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.’
For example, people knew that Alka-Seltzer was taken for an upset stomach, but market research showed that nobody knew how many they should be taking — so most people just took one. But when viewers saw the infamous “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is” ads, purchases of Alka-Seltzer nearly doubled overnight. The tagline that sold the product became indivisible from the products function because it told consumer something they did not know.
It’s good discipline for a writer to work at a place that doesn’t believe in writing. I spent three years at BBH, where less was most definitely more. “The best copy” John Hegarty would say, “is no copy.” And: “If the French could inspire a revolution with just three words: “Liberte, Egalite, Fratenite”, why should you need any more than that to sell soap powder?”
Excerpt from: D&Ad Copy Book by D&AD
Next, it’s argued that Millennials represent the future. What they do now, everyone will be doing one day. This is probably the weakest argument of all. Our job is to sell to society as it is now. Not as it will be in 10 years’ time. Young people change behaviour as they grow older, so they’re not always a reliable guide to the future. We need to distinguish ‘life-status effect’ from ‘cohort effect’. Just because young people watch less TV than average, TV viewing is not necessarily bound to decline in the future. Young people have always watched less TV than older viewers because they go out more.
We suspect that advertising’s obsession with youth is partly due to lack of perspective. We all tend to assume the average person is someone like us. And people who work in advertising are mostly young. Now there’s less TGI analysis and fewer focus groups going on, young planners are often disbelieving of how old the people buying their brands actually are (TGI reveals, for example, that the average new car buyer in the UK is 56).
I’ve just got one of those Nespresso machines, it’s fantastic. The really interesting thing about this Nespresso machine is that if I asked you to go out and buy those Twining’s super premium teabags which are £6.50 for 25 teabags you’d look at me as if I’m bonkers. For £6.50 you should get 100 teabags, 1,000 tea bags, you know? But actually it’s 25p for a cup of tea, it’s not bonkers, you pay a quid or two at Starbucks, but paying that for a teabag seems impossible. Wha’t clever about the espresso machine is that because it comes in individual pods, if you had to buy a jar of espresso coffee it would cost about 150 quid. You say to yourself: “I can’t, I simply cannot buy this thing, I cannot bring myself to pay 100 quid for a jar of Nescafe, it’s impossible”, but because the things come in individual pods, our frame of reference isn’t Nescafe, it’s Starbucks, where we actually pay a quid or two for a shot of coffee at Starbucks, so at 26p, well the machine’s paying for itself, right?
Excerpt from: Rory Sutherland: The Wiki Man by Rory Sutherland
Black Friday (and now Cyber Monday) are marked clearly in shopping calendars around the world. The event started as an invention of an American organisation, the National Association of Retailers. Their aim; increase retail sales. An aim that has now well surpassed initial expectations.
For those unfamiliar, Black Friday and Cyber Monday events offer a limited number of discounted products to customers. Some retailers see customers queuing for days in advance to grab the best bargains. In many cases a retail frenzy ensues when the doors finally open.
Scarcity is one of the key factors behind the success of these shopping days. Retailers promote to customers that a limited number of items will be available at discount. Customers who might not have needed a new TV suddenly attribute additional value to it because of scarcity, turning them into must have items in conjunction with the discount
Remember, price does not equal value. This is important. Even though these shopping days provide discounts to customers, that is a reduction in price, the value of the product to a customer does not necessarily change. If they don’t need a new TV before the event, a discount is not going to change their need for it.
Limited or rare supplies are perceived by people as a threat to their freedom of choice, triggering a reaction to fight the threat and maintain their access to the resource.
In advertising, we assume the only way to get an emotional response is with an emotional appeal.
But Bill Bernbach knew that isn’t true.
Look at the history of Volkswagen advertising.
For fifty years they did product demonstrations.
And they build a brand that has massive emotional appeal.
Ask anyone about VW and they’ll say “reliable”.
That’s an emotional response based on rational advertising.
Because a rational demonstration can have a more powerful emotional affect than something vacuous designed purely to appeal to the feelings.
Done properly, reason is emotion.
Excerpt from: Creative Mischief by Dave Trott
In 1900 the Michelin brothers owned a tyre company in France.
They wanted to sell more tyres.
And, in order to do that, they needed to get drivers to wear down the ones they had.
So in 1900 they issued the first Michelin Guide.
It showed all the great things to see and do around France.
It encouraged people to get out in their cars and drive to all these places.
It featured a list of sights to see, places to buy petrol, places to stay.
The locations of garages, mechanics.
And, being French, good places to eat.
Reason, despite what we would like to think, is not why we do what we do: it is the result of what we feel or do.
Famed adman David Ogilvy recognized this long ago when he wrote:
“Customers need a rational excuse to justify their emotional decisions. So always include one.”
(In France I once saw this expressed as “le rationnel est l’alibi du desir”.)
Why I love this observation is that Ogilvy uses a word not often given an airing in the communications business: excuse. Not reason or even (eugh) benefit or proposition, but excuse.
Excerpt from: The Storytelling Book (Concise Advice) by Anthony Tasgal
Take the example of getting more women on company boards, an issue widely championed by campaigners and indeed Prime Ministers, but often embodying a clear example of the ‘big mistake’. The normal centrepiece of campaigns to get more women on boards is a statistic along the lines ‘isn’t it shocking that only 25 per cent of board members are women?’ (less in some countries). It is shocking, but it’s also likely to be a message that inadvertently normalises the situation. On the other hand, if such campaigns made the equally valid point hat ’90 per cent of companies have women on their boards’, then the signalling is very different. Following discussions with Iris Bohnet, and expert on gender inequality, and Emily Walsh, special adviser to the UK’s Business Secretary, parts of the UK’s campaign to encourage more women on to boards was indeed reframed this way.