The apples-and-oranges quality of experiences also makes it easier to enjoy them in the moment, unfettered by depressing comparisons. Researchers at Cornell gave students a Pilot G2 Super Fine pen as a prize and asked them to try it out. When it was surrounded by inferior prizes, including an unsharpened pencil and a bag of rubber bands, the students gave the pen rave reviews. Other students saw the same pen alongside a USB drive and a leatherbound notebook. The presence of more desirable goods significantly diminished the pen’s appeal. This simple study illustrates one of the major barriers to increasing human well-being. We are happy with things, until we find out there are better things available.
Luckily, this tendency may be limited to things. Even the simplest experiences, like eating a bag of crisps, are relatively immune to the detrimental effects of attractive alternatives. Offered the chance to eat a bag of crisps, students enjoyed the crisps’ crunchy goodness regardless of whether the surrounding alternatives included Cadbury’s chocolate or clam juice.
Surprisingly, anchors influence us even when they bear no relationship to the estimated value, and even when they’re patently absurd. Following the seminal experiments of Kahneman and Tversky in the 1970s, two German researchers named Thomas Mussweiler and Fritz Strack demonstrated this effect with remarkable creativity. In one of their experiments, they divided their subjects into two groups, asking one group whether Mahatma Gandhi was over or under 140 years old when he died, and the other whether he was over or under 9 years old when he died. Obviously, no one had trouble answering these questions. But when the respondents were then asked to estimate Gandhi’s age at death, these clearly ridiculous “anchors” made a difference: the group anchored on 140 thought, on average, that Gandhi had died at age 67, whereas the group anchored on 9 believed he had died at age 50. (Actually, Gandhi died at age 78.)
NINETY-TWO PERCENT OF GRADUATE STUDENTS LIED
Charles Naquin (2010) from DePaul University and his colleagues have conducted research on honesty in people when using email versus pen and paper.
In one study, forty-eight graduate business students were each given $89 (imaginary money) to divide with their partner; they had to decide whether to tell their partner how much money was in the kitty, as well as how much of the money to share with their partner. One group communicated by email and the other group by a handwritten note. The group that wrote emails lied about the amount of money (92 percent) more than the group that was writing by hand (63 percent). The e-mail group was also less fair about sharing the money, and felt justified in not being honest or fair.
MY STYLE of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want.
So all humour, however broad and however universally understood, is implicit rather than explicit: an explicit joke is either not explicit or not a joke.
All good comedians, all good storytellers, all good makers of advertisements, entice their receivers into willing and constructive collaboration It’s a skilful, delicate and difficult thing to do – particularly in advertising where the pressures of committees and cost tend to favour the ‘explicit, the ‘unambiguous’, the ‘message that just can’t fail to be understood.
But the measure of a good joke is much the same as the measure of a good advertisement (judging it now purely in terms of its communications effectiveness). Has it asked enough, but not too much, of its selected audience? Has it allowed that audience to see something for itself? (Whether, in the case of the advertisement, what the audience comes to see is the most persuasive and relevant thing is clearly another question.) So the principles of humour and the principles of commercial persuasion are very close.
A PICTURE SPEAKS A THOUSAND WORDS
We are more likely to remember concepts if they are presented to us as pictures rather than words.
For example, one study of discharged emergency room patients provided half of the participants with text-only instructions to properly care for their wounds, whilst the other half were given both text and cartoon depictions of each step. Three days later, 46% of patients given illustrated instructions demonstrated perfect recall of the prescribed techniques, compared to just 6% in the text-only condition.
By adding pictures and visual context into your goals, meetings, or even briefs, you can help others digest and retain
Excerpt from: The Unseen Mind by Ogilvy UK
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
In his research, Robert Cialdini (Cialdini 2006) stopped people on the st and asked them to chaperone a group of troubled youth on a one-day trin to the zoo. Only 17 percent of people said yes.
Some of the time he first asked people to spend two hours a week as a counselor for the youth for a minimum of two years (a larger request). In that case everyone said no. But if he then asked them to chaperone a group of troubled youth on a one-day trip to the zoo, 50 percent agreed. That’s nearly three times the 17 percent who agreed when they were only asked to chaperone. That’s concession working.
Cialdini also found an interesting side effect. Eighty-five percent of the people in the concession group actually showed up, compared with only 50 percent of the group that did not go through the concession process. Concession not only got people to say yes, it also increased their commitment to the action.
While Kayak.co.uk searches the Web for your flight from London to Lanzarote, the site gives you a real-time update of the work it’s performing (now searching Iberia … now searching Aer Lingus … ). Research shows that waiting can increase satisfaction if customers get the impression that work is being done on their behalf during the delay. This “labor illusion” is so powerful that it leads customers to prefer services that make them wait to services that provide the same quality immediately.
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”.
You saw Trump use the intentional wrongness persuasion play over and over, and almost always to good effect. The method goes like this:
- Make a claim that is directionally accurate but has a big exaggeration or factual error in it.
- Wait for people to notice the exaggeration or error and spend endless hours talking about how wrong it is.
- When you dedicate focus and energy to an idea, you remember it. And the things that have the most mental impact on you will irrationally seem as though they are high in priority, even if they are not. That’s persuasion.
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.
While we each may initially react quite differently to an event, we all have a built-in ability to detect and neutralize challenges to our happiness. This has been called our psychological immune system. Just as your body adjusts to getting into hot water, so your mind adjusts to change: the psychological reaction to changes in stimuli is analogous to the physiological reaction to changes in temperature. And your psychological immune system works a little like your physical immune system, which kicks in when faced with a threat, such as when someone nearby coughs or sneezes. This highlights the fact that many adaptation processes take place automatically and unconsciously, we simply get used to some changes without thinking about whether or not we really want to.
In one of the most interesting studies in this area, students were asked to predict how much worse their mood would be if they were rejected for a job: their average estimate was two points lower than their current mood on a ten-point scale. In sharp contrast, the actual being rejected was only 0.4 points on the same ten-point scale that effect was fleeting: ten minutes after the rejection, their happiness levels had returned to normal. By the way, there was no real job offer-such is the fun that psychologists often have at their students’ expense.
If your partner dumps you, give it a few months and you’ll generally look back on your partner as having been unsuitable. Chances are that you will then meet someone who makes you happier than that loser did. This is not to say that the pain of the breakup is any less real, just that you can take some comfort from it not lasting.
The demographic threat they thus posed. Here at last, late in the story, we get a glimpse of an individual as potato innovator, at least according to legend. Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was an apothecary working with the French army who rather carelessly managed to get himself captured no fewer than five times by the Prussians during the Seven Years War. They fed him on nothing but potatoes, and he was surprised to see himself growing plump and healthy on the diet. On his return to France in 1763 he devoted himself to proselytizing the benefits of the potato as the solution to France’s repeated famines. With grain prices high after poor harvests, he was pushing at an open door.
Parmentier was a bit of a showman and he devised a series of publicity stunts to get his message across. Hegot the attention of the queen, Marie Antoinette, and persuaded her to wear potato flowers in her hair, supposedly after a contrived encounter in the gardens of Versailles. He planted a field of potatoes on the outskirts of Paris and posted guards to protect it, knowing that the presence of the guards would itself advertise the value of the crop, and attract hungry thieves at night, when the guards were mysteriously absent. He gave dinners of potato cuisine to people of influence, including Benjamin Franklin. But he was also scientific in his approach. His ‘Examen chimique des pommes de terre’, published in 1773 (a year after the parliament had repealed the ban on potatoes), praised the nutrient contents of potatoes.
Excerpt from: How Innovation Works by Matt Ridley
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 a second experiment, Slovic and Alhakami had students of the University of Oregon rate the risks and benefits of a technology (different trials used nuclear power, natural gas, and food preservatives). Then they were asked to read a few paragraphs describing some of the benefits of the technology. Finally, they were asked again to rate the risks and benefits of the technology. Not surprisingly, the positive information they read raised – student’s ratings of the technology’s benefits in about one-half of the cases. But most of those who raised their estimate of the technology’s benefits also lowered their estimate of the risk – even though they had not read a word about the risk. Later trials in which only risks were discussed had the same effect but in reverse: People who raised their estimate of the technology’s risks in response to the information about risk also lowered their estimate of its benefit.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
Crutchfield’s experiment involved slightly more ambiguous questions, including one in which people were asked if they agreed with the statement ‘I believe we are made better by the trials and hardships of life.’ Among subjects in a control group that was not exposed to the answers of others, everyone agreed. But among those in the experiment who thought that everyone else disagreed with the statement, 31 per cent said they did not agree. Asked whether they agreed with the statement ‘I doubt whether I would make a good leader,’ every person in the control group rejected it. But when the group was seen to agree with the statement, 37 per cent of people went along with the consensus and agreed that they doubted themselves.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
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.
According to Bergen, we start modelling words as we start reading them. We don’t wait until we get to the end of the sentence. This means the order in which writers place their words matters. This is perhaps why transitive construction – Jane gave a Kitten to her Dad – is more effective than the ditransitive – Jane gave her Dad a kitten. Picturing Jane, then the Kitten, then her Dad mimics the real-world action that we, as readers, should be modelling. It means we’re mentally experiencing the scene in the correct sequence. Because writers are, in effect, generating neural movies in the minds of their readers, they should privilege word order that’s filmic, imagining how their reader’s neural camera will alight upon each component of a sentence.
For the same reason, active sentence construction – Jane kissed her Dad – is more effective than passive – Dad was kissed by Jane. Witnessing this in real life, Jane’s initial movement would draw our attention and then we’d watch the kiss play out. We wouldn’t be dumbly staring at Dad, waiting for something to happen.
Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
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.
And it inspired competitors – notably Sears Roebuck, which soon became the market leader. (The story goes that the Sears Roebuck catalogue had slightly smaller pages than Montgomery Ward’s – with the intention that a tidy-minded housewife would naturally stack the two with the Sears catalogue on top.)
By the century’s end, mail-order companies were bringing in $30 million a year – a billion-dollar business in today’s terms; in the next twenty years, that figure grew almost twenty-fold. The popularity of mail order helped fuel demands to improve the postal service in the countryside – if you lived in a city, you’d get letters delivered to your door, but rural dwellers had to schlep to their nearest post office.