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 reach everyone else with their message 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!

Ka-chow!

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

juiciness

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?

 

Friday, August 29, 2014

large, black & white, funny and sexy

Like most people, we at Boat Global HQ typically while away the chilly winter evenings with a nice Pinot Noir and amusing ourselves with old social psychology test papers.
The other evening one multiple choice question caught our eye...

Advertisements that are _____ are more likely to gain the attention of the consumer.

a. are large
b. are black and white rather than colour
c. avoid humour
d. avoid sex

We were pretty certain that we tend to notice things that are funny and/or sexy, bold black and white can have impact however so does bright primary colour so answer a) are large, felt correct.

We were right.

But what if an advertisement was large, black and white, funny and sexy?
That would seem to be a winning combination, for sure.

Anyway, I went for breakfast this morning with a fellow planning chap.
He works between Melb and Sydney so flies a lot.


You'll remember how this blog has become a big advocate of OOH in recent years, when it is well done?


So we were discussing some of these outdoor campaigns that we had admired.


Obviously the famous Bonds 'BOOBS' poster came up.

















Large, black and white, funny and sexy.
Perhaps the most 'pure' a piece of pure brand recognition advertising since the first 'fcuk advertising' billboards in the late 90's.

In case you've not been following our current infatuation with Gigerenzer then a 'recognition heuristic' can be described as a rule of thumb by which  recognised objects will be chosen over unrecognised ones, regardless of any other available relevant information.

What makes 'Boobs' and 'fcuk' even more remarkable is that both in campaigns the singe creative device was simple brand name recognition, yet neither actually used the brand name, by name.

Anyway, my planning friend told me that taxi drivers had mentioned something to him.
There was a particular billboard near either Sydney or  Melbourne airport (cant remember which).


As the cab approached the area the taxi drivers would remark that the traffic tended to be slower in that area at the moment.


'Was there roadworks or something?'


No.


The traffic always slowed because the people in cars wanted to get a better look at the 'BOOBS' billboard.



Thursday, August 28, 2014

red stitching turn-ups and creative publicity

Younger readers may find this hard to imagine, but there was a time not so long ago when simply buying a pair of straight leg Levis jeans was something of a task.

More specifically, for the early-teen punky-mod me in 1979 in provincial Aberdeen obtaining a pair of shrink-to-fit 501XX's was even more arduous, and often required a 3 hour bus trip to Glasgow or an obliging relative in London to secure.

The correct Levi's, however, were important items to own.

Because the distinctive 501XX red stitching visible when the jeans were turned up was one of the key signals of one's status among the rest of the group.

A slightly more discerning in-group within the broader mod in-group if you like.

One simple glance at another young mod's turn-ups was all one needed to do in order to make a judgement of their perspicacity.

To this day I'm as picky, however about different things.

In the case of a unified theory of advertising I'm less likely to satisfice.

I'm happy enough with Gap jeans these days in case you are wondering.

And so fast forward to 2014 and we are in a workshop session at a marketing conference.
The delegates are broken into groups of six or so and the facilitator announces a task that the groups are required to solve.

We are asked to quickly, and just for fun, come up with some ideas around 'how to get people TO CONSUME MORE' of a particular product (and using certain tactics/techniques we have been learning about).

As you can imagine, I reverted to type and immediately found a problem with the task.

Surely, we were being asked the wrong question?

Is not the single most important task for marketing and advertising to achieve about growing market penetration?

So therefore the correct question should be 'how do we get MORE PEOPLE TO CONSUME product X'.

As I began scribbling an approximation of an NBD type distribution curve the fella sat next to immediately spotted what I was doing.

The rest of the group were oblivious however the first merest hint of the Dirichlet and the pair of us were in complete understanding of each others point of view.

Like a nerdy marketing science equivalent of teenage mods noticing each others turn-ups.

The truth is, in advertising today there seems to be nothing that polarises opinion quite as much as the 'How Brands Grow' effect. You are either in or out, there's very little middle ground.

I recall on one occasion meeting with another Planning Director at an agency I was courting and tentatively dropped a couple of thinly veiled EB-esqe phrases into our conversation.

He noticed my 'red stitching' immediately and kindly offered that I need not be coy, he was also a subscriber. Ha.

However the principle objection to scientific marketing ideas seems to come from creative quarters.

'I warn you against believing that advertising is a science.'

So said Bill Bernbach.

Bernbach, as we all know, was one of the key players in the so-named 'creative revolution' within advertising in the early 60's - one that was, in many ways, a revolution against the prevailing ideas of the likes of Rosser Reeves.

Whereas the Reeves approach was 'claim based'- he is the inventor of the USP, after all - and could be described as somewhat formulaic, the Bernbach approach was the antithesis, all out creativity.

It was this more 'functional' Reeves approach that Bernbach was describing as 'science'.
Not actual science.

[Fair play to old Rosser. you know you've made it when you get a logical fallacy named after you.]


My sense is that if Bill were around today he would be embracing the emerging field of marketing science for the space it creates for free creativity.

There is a final passage in the famous paper entitled 'Brand Advertising as Creative Publicity' by Helen Bloom, Rachel Kennedy, Andrew Ehrenberg and Neil Barnard; and published in the Journal of Advertising Research in 2002, that may have tickled Bernbach.

The authors propose that brand advertising seems to work best by simply creatively publicising a brand (salience), and not by trying to persuade people that the brand differs from other brands, or is even better or best.

'Some people fear that this 'mere publicity' stance is unhelpful to creatives. But we suggest that the exact opposite is the case.

Advertising a better mousetrap is fairly easy if it is in fact a bit better. One can, for instance, just say so. But having to center your advertising on adding year after year some indiscernible 'Whiter and Brighter' product-boon can restrict the kind of creativity that aims at memorable impacts for the brand.

In contrast, publicizing a brand gives ample scope for imaginative insights and for disciplined marketing communication skills.

This can stimulate creativity, that is, making distinctive and memorable publicity for the brand out of next to nothing. This seems the hallmark of good advertising as we know it. We think still that advertising a competitive brand means just 'Telling a brand story well', without there being just one solution.

There is huge scope-the campaign need not be hemmed in by the brand's 'selling proposition.'


In a recent post we mentioned renowned German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer's 'recognition heuristic'.

'Firms that spend their money on buying space in your recognition memory know this. Similarly politicians advertising their names and faces rather than their policies, and colleges, wannabe celebrities, and even small nations operate on the principle that if we do not recognise them, we will not favor them.

Taken to the extreme, being recognised becomes the goal in itself'.


Another way of describing salience and creative publicity.

[Indeed, Gigerenzer even offers a specific smart recognition heuristic for buying hi-fi equipment with minimum effort.

'Choose a brand you recognize and the second least expensive model'.]

For creative types this scientific approach should be liberating. To be free from dealing with message comprehension, USPs, positioning and differentiation and instead inhabit a world where the principle requirement is using unreasonable creativity to get branded ideas noticed and remembered.

And as Professor Sharp says in 'How Brands Grow'.

'...the primary task of advertising agencies is to generate ideas that viewers will notice and and will be willing to process over and over. This process must be brand-centric; it must refresh the memory structures that relate to the brand. This is a difficult task, which is why most advertising fails.”

Difficult? Yes.
Impossible? No.

To paraphrase Rory Sutherland; this appliance of science frees us from a 'world where creativity is heavily policed but where shallow rationality is a allowed to run rampant.'

What better  creative challenge than to be able to battle on a level playing field with everything else in the culture that competes for bits of our attention?

So as we started this article talking about Levi's, it seems fair to end it with their latest campaign. I'll leave it to you to decide whether this new direction is likely to do much for recognition or memory structures.

However as clue to the feelings here at Boat Global HQ, in spite of the disfluency and general unfathomable-ness of the tagline, it is the irony of that line is perhaps the most salient thing on view.

Just Don't Bore Them?