Thursday, February 13, 2014

intuitive heuristics, pepsi-max and medical mishaps

There's an upside and downside with heuristics.

What we call distinctive brand assets (colours, shapes, logos, taglines etc) are essentially heuristics, mental shortcuts, that help brands get remembered and noticed.

Despite the prevalence of the idea that people pay close attention to brands and seek things like relevance and connection, the truth is we don't think about, or care about most brands that much. A good set of brand 'heuristics' makes a brand easy to notice, remember (albeit implicitly) and buy.

Good heuristics are those that can wrap up useful information in a way that is intuitive to remember and act upon and are specific to their context.

Heuristics that are not so useful are the ones that lead us to less optimal decisions.

For instance, medical professionals are often tripped up by certain heuristics.

Representativeness being one.

In a piece on this topic in the New Yorker the renowned Harvard Medical School Biologist Jerome Groopman writes:

"Doctors make [representative] errors when their thinking is overly influenced by what is typically true; they fail to consider possibilities that contradict their mental templates of a disease, and thus attribute symptoms to the wrong cause.'

He goes on to explain how a patient that had reported chest pains the previous day but had been examined, displayed no other symptoms or appearance of health difficulties, given a clean bill and sent home, had arrived the next day in emergency with acute myocardial infarction. Doctor speak for having a heart attack.

The patient survived but the doctor who gave the initial examination was distraught.

“Clearly, I missed it. And why did I miss it? I didn’t miss it because of any egregious behavior, or negligence. I missed it because my thinking was overly influenced by how healthy this man looked, and the absence of risk factors.”

To tie these two thoughts together, onto this nearly splendid film from Pepsi-Max.

The representativeness heuristic is one of the great tricks in the advertising book.

Great for evoking a bit of surprise from the viewer or participant, this one works by taking advantage of how we tend to judge the likelihood of an event by how well it matches our existing belief or stereotype.

When something seems more representative, we'll judge it as more likely or probable.

In the film NBA wonderkid and rookie of the year, Kyrie Irving is disguised as old 'Uncle Drew'.

Pepsi MAX went to a pick-up game in New Jersey under the pretence of shooting a documentary on a young basketball player.

When the player gets injured his hobbling old Uncle Drew comes on as a sub into the game, and after some initial foul-ups to keep it believable eventually turns on the style, to the surprise and astonishment of the crowd.

So while Pepsi-Max used the representativeness heuristic nicely to comedic effect, it's a shame they never took a leaf out of great rival, Coca-Cola's book and applied the daddy of all heuristics, availability.

Advertising need to do two simple things.

1. Get noticed (tick)

2. Be well branded (no tick)

While Coke will always pepper their ads liberally with little brand heuristics (distinctive assets) they are few and far between in the Pepsi spot.

And while Uncle Drew's achievements have been seen by circa 43 million views we have to ask 'where was the branding?'.

By branding we mean the little imlpicit brand cues (bottles, colours, logos etc) that could so easily have been all the way through, in peripheral exposure, without being detrimental to the entertainment.

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