Wednesday, July 25, 2012

blackadder and behavioural economics

I recall an anecdote from a conversation several years ago with representatives of the late, and much lamented, COI - the UK government's policy objectives and public services marketing body which sadly closed it's doors for the final time in the early part of 2012.

The agency I worked for at the time were assisting the UK Department of Health on a number of initiatives including some of the anti smoking activity.

The COI were early champions of much of the thinking that we now broadly associate with behavioural economics and were therefore right on the ball with recognising that the dominant paradigm in communications theory that placed disproportionate importance on the notion that independent thinking and rational decision making were the principle influence on the choices we make was not 100% correct.

While those factors are often significant in short-term decision making - I choose brand x baked beans because they are on special offer - they do not explain longer term behaviours, much of which are far more affected by how we see others behave, habits we've formed and our general inability to compute things like financial costs and benefits.

Anyway, research material that COI provided us to inform the work we were doing with DoH indicated that the frightening messaging on cigarette packets intended to make people think about stopping smoking (smoke these and you will die etc) was in fact having a somewhat opposite effect.

The COI psychologists were becoming concerned that the results indicated that these warnings were actually more of an encouragement to smoke because the emotional response was more akin to an 'excitement' that one would attribute to activities such as bungee jumping or other extreme sports.

Essentially extrinsic factors overpowering intrinsic motivations.

I did a short talk last night to the members of the Institute of Analytics professionals and used the following example from Blackadder to add a bit of flavour to my argument that the data industry can best complement the creative industry by concentrating effort on finding the right information and helping us all continue to qualify and quantify at least some of the following matters, because it's all there in the data and patterns.

- How other people's behaviour affects our own
- How and why habits are formed
- Fundamental motives (survival, reproduction)
- Why we are bad at simple sums

Captain Blackadder:
You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war two great super-armies developed. Us, the Russians and the French on one side, Germany and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea being that each army would act as the other's deterrent. That way, there could never be a war.

Private Baldrick:
Except, this is sort of a war, isn't it?

Captain Blackadder:
That's right. There was one tiny flaw in the plan.

Private Baldrick:
Oh,what was that?

Captain Blackadder:
It was bollocks.

I used Professor Kahneman's 'bat and ball' experiment on the crowd.

Remember this was 150 or so analytics professionals, data geeks and mathematics heads.

A bat and ball costs one dollar and ten cents to buy.
The bat costs a dollar more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?

Just about everyone nodded when I asked if ten cents came to mind.

So the idea that independent thinking and rational decision making are the principle influence on the choices we make has one tiny teeny flaw.

It is complete bollocks.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

notes on insight

Those of you who know me will also know that it takes very little persuasion to get me to stand up on a stage ond pontificate about this, that and the other in our world of communications conundrums.

I'm not a pro by any stretch but give it a good go.
The more I do it the better I get, one day soon I'll have it down so stand by for that.

On the occasions when I've been on a roll, I'll often chat with delegates and audience members afterwards and (though not as often as I'd like) sometimes they will leave me with a handshake and 'thanks for the insights'.

Of course, I'm happy to accept these thanks but I feel like I should say 'thanks but there were, in fact, no insights in what you just heard'.

There will have been stories, some facts, many observations and even more opinions but not necessarily any insights.

I say this because we should be mindful of not undermining the term 'insight' in our work.
Real insight is a rare and precious thing, and should be valued accordingly.

Here's one of the the best descriptions of insight that I've encountered.
A good benchmark by which to evaluate whether something is, in fact, insight or simply observation.

[That's not to say observation isn't valuable but it's a step in the process to uncovering insight]

'Insight is the act or result of apprehending the inner nature of things or seeing intuitively'

(I'm not sure where that definition comes from. Point me if you know)

For us communicators we should understand the goal of insight.
Insight informs how we identify highest level emotional need in any given situation.

How to uncover insight?
These five steps are a good place to start.

1. Ask difficult questions. Most of these start with 'why?'
2. Look below the surface.
3. Reframe stuff (TV is the second screen, for example).
4. Trust your 'gut', your instinctive self. Under-think it.
5. Observe acutely and understand your own and others behaviours.

Of course there is also product insight, category insight, business insight and many others. But key to uncovering these is starting with 'why' not 'how'.

Friday, July 06, 2012

disbelieving is hard work

So, last week I gave a short talk for AIMIA to the assembled agency digerati, at KPMG's auditorium up in Melbourne CBD. The theme of the morning was 'Digital Agencies of The Future'. Here's a synopsis of the key points I hoped to communicate.

2012 was a record year for Australian Agencies at Cannes.
59 Lions were awarded in total, that's up from circa 40 or so last year and about 45 the year before (also the previous record).

Interestingly, Australian agencies recieved precisely Zero Lions in either the Cyber (what a ridiculous name for a category btw) or Mobile categories.

There's two ways to look at these statistics.
Either we as a nation are useless at digital advertising.
Single channel executions are a thing of a bygone age, and it's only integrated campaigns and activities that actually matter, anyway.

I'm on the side of the latter.


Among the many Australian integrated efforts that did well, GPY&R's Mobile Medic which picked up Lions in 3 different categories, Naked's fantastic 'Steal Banksy' effort which took out a Gold in PR and even CumminsRoss's Agassi films pulled a Bronze in brand ed content, NONE OF THESE THINGS WERE CREATED BY DIGITAL AGENCIES.

Next I showed a lovely picture of a chicken and avocado sandwich.

'Digital agencies, this is your lunch'.

The bad news is that the advertising agencies are coming to eat it.

In their delusion the BDAs think they can do what you do, digital agencies.
They can't.

BUT they are better at convincing the clients that they can, than you can.
And that's your problem.


As far as the big ad agencies, the media agencies and - most worryingly for the digital community - clients are concerned...

Digital = production.
Digital equals = making what you are told to by the big boys.

Brothers and sisters, you are in the ghetto.
This ghetto is a creation of your own minds, and if you don't get out of it soon I fear for the future of your agencies.

'Once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws. If you come upon an observation that does not seem to fit the model, you assume that there must be a perfectly good explanation that you are somehow missing. You give the theory the benefit of the doubt, trusting the community of experts who have accepted it.'

'In mixed gambles, where both a gain and a loss are possible, loss aversion causes extremely risk-averse choices.

(Both quotes via Daniel Kahneman)

Of course, it appears a mixed gamble.

But according to McKinsey, this year...
- 67% of digital agencies think they have strong strategic capability
- 16% of their clients agree

That should be frightening.
What are you going to do about it?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

the man in the chair

Apparently, the below is one of the best known, and most oft quoted examples of advertising advertising.

Not so for me, I only came across it last week as I plough through The Intention Economy, the latest book from Doc Searls, of Cluetrain and Project VRM fame.

Created for The McGraw-Hill Business Publications Company in 1958, 'The Man in the Chair' ad is revered as one of the most effective and influential works in the genre. In a 2012 context, there is still much to be gleaned from its message.

I don’t know who you are.
I don’t know your company.
I don’t know your company’s products.
I don’t know what your company stands for.
I don’t know your company’s record.
I don’t know your company’s reputation.
Now, what was it you wanted to sell me?

Doc says:
'The true lodestar of advertising has always been the customers.
This is why the [McGraw-Hill] ad was so important. It was a signal sent by McGraw-Hill to advertisers on behalf of its readers. It spoke of the company’s relationship with those readers and said to advertisers that it stood on the readers’ side.
It demanded substance, relevance, and earned reputation from its advertisers. It said relationships were possible, but only when customers sat with companies at the same table, at the same level.'

What this ad is about resonates with me when placed in the context of the great digital divide - ie, on the one hand, the school of advertising - online in particular - that favours the hyper-targeted, 'personal' and data-driven tactics that are manifest in the near subterfuge of cookies, surveillance/tracking and all manner of 'behavioural' targeting.

And on the other the approach that favours strategies that contain content, usefulness, values-based communication, involvement, storytelling etc to name but a few. Where salience (ie visibility, sharability) and social proof are the drivers.

In many ways being objective about the value and values of good advertising one could surmise that - for the most part - our industry is still often short of the mark and has perhaps lost its way compared to one humble, yet somehow futuristic, b2b print execution from 1958.