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.
The contagious effect of humour explains the results of a 1991 experiment conducted by University of Houston psychologists, Yong Zhang and George Zinkan.
They recruited 216 students to watch 30 minutes of music videos interspersed with soft drink commercials in groups of one, three and six. In order for the test to be as realistic as possible, the participants were told they were going to be questioned on their music preferences.
Their key finding was that ads tended to be rated as least funny when they were watched alone. In contrast, ads watched in groups of three and six were reported to be 21% and 10%, funnier than those watched alone.
The impact of groups might be due to social proof – this is the idea that people are influenced by others’ behaviour. If one person laughs, it encourages others to find the content funny.
Imagine you’re a student. You’re offered a free lottery ticket with the chance to win a 15 euro book token. You’re shown the ticket, and you notice the number on it. Then you’re given the chance to swap that ticket for a different one. In return for swapping tickets, you’ll get a free gift – a pen embossed with your university’s name. Would you agree to exchange the tickets or not?
When students at Tilburg University in the Netherlands were given this choice only 56 per cent of them went for it, even though their chances of winning the book token were the same and so they might as well have had the free pen.”
Perhaps you’re thinking it was the lousy gift that explained their reaction. Couldn’t the researchers have tempted the students with a slightly more enticing freebie? Maybe, but that’s not the issue. The important detail here is that the students were shown the number on the original lottery ticket. This meant that having swapped their original ticket for another, if the number on the original was drawn out of the hat, they would know they’d made the wrong decision.
That said, if you live in the Netherlands, some lottery organisers are one step ahead. In a fiendish example of the exploitation of regret aversion, they’ve designed a lottery in which everyone’s unique postcode is automatically entered into the draw. Although you can only win if you’ve paid for a ticket, in any given week you can look up to see whether you’d have won, if only you had bothered to enter.
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
Payday is not the only moment when customers spend more. Any time consumers receive a windfall, like birthdays or bonuses, they will increase their spending. Three Ohio University psychologists, Hal Arkes, Cynthia Joyner and Mark Prezzo, ran an experiment in 1994 exploring this phenomenon. When they recruited students for the experiment half were told a week before that they would be paid $3, while the rest expected to be given course credits. However, when the participants arrived at the experiment they were all given the same $3-dollar incentive.
The participants were given the chance to gamble with their cash on a simple dice game. Those who had been given cash in the windfall condition gambled on average $2.16 while those who had been fully expecting the money only frittered away $1.
Imagine that you are participating in an auction that involves chocolate coins as a reward. You can bid on a lot containing five coins or on a mystery lot that contains either three or five coins— you won’t know which until after your bid is accepted. Logically, the lot with five coins is worth more.
But it wasn’t. Researchers at the University of Chicago staged just this auction and found that the average bid for the guaranteed five coin lots was $1.25. The average bid for the mystery lot was $1.89. When asked, participants said the uncertain auction was more exciting. It didn’t increase the actual value of the reward. It just made the game more fun. Participants paid more to play and said they wanted to participate in the auction again. (The secret, though, was getting caught up in the process. When participants planned their bid in advance, they preferred the certain reward.)
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.
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.
As psychologist Thomas Gilovich noted, “When examining evidence relevant to a given belief, people are inclined to see what they expect to see, and conclude what they expect to conclude… For desired conclusions … we ask ourselves, ‘Can I believe this?, but for unpalatable conclusions we ask, “Must I believe this?””
Excerpt from: Catalyst by Jonah Berger
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
‘The heart has its reasons,’ Blaise Pascal wrote more than three centuries ago, ‘which reason knows nothing of’. Sot with the conscious and unconscious minds. Head cannot look into Gut and so it has no idea how Gut assembles its judgments, which is why psychologists believe that focus groups are far less insightful than some marketers think. If you put people together in a room, show them a car commercial, and ask them how they feel about the car, you will get clear answers. ‘I don’t care for it,’ a man may say. Fine. Why not? He frowns. ‘Um, the styling on the front is ugly. And I want a more powerful engine.’ That looks like good insight, just the sort of thing a company can use to design and market its products. But it’s not. This man’s snap judgment – ‘I don’t like that car’ – came from Gut. But the interviewer is talking to Head. And Head doesn’t have a clue why Gut doesn’t like the car. So Head rationalizes. It looks at the conclusion and cobbles together an explanation that is both plausible and quite possibly, wrong.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
The findings Bergen describes also suggest the reason writers are continually encouraged to ‘show not tell’. As C.S. Lewis implored a young writer in 1956, ‘instead of telling us a thing was “terrible”, describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. The abstract information contained in adjectives such as ‘terrible’ and ‘delightful is thin gruel for the model-building brain. In order to experience a character’s terror or delight or rage or panic or sorrow, it has to make a model of it. By building its model of the scene, in all its vivid and specific detail, it experiences what’s happening on the page almost as if it’s actually happening. Only that way will the scene truly rouse our emotions.
Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
As early as 1951, the Taiwanese government sought to address this problem by doing two things. First, it unified all receipt and invoicing platforms into a central system, which meant that all businesses which gave out receipts would automatically send the unique receipt numbers and invoice amounts to the government for tax reporting. (In fact, in Taiwan most people don’t need to hire accountants to do their taxes – the government can directly tell you how much you owe them or how much they should return to you).
But the second step is where we see true innovation. The Taiwanese government turned each receipt and invoice number into a lottery ticket for citizens to play. For every odd-numbered month, citizens can see if their receipt numbers match the winning prize. The first place would win the equivalent of $62,000 – about five years of salary for an average new college graduate, while the second place would win $6,200, with subordinate prizes scaling all the way down to $7.
Because of this “Uniform Invoice Lottery” system, consumers are now demanding receipts and invoices from businesses, preventing the business from evading taxes by exchanging cash under the table (or purchasing with Bitcoins). In addition, consumers are more likely to spend money.
At the same time, we should be open-eyed about the challenges we’ll face as we make that shift. Take this example from Mexico City: City officials in 1989 banned the general public from driving one weekday per week, based on the last digit of their license plates. The intent was to encourage use of mass transit options and thereby improve air quality. It was a noble upstream effort to prevent air pollution.
It didn’t work. Many Mexicans bought a second car often an old clunker, to keep costs down—so they could drive every day. Air quality did not improve.
Good intentions guarantee nothing.
All the efforts really did the trick. By the measures available, the educational program was a stunning success. In August 1991, right before the effort began, the National Cancer Institute and the produce growers conducted a telephone survey. About 8 percent of Americans were aware that they should eat at least five servings of produce daily. By 1997, the results were strikingly different. Thirty Nine percent of Americans knew that they should eat five servings a day. That’s a campaign that any political adviser would be proud of.
But this is not a book about campaigns and policy. This is a book about actually changing lives. So the real question is: What about people’s actual behavior? The program’s purpose was to get people to consume more fruits and vegetables. Did it?
At the beginning of the campaign, from 1988 to 1994, 11 percent of Americans ate five servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Almost a decade later … it was still 11 percent. The change in awareness was real; the change of behavior was nonexistent.
“Louis XI (1423-1483), the great Spider King of France, had a weakness for astrology. He kept a court astrologer whom he admired, until one day the man predicted that a lady of the court would die within eight days. When the prophecy came true, Louis was terrified, thinking that either the man had murdered the woman to prove his accuracy or that he was so versed in his science that his powers threatened Louis himself. In either case he had to be killed. One evening Louis summoned the astrologer to his room, high in the castle. Before the man arrived, the king told his servants that when he gave the signal they were to pick the astrologer up, carry him to the window, and hurl him to the ground, hundreds of feet below. The astrologer soon arrived, but before giving the signal, Louis decided to ask him one last question: “You claim to understand astrology and to know the fate of others, so tell me what your fate will be and how long you have to live.” “I shall die just three days before Your Majesty,” the astrologer replied. The king’s signal was never given. The man’s life was spared. The Spider King not only protected his astrologer for as long as he was alive, he lavished him with gifts and had him tended by the finest court doctors. The astrologer survived Louis by several years, disproving his power of prophecy but proving his mastery of power.”
As Shakespeare wrote, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’.
A few hours before I sat down to write this chapter, I received a parking ticket. It was only for £25 and I was completely to blame, but it nevertheless annoyed me to an extraordinary degree – and it is still annoying me now. Perhaps a parking ticket is made even more annoying because we can see no way of reframing it in a positive light.
Could the local authority that issued me with the ticket give me a chance to play the same mental trick on myself as the easyJet pilot – a reason, however tenuous, to feel slightly upbeat about the fine? For instance, how different would I feel if I was told that the money from my fine would be invested into improving local roads or donated to a homeless shelter? The fine would have the same deterrent effect, but my level of anger and resentment would be significantly reduced. How would that be a bad thing?