Monday, September 22, 2014

(another) inconvenient truth?

Kahneman and Gigerenzer have clashed many times over the years with regard to their individual points of view on intuitive heuristics.

Why they are at each others throats is slightly puzzling to this reader, as they are both saying the same thing, for the most part.

When confronted with a problem that requires some degree of thinking, and where there is at least partial ignorance (ie just about everything) - some examples often cited are; choosing a chess move or deciding whether to invest in stock — decisions are governed mostly by intuitive thought, and the intuitive mind does the best it can with whatever information it can use.

In Gigerenzer's writing he identifies a number of smart heuristics - 'take the best' and 'recognition validity' are two.

Similarly, Kahneman would say that if the individual has at least some relevant 'expertise', she will recognise a solution, and that this intuitive solution that comes to mind is quite often correct.

But what happens when the question is more difficult and a 'skilled' solution or smart heuristic is not available?

DK would say that we instead answer an easier and related question, automatically and usually without noticing the substitution.

Indeed, attribute substitution is thought to underpin a number of cognitive biases and perceptual illusions, something GG and DK can agree upon, and is part of a larger set of shortcuts that form the effort-reduction framework as proposed by Shah and Oppenheimer, which states that people use a variety of techniques in order to reduce the mental effort of making decisions.

So, an easier question to answer might be one that allows us to simply look at our previous behaviour. If that feels related to the problem at hand we then feel reasonably happy proceed in-line with what we have previously done.

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable thing, of course.
We want our attitudes to be in line with our behaviours.
Whilst we might believe that we are not the sort of person who drinks and drives, once a couple of beers have gone down and we have to get home we soon change our minds.
The behaviour has been done so that's impossible to change, so of course we want our attitude to be consistent and tell ourselves a story to rationalise it. It's just easier to do this.

I've done some of my own research that seems to indicate that despite having more access to information than at any point in history in order to do proper evaluation of alternatives in choice situations, we simply cannot be arsed and will use all manner of effort reduction strategies to dramatically simplify and limit consideration sets.

Especially, as it would appear from our studies, in categories such as insurance; where making the wrong choice could have pretty serious consequences. Yet the vast majority of buyers are happy to buy from an existing FS provider, or if they do switch; then the brands with biggest share of market and share of voice tend to pick up most of the switchers and new to market buyers.

So, for example,  if the difficult question (or computationally complex attribute) asked is “Should Scotland be an independent country?”.

The reality is that for many voters perhaps an easier to calculate heuristic attribute might be “Am I already deeply invested in a pseudo-religious and political sectarian Unionist or Republican 'philosophy', (imported from somewhere else) and based on my allegiance to a particular Glasgow based football club?”

Despite the fluffy rhetoric about a nation engaged in a new passion for political discourse, debate and democracy, we fear that this description does not account for all of the voting public.

But for a number of the reported 1.4million Scots who are R*ngers supporters this will almost certainly be the case. Numbers for C*ltic are unavailable, recognition validity indicates they will be similar, though...

Whether those numbers are enough to have made a significant impact on the final poll we will never know. Perhaps they cancelled each other out, in which case an engaged minority held the balance.

What was clearly visible were the ugly scenes of from George Square last week.
Far from any intellectual jousting of political and national ideologies the scene resembled more closely the famous 1980 Scottish Cup Final. A sorry affair in which a narrow one-nil victory for the green half of the great unwashed resulted in a pitch invasion from the blue side, a mass bricks and bottles battle between thousands, and TV commentator Archie MacPherson prompted to remark 'its like a scene from Apocalypse Now'.

The Unionists won the vote, of course. Goodness knows what might have happened had they lost.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

drummond, brown, artisanal toast and fantasy nationalism

There's a splendid chapter in Bill Drummond's book 45 entitled 'A Cure for Nationalism' that seems to neatly sum up the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance at the heart of a certain kind of Scottishness, and particularly poignant at this defining moment in modern political history.

To set the scene, our protagonist, Drummond, is in Paris for the 1998 World cup where Scotland faced - and were narrowly defeated by - Brazil in the opening fixture.

Drummond's dissonance is revealed, made manifest and resolved within a few short paragraphs.

'I was present at the births of all five of my children; not once did I well up with the mystery and wonder of it all, but just the notion of Scotland is enough to make me weep. 

This morning I sit silent on the train. I feel totally empty. Not because Scotland lost. Even if they had won I'd feel the same. It's investing all that emotional energy into something that you have no control over. 

At least Bruce's men were willing to give their lives to defend Scotland's sovereign statehood. 

What do I or any of the Tartan Army ever actually do for Scotland? For the good of its appalling nutritional standards, its chronic abuse of alcohol, its stagnant economy, its highest rates of cancer in Europe? 

"Let us do or die" - what a lie. we do nothing but die. 

Forget fantasy football, this is fantasy nationalism. None of us really gives a sh*t about Scotland, even those that vote SNP. 

Thank God we are not about to do or die like some former Yugoslavian state. We have never had an empire, never wanted one.'

But on the upside, he concludes... 

'Thank God we do not suffer from a crippled national psyche that makes us go around kicking Johnny Foreigner and smashing up continental bars and thinking we are doing it because we and our pompous has-been country deserve respect.'

It was also interesting to notice former UK PM Gordon Brown's final rallying call to the 'NO' lobby, in which he waded straight in with a deft pulling of the 'No True Scotsman Fallacy' lever within the first few seconds of his speech.

'[You] are the REAL people of Scotland...'  he declares to the faithful.

Now, obviously, one is either a person of Scotland or one is not, there is no 'real' about it, however whilst Brown was often framed by the English media as a somewhat out-of-date and dour irrelevance in his time as PM, his playing of the (fake) authenticity card - straight out of the blocks, no less - is as much a slice of zeitgeisty 2014-ness as any artisanal toast.

Speaking of logical fallacies and biases, then the 'No' lobby would seem to have 'System 1' on it's side.

Given the uncertainty that surrounds a possible 'Yes' outcome, tendencies towards loss aversion ( ie things are not too bad just now, so do we want to risk things being worse? And are the potential gains heavy enough to outweigh anticipated losses given that we weigh them a bout 2.5 to 1 on the loss side?) will be a significant factor when it comes to the crunch.

From an 'availability' or 'recognition' perspective the fact that just about all of the British mass media (most significantly the supposedly balanced BBC) has come out firmly in the 'No' camp it's probably pretty remarkable that less than 24hrs before the polls open it's still neck and neck.

It would seem that up to half of the turkeys are not voting for Christmas.

Whether the final polls reflect this neck-and-neck ness that has been salient throughout the campaign remains to be seen.
And from a peak-end-rule standpoint, how we remember the campaign will be influenced by it's outcome.

To keep up the football theme that we started with, the famous 1999 Champions league Final is regarded as one of the great footballing episodes of recent times.

Principally because of how the Fergie-led United snatched victory with two goals in the nail-biting last minute.

What no-one mentions is that, for the experiencing self  the previous 119 minutes was pretty stodgy stuff.
The peak and the end followed in such quick succession that the remembering self has a somewhat false recollection of excitement over the entire piece.

Similarly if the indyref does finish in a 'No' and the final polling numbers stray into, say, 70/30 territory at the death (and as the aforementioned loss aversion, status quo bias and system justification bias do their worst), then the memory of what has been a fairly significant episode in mass engagement in politics may appear somewhat more cut-and-dried in hindsight than is a true reflection.

With all that said, and whichever way it goes, it's still shite being Scottish.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

influencer theory is the wrong end of the stick

The idea that brands can pick out and target a small group of social media users with large 'followings' and then imagine that they will direct everyone else is still prevalent however this influencer theory is a myth and its protagonists have got things the wrong way round.

There are a couple of reasons marketers still like to believe in this idea of the 'influencers'.

Firstly, a little bit of laziness. It’s a lot easier to believe that a message can spread by the brand tapping apparently popular individuals - those special few to whom we all turn to in order to make decisions as Gladwell-ian rhetoric would have it - rather than get down with the messy business of continually reaching a mass of distracted, disinterested consumers.

Secondly, just by implementing these ‘influencer’ strategies it’s actually the brands themselves who appear to be the ultra influentials!


They, after all, are now the ones who influence the influencers.

Sadly neither of these things are true.

If they were our jobs as advertisers would be so much easier and predictable.

What is true, is that you're just as likely to spread a message or product by targeting a mass market of random consumers as you would by going after so-called influencers, as long as the conditions are right.

If people are ready to adopt a product, message or trend, then just about anybody can start one, but if the conditions aren’t right, then no one can.

Indeed, most of what we should call real influence is much more accidental and principally involves easily influenced people influencing other easily influenced people, without either party being particularly cognisant of the influence.

There’s bad news and good news.

The bad news is that the specific conditions in which any given trend might emerge are very hard to predict and success only looks like success in hindsight.

The good news is that the psychology literature explains the general conditions for copying behaviour pretty well.

All day long people unconsciously mimic the behaviours of others they interact with, including facial expressions, accents, postures, gestures, mannerisms and emotions.

And the simple act of observing others’ behaviour can induce behavioural mimicry, particularly the behaviour of others who appear similar to us, and all of the above are unconscious automatic processes.

Likewise, simply observing others’ choices induces choice mimicry - just like behavioural mimicry it occurs automatically - and collectively when we are uncertain about which behaviours or choices are acceptable or accurate, then we use the ‘social proof ‘ heuristic to be on the safe side.

Or in more simple terms, ordinary people copy other ordinary people without really noticing they are doing it.

Speaking of hindsight, we’ve never held much truck with the old Gladwell ‘Hush Puppies’ story.

The legend goes along these lines; some East Village hipsters began wearing Hush Puppies in 1994 and then suddenly everyone else started wearing them, too.

What Gladwell failed to notice is that Hush Puppies were a staple of just about every UK subculture from the early sixties onwards, worn by mods, skins, hippies, punks, soul-boys and ravers right through to 3rd generation mod brit-poppers in ermm.. about 1994.

Even if Gladwell’s theory were true, it still doesn't mean that if East Village hipsters did wear a specific product then it would automatically be popular.

Hipsters in the East Village presumably wear all kinds of other clobber that never becomes particularly popular anywhere else, or even in the East Village.

It depends on whether anyone else was open to copying at that time.

This belief in ‘influencers’ can be simply explained using a particular logical fallacy.

Rosenweig’s ‘delusion of the wrong end of the stick’.

This is the tendency to get causes the wrong way round.

For instance, in observing that successful companies tend to have a corporate social responsibility policy, should one infer that these pro-social activities are contributing factors to their success, or is it simply that that profitable companies tend to have money to spend on CSR?

The former makes for a better story – and is therefore lapped up by the purpose-before-profit lobby and more recently proponents of the so-called ‘sharing economy’ - however the latter explanation is much closer to the truth, if somewhat less sexy.

Similarly, ‘influencer’ theory makes for a better story than random copying of each other by ordinary people.

The final irony is, of course, that the so-called ‘traditional’ mass marketing that ‘influencer’ type strategies seeks to discredit is actually far more effective at reaching accidental influencers than activity focused on reaching those with some sort of perceived influence.

Therefore smart marketers could, in effect, have their influencer cake and eat it, too.

As it is impossible to know which person, if any, is going to start any given cascade of influence, then activities should be aimed at as broad a market as possible to give it the best possible chance.

And then if something does catch on they can correctly say ‘we got the influencers’ because the random nature of accidental influence means that ‘influencers’ can only really be identified after the fact.

Article influenced principally by Gigerenzer, Rosenzweig, Watts, Earls and an unspecified number of random conversations and unconscious influence over time.

Friday, September 05, 2014


While talking with some game developers this week there was a particular phrase they used a number of times which stayed with me.

They talked of 'juiciness' in the gameplay.

Afterwards we looked it up to see it as a real thing or simply a foible of our gamer guests.

Turns out that 'juiciness' is an proper piece of gamer vernacular, and describes a type of feedback message, either in actual words or through sound effects or images, that help to create encouraging positive responses by rewarding a player when they perform an action successfully. 

This is duly being filed in the lexicon for those times when saying 'elicit an emotional response' or describing heuristics or other such system one type responses is perhaps overly scientific for delicate client paletes when reviewing their new advertising.

Never mind the differentiation/positioning/loyalty metrics, feel the juiciness.

Monday, September 01, 2014

what would independence mean for advertising in scotland?

In a couple of weeks Scotland will vote yay or nay for independence from the rest of the UK. 

As ex-pats we are ineligible to vote so will not waste any space on here debating the politics of the issue but among the commentary we were drawn to this article in the Herald by Ian MacWhirter. 

In the article MacWhirter takes a humorous swipe at Lord Birt - the former Director General of the BBC - who has apparently warned Scots that, after independence, they will be cut off from BBC programming and 'sent to bed early with no Dr Who... the screens will go black and cultural life in Scotland will wither as Scots lose access to Strictly Come Dancing'.

Joking aside, clearly Birt is discounting Scots ability to use things like the internet and satellite broadcasting services.

Anyway, the more serious point of the article is this.

'Scotland has had no shortage of broadcasting talent, but it largely gets exported to London, which is why Scottish accents are so prevalent in the media village. Anyone who wants to get on in the BBC has to go to London - as I did - because that is where the jobs are, where the careers and the budgets are. I spent more than 20 years in the BBC, nearly half of it in London... 

...Many Scots do try to come back from London, of course, but it is a big risk. I was speaking recently to one of my contemporaries, who started in the BBC when I did and became one of the best documentary film makers in Britain, with a string of Baftas and other awards to her name. She tried to come back to Scotland three years ago, and found she simply could not get any commissions from the BBC. So she had to go back to London. If you are not in the metropolitan village you are little people.'

Having been away from Scotland for a long time, it's only natural that once in a while the call of of home can be heard and we get a misty eyed for the skirl of the pipes and so forth.

Don't worry, this is not one of those occasions.

And even if it were then we wouldn't necessarily use this journal to express anything of that nature.

Plus, it would be pretty pointless anyway as the advertising industry in Scotland is so small that it cannot employ even a small percentage the Scots ad talent, they face the same conundrum as their broadcast media counterparts as almost the entire industry is in London.

MacWhirter goes on to ask. 'So Scotland could go it alone (ie having a Scottish national broadcaster), but would it ever have to? Everyone I speak to seems to believe the BBC would be determined to maintain its brand identity across the whole of the British mainland, not least as a bulwark against digital fragmentation, which is a threat to the future of the licence fee.'

Would Scotland's advertising industry go it alone?

I can't help thinking of this Australian population data point as comparison.

For instance in Victoria, where we have a population of about 5.7million - broadly similar to Scotland's.
Apart from MediaCom, whom I know are in Edinburgh I can't think of any other global network agency who still operate out of Scotland, yet Melbourne is able to sustain a medium sized office just about every global agency one can think of. BBDO, DDB, JWT, TBWA, Y&R etc etc are all here.

And they almost all have at least one other office in New South Wales, some are in QL, WA, and SA too. All the media agencies are here too, plus numerous indies and digital shops etc.

From that population standpoint, post-independence, a Scottish advertising industry at some sort of scale would seem to be equally sustainable (in theory).

Or is Australia just some sort of weird anomaly?

Would the global agency networks be required to open up (or re-open) their outposts in Glasgow or Edinburgh post-independence?

How much advertising spend from companies based in Scotland goes to London based agencies?

And, critically, would the Scottish talent that has had to follow the industry to London and abroad be prepared to return?

Would they even be welcomed back?