, TIGER WITH REFULGENT CONFLAGRATION
IN THE NOCTURNAL AFFORESTATION,
KINDLY PROVIDE DETAILS REGARDING
NATURE OF SUPERNATURAL DEITY
RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY
Excerpt from: The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher
This is known as the Baker-baker paradox. If we are introduced to someone named Mr Baker, we are less likely to remember the name than we are to remember the profession if we are introduced to a baker. If someone is a baker, we can create an image of that person pouring flour, kneading the bread, wearing a tall white hat.
We have already formed a lot of associations with ‘a baker’ – perhaps even multisensory experiences. We have smelled a bakery and eaten freshly baked bread. We can visualize what the baker does. The name Baker is just a bunch of letters. Names are essentially random syllables, a meaningless soup of sounds.
Perhaps, therefore, it is also easier to remember that Mikkel is a doctor and that Nikolaj owns a fruit plantation than the fact that Ib works in IT and Ida in public relations. It is easier to imagine Mikkel performing an operation or to visualize Nikolaj’s apples trees than to form an image of what it looks like when Ida ‘does public relations’.
Cicero, the Roman statesman, philosopher and orator, once wrote, ‘The keenest of all our senses is the sense of sight, and consequently perceptions received by the ears or from other sources can most easily be remembered if they are conveyed to our minds by the mediation of vision.’
The animation company Pixar, creators of Finding Nemo and Toy Story, has a proven formula for successful storytelling.
What has become known as the Pixar Pitch involves six sequential sentences:
Once upon a time, A.
Every day, B.
One day, C.
Because of that, D.
Because of that, E.
Until finally, F.
In 2014, the British government undertook a national experiment with the report card approach-sending letters to thousands of doctors in England who were prescribing the most antibiotics per capita in their regions. The letters, from high-profile British leaders, let those doctors know that they were prescribing more antibiotics than 80 percent of their local peers and suggested alternatives to writing a prescription in the heat of the moment, such as giving patients advice to care for themselves while sick. Researchers from the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team found that these letters corresponded with a substantial decline in the rate of antibiotic prescription, with an estimated seventy thousand fewer antibiotics given to patients in a six-month period. The letters had cost very little, but they had saved significant sums of money spent on medicine by the national health care system and protected public health.
René Lacoste, French tennis star, earned the nickname ‘le crocodile’ for winning a crocodile-skin suitcase in a bet. ‘A friend drew a crocodile’, he said, ‘and / had it embroidered on the blazer / wore on the courts!’ His polo shirts were launched in 1933 and are probably the first example of sportswear as fashion.
Excerpt from: The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher
The most striking examples of the persistence of musical memory come from observation of patients suffering from dementia. Late-stage Alzheimer’s patients who have difficulty recognizing family members and familiar objects can still recognize familiar songs. In some instances, these patients are able to sing despite having lost the ability to speak.”
The unique strength of musical memory has puzzled researchers for years, but one possible reason for the robustness of musically encoded memory is that music is encoded by several different regions of the brain. While auditory regions are primarily involved, so are parts responsible for imagery and emotion. Because musical memories are laid down in multiple brain regions, stimulating any one of these regions may spark their retrieval. It also may be the reason musical memory persists so long in dementia patients. If one brain region becomes damaged, the other, healthy regions can pick up the slack, theoretically providing “backups.”
Imagine two restaurants of comparable quality. Along came the first customer, who has to choose between the two he flips a coin and picks restaurant A. Now imagine the next customer. Confronted with the same choice, she has the same information plus she sees the first customer sitting in the window of restaurant A. What does she do?
You can see where this is going.
But at this point, restaurant B still has hope-how much does the second customer trust the first customer’s choice? Well, is he attractive? Does he smoke? How’s he dressed? What’s his posture? The more the second person identifies with the first, the more she trusts his choice.
Once the second customer chooses restaurant A too, it starts to solidify a consensus. The third customer would have to buck a significant trend, voting against two people, in order to choose restaurant B.
Soon, you can imagine a line put the door of restaurant A, while restaurant B sits empty – despite the restaurants’ similar quality.
The slogan started as just two words: “Take control.” Cummings loved its simplicity but felt something was missing. So he played around with different variations.
Cummings was well versed in loss aversion and the statue quo bias. He knew that people prefer to stick with things they’re already doing rather than do something new. And while “Take control” was fine, it implicitly agreed to the premise that leaving the EU was action and staying was inaction. Which played right into his opponents’ hands.
If only he could flip things around … make it seem like leaving was the status quo…
So, in a stroke of insight, he changed the slogan. It wasn’t much: just an extra word in between “Take” and “control.” But it completely changed the reference point. He added the word “back.” As in “Take back control.”
“’Back,’” Cummings wrote in his blog, “plays into a strong evolved instinct—we hate losing things, especially control.” “Back” triggered loss aversion. It made it seem like something had been lost, and that leaving the EU was a way to regain that.
When the British Election Study surveyed voters,four times as many people preferred the “Let’s take back control” language.
Excerpt from: Catalyst by Jonah Berger
i. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
In 1973, Standing conducted a range of experiments exploring human memory. The participants were shown pictures or words and instructed to pay attention to them and try to memorize them for a test on memory. Each picture or word was shown once, for five seconds.
The words had been randomly selected from the Merriam-Webster dictionary and were printed on 35mm slides – words like ‘salad’, ‘cotton’, reduce’, ‘camouflage’ ‘ton’.
The pictures were taken from 1,000 snapshots – most of them from holidays – beaches, palm trees, sunsets – volunteered by the students and faculty at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where Standing taught at the time. But some of the pictures were more vivid – a crashed plane, for instance, or a dog holding a pipe. But remember this was the seventies – all dogs smoked pipes back then.
Two days later the participants were shown a series of two snapshots or two words at a time, one from the stack of snapshots they had seen before and one new, and were asked which one looked more familiar.
The experiment showed that our picture memory is superior to our verbal memory. When the learning set is 1,000 words selected from the dictionary above, we remember 62 per cent of them, while 77 per cent of the 1,000 selected snapshots were remembered. The bigger the learning set, the smaller the recognition rate. So, for instance, if the learning set for pictures were increased to 10,000, the recognition rate dropped to 66 per cent. However, we remember snapshots better than we do words. That may be why you might be better at remembering faces than names. So, if you are introduced to Penelope, it might help you remember her name if you picture Penelope Cruz standing next to her.
In addition, if more vivid pictures were presented, rather than the routine snapshots, recognition jumped to 88 per cent for 1,000 pictures.
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.”