And finally, imperfection can be aesthetically pleasing in its own right, as the success of Dove with its ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ shows. The Japanese even have a word for this – wabi-sabi – a view that celebrates the allure of the imperfect and incomplete. The wobbly line, the cracked leather, the faded patina – all draw, rather than repel, us.
Standout, empathy, attractiveness and trust – these are all qualities that define successful brands. So maybe it’s time for brand owners to embrace the power of imperfection.
There are advertisers that get this, and their ‘bravery’ is rewarded by more powerful communications than their perfect ‘everyone looks awesome’ adland competitors. Think of the overweight construction worker pole dancer (Moneysupermarket), Southern Comfort’s Whatever’s Comfortable’ beach hero, or the sweating women in ‘This Girl Can’. Their imperfections draw us to them. The brands feel more authentic. And we trust them more because of it.
So where are the ‘flaws’ in the personality descriptors that we craft for our brand definitions? We seem terrified to consider them – tying ourselves up in knots and qualifications to avoid any chinks of vulnerability or imperfection. Aspirational yet accessible’, ‘Strong but warm’ – we’ve all written them.
1. Establish the scope.
2. Break the challenge into addressable parts.
3. Identify the target outcome.
4. Map the relevant behaviors.
5. Identify the factors that affect each behavior.
6. Choose the priority behaviors to address.
7.Create evidence-led intervention(s).
8. Implement the intervention(s).
9. Assess the effects.
10. Take further action based on the results
Excerpt from: Behavioural Insights by Michael Hallsworth
Research shows there are many psychological processes at work which together limit the effectiveness of brainstorming. ‘Social loafing’ – a group situation encourages and allows individuals to slack off. ‘Evaluation apprehension’ – we’re nervous of being judged by colleagues or looking stupid. ‘Production blocking’ – because only one person can speak at a time in a group, others can forget or reject their ideas while they wait. We’re also learning more about the power of our “herd’ tendencies. As humans, we have innate desires to conform to others with only the slightest encouragement. When asked to think creatively, these implicit norms are invisible but powerful shackles on our ability to think differently.
No wonder so few ideas emerge.
Social scientists have long understood that statistical metrics are at their most pernicious when they are being used to control the world, rather than try to understand it. Economists tend to cite their colleague Charles Goodhart, who wrote in 1975: ‘Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes. (Or, more pithily: ‘When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.’) Psychologists turn to Donald T. Campbell, who around the same time explained: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.
Goodhart and Campbell were on to the same basic problem: a statistical metric may be a pretty decent proxy for something that really matters, but it is almost always a proxy rather than the real thing.
One ongoing U.S. study has tracked how much money adults over age fifty spend on just about everything, from refrigerators and rent to alcohol and art. When researchers link these spending choices to happiness, only one category of spending matters. And it’s not refrigerators, or even alcohol. It’s what the researchers label “leisure”: trips, movies, sporting events, gym memberships, and the like. People who spend more of their money on leisure report significantly greater satisfaction with their lives. Not surprisingly the amount of money these older adults reported spending on leisure was dwarfed by the amount they spent on housing. But housing again turned out to have zero bearing on their life satisfaction.
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”.
It is to be found in the exceptional human capacity to synthesize our experiences, influences, knowledge and feelings into one, unified, original entity. To have such an inbuilt facility that enables us to make seemingly random connections across a broad It has to be the single most important creative faculty we have, as Einstein observed when he said, “Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.’
The process our conscious and unconscious selves go through when editing, connecting and combining all that we know and feel into an original coherent thought happens over a period of time. It cannot be forced. It happens when we are awake and when we are asleep. It happens when we are thinking about something else entirely, or playing a game of tennis. It happens because a stimulus in our immediate surroundings – usually without our knowing
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.
The explanation for Kahan’s results? Ideology. Irrespective of the actual figures, Democrats who identified as liberal, normally in favour of gun control, tended to find that stricter laws brought crime down. For the conservative Republican participants, the reverse was the case. They found that stricter gun control legislation did not work.
These answers are no longer to do with the truth, Kahan argued. They are about protecting your identity or belonging to your tribe! And the people who were good at maths, Kahan also found, were all the better at this. Often completely subconsciously, by the way. It was their psyche that played tricks on them.
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
When iTunes first released its shuffle feature received a slew of angry emails. The complaints came from customers who claimed the feature was broken because, when they clicked the “shuffle” button on their *NSYNC album, the tracks sometimes played in order. People felt cheated. How could a random algorithm produce three songs in the same order as they appear on the actual album? Random should mean 7, 11, 3, not 1, 2, 3, right? Except that when song selection is truly random, each song has the same probability of playing each time the current song ends. Sometimes that means 7, 11, 13, but sometimes that means 1, 2, 3 instead.
In response, iTunes changed their randomness algorithm to avoid such sequential ordering. The new algorithm feels more random to us humans despite it being objectively less random.
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.
In evidence that stacking works, consider dental floss. Many of us clean our teeth regularly but fail to floss. To test whether stacking increases flossing, researchers gave fifty British participants, who flossed on average only 1.5 times per month, information encourage them to do it more regularly.
Half of the participants were told to floss before they brushed at night, and half after they brushed. Note that only half of the participants were really stacking-using an existing automated response (brushing their teeth) as a cue for a new behavior (flossing). The other half, who first flossed and then brushed, had to remember, oh, yes, first I need to floss, before I brush. No automated cue.
Each day for four weeks, participants reported by text whether they flossed the night before. At the end of the month of reminders, they all flossed about twenty-four days on average. Most interesting is what they were all doing eight months later. Those who stacked, and flossed after they brushed, were still doing it about eleven days a month. For them, the new behavior was maintained by the existing habit. The group originally instructed to floss before they brushed ended up doing it only about once a week.
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.
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
The Paradox of progress, and the paradox of choice: There is a familiar story of a New York banker vacationing in Greece, who, from talking to a fisherman and scrutinizing the fisherman’s business, comes up with a scheme to help the fisherman make it a big business. The fisherman asked him what the benefits were; the banker answered that he could make a pile of money in New York and come back to vacation in Greece; something that seemed ludicrous to the fisherman, who was already there doing the kind of things bankers do when they go on vacation in Greece.
The story was well known in antiquity, under a more elegant form, as retold by Montaigne (my translation): When King Pyrrhus tried to cross into Italy, Cynéas, his wise adviser, tried to make him feel the vanity of such action. “To what end are you going into such enterprise?” he asked. And Pyrrhus answered, “To make myself the master of Italy.” Cynéas: “Then ?” Pyrrhus: To conquer Africa, then … come rest at ease.” Cynéas: But you are already there; why take more risks?”
The premortem – when an organisation has almost come to an important decision but hasn’t formally committed itself, the decision makers gather for a brief session.
They are asked to imagine that it is one year later and that the idea has been a complete disaster.
They then have to write a short history of what happened.
The premortem can prevent many a disaster.
By contrast, a postmortem is always too late.
It’s all about timing.
Initially, Briggs had designed her questionnaire to identify solid marriage partners, but after the Second World War, her daughter repositioned it to place people in the right jobs. The MBTI does what all profiling systems do: asks batteries of questions and organises the answers into types which are supposed to define your personality. And yet the test has no basis in clinical psychology, though it is deployed by most Fortune 500 companies, many universities, schools, churches, consulting companies, the CIA, the army and the navy.
The MBTI test-retest validity lies below statistical significance, meaning that if you test someone more than once, you are likely to get different results. More worrying is that the questionnaire poses binary questions, asking, for example, whether you value sentiment more than logic or vice versa. The question assumes that there is a simple answer to this question, absent of context. Yet in real life, preference is highly contextual: I value logic when purchasing car insurance; I may value sentiment more when choosing to play with my son. Binaries always simplify, often to the point of absurdity, and they polarise what are often complements.
Excerpt from: Uncharted: How to Map the Future by Margaret Heffernan
One of the earliest experiments examining the power of imagination to sway intuition was conducted during the U.S. presidential election campaign of 1976. One group was asked to imagine Gerald Ford winning the election and taking the oath of office, and then they were asked how likely it was that Ford would win the election. Another group was asked to do the same for Jimmy Carter. So who was more likely to win? Most people in the group that imagined Ford winning said Ford. Those who saw Jimmy Carter taking the oath said Carter. Later experiments have obtained similar results. What are your odds of being arrested? How likely is it you’ll win the lottery? People who imagine the event consistently feel the odds or the event actually happening are higher than those who don’t.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
But would he have preferred that the locksmith bumble around, take a long time and fake effort? Well, maybe. A locksmith once told Dan that when he started his career, he took forever to open a lock, and in the process, he often broke it, taking even more time and money to get one properly installed and finish the job. He charged for the parts to replace the broken lock as well as his standard fee for opening a locked door. People were happy to pay all this, and they tipped him well. He noticed, however, that as he became proficient and opened a lock quickly, without breaking the old lock (and without the consequent need to replace it and charge his clients for the extra parts), customers not only didn’t tip, but they also argued about his fee.
Wait, what? How much is it worth to have our door open? That should be the question. But because it’s difficult to put a price on this, we look at how much effort it takes to have that door unlocked. When there’s a great deal of effort, we feel much better about paying more. But all that should matter is the value of that open door.
The little-known nineteenth-century French philosopher Félix Ravaisson was able to put this concept into concrete terms. He called it the double law of habit. Basically it means this: repetition strengthens our tendency to act, but it also weakens our sensation of that act. In other words, we habituate. It’s a deceptively complex process, and one that has power to sap force and meaning from our lives. We tend to keep doing things long after they have lost meaning for us. Yes, we can take advantage of that dynamic when we form new habits, as they lose their hard edges with repetition. But it’s a double-edged sword.
Habituation is one reason we lose interest in the material stuff we buy (thinking those things will finally make us happy). Certainly, you enjoyed sitting on your new couch the day it was delivered. And you got to show it off to your friends the next time they visited. But after that? You probably don’t notice it much now.
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.’
They asked people two versions of the Gandhi questions. One version is what I’ve repeated here. The other began by asking people whether Gandhi was older or younger than 140 when he died, which was followed by the same direction to guess Gandhi’s age when he died. Strack and Mussweiler found that when the first question mentioned the number nine, the average guess on the following question was 50. In the second version, the average guess was 67. So those who heard the lower number before guessing guessed lower. Those who heard the higher number, guessed higher.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
We’ll start with the Nobel Prize. There is only one Nobel Prize in a creative field. It is the prize for Literature. It went to Kazuo Ishiguro who is 64.
The Pulitzer Prize is awarded in several creative fields. The Pulitzer for Drama went to Lynn Nottage who is 54. The Pulitzer for History went to Heather Ann Thompson, age 55. The Pulitzer for Poetry went to Tyehimba Jess, age 53.
Next we move to television. The Emmy for Best Drama Series went to The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel was written by Margaret Atwood who was 79 and was creative consultant on the show. The Best Comedy Series went to Veep, executive produced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 57. She also won for Best Actress. Best Limited Series went to Big Little Lies created by David E Kelley, 62. The Best Supporting Actress was Ann Dowd, 62. Best Supporting Actor was John Lithgow, 73. Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series went to Alec Baldwin, 60.
So, let’s recap. People over 50 are creative enough to dominate in Nobels, Pulitzers, Oscars, and Emmys but are not creative enough to write a fucking banner ad. I guarantee you, not one of these brilliantly talented people could get a job in an ad agency today. Not one.
Excerpt from: Advertising for Skeptics by Bob Hoffman
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
“Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind”
Perhaps we should have seen this acceleration coming. In the 1930s an American aeronautical engineer named T. P Wright carefully observed aeroplane factories at work. He published research demonstrating that the more often a particular type of aeroplane was assembled, the quicker and cheaper the next unit became. Workers would gain experience, specialised tools would be developed, and ways to save time and material would be discovered. Wright reckoned that every time accumulated production doubled, unit costs would fall by 15 per cent. He called this phenomenon ‘the learning curve’.
Three decades later, management consultants at Boston Consulting Group, or BCG, rediscovered Wright’s rule of thumb in the case of semiconductors, and then other products too. Recently, a group of economists and mathematicians at Oxford University found convincing evidence of learning curve effects across more than 50 different products from transistors to beer – including photovoltaic cells. Sometimes the learning curve is shallow and sometimes steep, but it always seems to be there.
The learning curve may be a dependable fact about technology, but paradoxically, it creates a feedback loop that makes it harder to predict technological change. Popular products become cheap; cheaper products become popular.