Thursday, August 29, 2013

another brick in the wall

We’ve all seen reports and studies that supposedly point to this idea that advertising is becoming increasingly irrelevant to how people buy products and services.

I was recently shown a statistic from a social media enthusiast – presented to me with an ‘aha’ intone – from a report which declared that 93% of a group of mums surveyed said that advertising had no effect whatsoever on their choice of breakfast cereal.

Yeah, right.

This was a classic case of the introspection illusion in full effect.

While we may like to think we understand our motivations, our likes and dislikes, why we are the way we are and how we make our decisions unfortunately this is not how we operate in reality.

Really, we act first then construct –post-rationalise - some sort of believable explanation for our actions afterwards.

Just ask anyone whether they believe themselves to be a better-than-average driver.

And while the 93% of mums surveyed claimed that advertising had no effect on them as individuals, if they had been asked wether the advertising was likely to have affected others then the answer would have likely been yes.

This is because the introspection illusion has another effect - we have a tendency to believe that others will more readily conform to - eg - advertising influence than we do.

We view ourselves as independent thinkers but everyone else are sheep.

This is one of the reasons that good mass media advertising - that knows nothing particular about you as an individual - will often be more relevant than the highly ‘personalised’ and ‘targeted’ ads your are served on online, and while the individual may not consciously acknowledge this - we unconsciously register it's simple availability - and the advertising has had it’s effect.

We believe what comes most easily to mind in the context. Often without thinking.

And likewise, in focus groups and surveys, asking people about their own preferences or to articulate their reasons for a particular behaviour leads to false findings and failed campaigns.

However asking people what they believe others might do is a better indicator of the likely behaviour of the subjects.

Similarly with social influence. While subjects are quick to spot the impact of copying , except when that influence is on themselves.

In general it’s probably good practice to ignore reports or studies where the findings are based on people rationalizing their own thoughts or behaviours because they are an illusion. We are routinely pretty bad witnesses to our own behaviour, we fail to detect aspects of ourselves that most others can clearly see.

However ask us what we think other people might do will give better clues.

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