Archive for the ‘Communications’ Category

Thinking mostly very slow

April 22, 2014

I went to see Daniel Kahneman speak a couple of weeks ago – the psychologist who won a Nobel Prize for Economics and wrote ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ – which is a book I see lots of people with but which even Kahneman jokes that few probably finish. [I was given another copy of the book at the talk so shout if you want it.]








It made me conscious yet again of all the new insights and provocations that have emerged in recent years from the fields of behavioural economics, neuroscience and psychology, and the difficulty of articulating a clear point of view when clients ask.

So I’m going to use this blog as a way to clarify for myself the bits that I find useful and perceive to be connected, and maybe that will be of use to others.

System 1 and 2

Kahneman has popularized the understanding that our minds have two main modes of operation:

‘Fast’ System 1 (the ‘autopilot’): automatic, effortless, intuitive, impulsive.  Capable of providing instant answers to questions like ‘what’s 2 + 2?’, interpreting facial expressions, grabbing a favourite brand off the shelf or driving a familiar route, and so much more.

‘Slow’ System 2 (the ‘pilot’): conscious, effortful, evaluative, voluntary.  What we use when we have to pay attention – e.g. to answer questions like ’What’s 24 x 17?’ or ‘Who might be the next Man United manager?’, or choose an important gift, or park in a difficult space.

We assume we are primarily guided by System 2 – that we are rational, reasoning beings – but actually System 2 is the back-up mode that kicks in only when required – the vast majority of our decision-making is automatically being done by System 1. If we used System 2 all the time we would react too slowly and would be overwhelmed by all the choices available (System 2 is limited in capacity whereas System 1 has a huge capability to process every single bit of information perceivable by our senses at any point). And System 2 is described as ‘lazy’: people generally avoid expending mental effort – it feels tiring and has been demonstrated to be physiologically depleting of blood sugar.

A key point is that the two systems don’t operate mutually exclusively – especially not System 2. System 1 is implicitly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2. Most of the time System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification – you believe your impressions and act on your desires (you follow your ‘gut instinct’). But sometimes System 2’s reasoning might override System 1’s impulses (e.g. when you decide that the noise that woke you up feeling alarmed is not actually someone breaking in).

Another key point is that System 1 is not, in contrast to the ‘rational’ System 2, ‘irrational’. System 1 generally makes very good decisions, using innate instincts we were born with plus knowledge, skills and associations we have learned over time. But System 1 is particularly emotional: feelings are often the main driver and feelings largely derive from our memories – how we felt in similar situations in the past is extremely influential on our System 1 thinking.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the work in this field but already it throws up some profound issues for marketers. We have long assumed that people make far more considered decisions about our brands and communications than they actually do – that all options within a category are considered, that persuasive messages are read or heard, that product performance is assessed objectively, … whereas in fact people decide extremely quickly and intuitively, based largely on emotional memories which are highly subjective and imperfect.

This connects up with something that has resonated for me in the work of Byron Sharp, which comes from the quite different perspective of mathematical analysis of patterns of brand growth …

‘Memory structure’

I have written before about Sharp’s book ‘How brands grow: what marketers don’t know’ and its provocative but convincing arguments (based on the work of Andrew Ehrenberg) about the need to focus on increasing penetration not loyalty, and the benefits of targeting light buyers.

Sharp talks about the importance for brands of maximizing ‘physical availability’ (distribution and in-store presence) and ‘mental availability’ (the ability to get noticed or come to mind in relevant situations, accompanied by positive associations that encourage purchase). The combination of these two things makes brands easier to buy – in Kahneman’s terms more capable of being suggested by System 1 and not screened out by System 2.

Sharp refers to ‘memory structures’, the collection of mental associations we have in our minds linked to a brand name, developed and refreshed over time through experiences such as buying and using the brand, being exposed to its marketing and hearing about it from other people. The more extensive, fresh, coherent and emotionally positive a brand’s ‘memory structures’ are, the more likely it is to get noticed or thought in buying situations.

Hence the key task of advertising is to enhance memory structure for a brand: to refresh existing positive associations and add new ones. And it needs to be ultra easy for people to process communication using System 1, so the more it uses distinctive assets already in memory (colour, logo, pack shape, executional devices, etc.), the more likely it is to be assimilated (although not necessarily consciously) and stored in memory, linked to the brand.

I am constantly amazed by how few marketers really understand this and put it into practice. We are people who love creativity, change and get enormous energy from new ideas … but this isn’t necessarily in the brand’s best interest.  This has been evident when brands change their design too radically – e.g. Tropicana allegedly lost €30m in two months and returned to their previous packaging. System 1 automatic recognition of the pack was decimated by the change of pretty much all the easily identifiable elements (remember that in shops we are often viewing packs using peripheral vision – which is blurred).









Of course sometimes brands need to change their advertising. But when everything about a memorable campaign that really resonated with consumers is left behind I feel very uncomfortable. Lloyds Bank recently ‘relaunched’ (from Lloyds TSB) and replaced their long-running, distinctive, charming and effective (IPA Effectiveness Award winner 2010) animated campaign with something that is visually, aurally, tonally and emotionally miles away:

lloyds cartoon

Lloyds 1






Lloyds 2








I have no evidence of the new campaign’s effectiveness but I can’t believe it’s high.

But nor is it usually in the brand’s best interest to just endlessly repeat stuff and not innovate with products nor refresh communication, since consumers will eventually get bored, categories move on and competitors may build up more effective memory structures. David Taylor of the Brand Gym uses the term ‘fresh consistency’ to describe the need for careful balance: to stick to brand ideas and distinctive brand properties but keep them refreshed, relevant and interesting over time.

Yet it is very rare that I hear any discussion of what those distinctive brand assets are and how they should be exploited and refreshed. In research we are inclined to despair slightly when consumers keep referring to old advertising years later, but we should be working harder to understand why they have remembered it for so long and how we can build from that. Where is the box on our brand positioning frameworks for this stuff? The only example I’ve seen is the ‘Root Strengths’ box on the Unilever Brand Key format.

In advertising pitch situations, or when results aren’t looking good, clients and agencies are too keen to throw out everything that’s gone before – whereas the more intelligent approach may well be to build from the best bits that already exist. I’ve been working recently on advertising effectiveness for Specsavers, which has achieved a fantastic return on investment through constant refreshment of the same memorable idea: ‘Should have gone to Specsavers’ – used since 2002 but most effective in recent years. My personal favourites below – so different yet so similar:

Specsavers ‘Vet’ ad

Specsavers ‘Collie’ ad

Next time we’re racing to reinvent some marketing let’s think about whether there’s a case for ‘thinking slow’.

The value of a Facebook fan – or not?

May 15, 2012

No doubt we’ve all experienced, either as consumers or marketers or both, the tendency for brands these days to be desperate for you to ‘like’ their brand on Facebook, with bribes often offered in return. I guess the motivations are that brands think it demonstrates customer engagement, the friends of the likers will see the endorsement and be somehow positively influenced by it, it allows a brand to get into someone’s newsfeed with its updates and content and thereby increase their involvement, etc. But to what extent does liking a brand actually demonstrate any real interest in or commitment to a brand, rather than just a way to get access to a prize draw or whatever?

In this month’s Admap there’s an interesting piece of analysis about the extent to which fans of a brand on Facebook actually interact with the brand beyond their first ‘like’. It’s from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, where Byron Sharp of ‘How Brands Grow’ works – I’ve posted about him/them before because they bring some much-needed empiricism and clear thinking to the gut-feel-led world of marketing.

They’ve analysed the newish Facebook measure ‘People talking about this’, which counts any direct interaction with a brand page such as initial liking, liking content, posting to a wall, commenting, sharing a post or content, photo tagging, checking in or RSVP-ing to an event.


Over six weeks they calculated the average weekly PTAT versus the average weekly fan numbers (likers) for the top 200 brands by fan numbers on Facebook. In any of these weeks, less than 0.5% of brand fans engaged with the brand on Facebook. So 99.5% of your brand fans in any given week didn’t interact with the brand on Facebook in any measurable way – although they may have read the brand’s posts in their news feeds I guess.

The engagement levels vary only a little by category, with cars and alcohol brands getting the most engagement, but still less than 1% of brand fans interacting per week, and financial services the least. Even the cool brands that we might imagine would have higher than average interaction (Nike, Harley-Davidson, D&G, Jack Daniels, …) don’t get significantly higher engagement.

And the vast majority of growth in the PTAT number is explained by growth in the number of likers – i.e. the bulk of what we see as brand engagement is just the initial liking. Plus what they don’t mention but is pretty clear is that the number of likers is always a tiny fraction of the penetration of a brand – looking at my clients’ brands for which I know the penetration it looks like the number of likers is about 1-2% of total customer numbers.

So should we despair about our inability to drive social media engagement at any scale? Or are we prioritizing the wrong thing, since there is no real evidence that I know of that this kind of engagement correlates with sales? It feels like this is another example of marketers’ tendency to get distracted by a pursuit of brand loyalty rather than brand penetration.

Consumers don’t care about brands that much. They develop habits primarily because it’s convenient to do so, not because they want to be in a relationship with a brand. Yet because we ourselves are in a relationship with the brands we work for or with, we seem to find that so hard to accept.

The full article is published here for free at the moment:

From smoothies to cat herding

September 15, 2010

It’s been a while since I posted so here’s a small collection of random things that have caught my eye recently.

1. Innocent was originally called Fast Tractor. Who knew?  Not me until David Taylor’s blog revealed it. Here’s what the label looked like:


You can see how they got there: getting the fruit from field to bottle super-fast blah blah. But so much weaker than Innocent, which has emotional meaning as well as rational, feels like a ‘big idea’ with tons of breadth and presumably works better internationally.

So next time you are working on a positioning, ask yourself whether you’ve got a Fast Tractor or an Innocent? 

2. There’s been a lot of stuff in the media lately about how the ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ world of the internet, Twitter, Facebook and all is reducing our attention spans and making our brains less capable of concentrating for long amounts of time on seriously productive creative endeavour.

Well they say for every trend there’s a counter trend and here are examples: Slate (online magazine) have been commissioning some really long pieces and finding they get millions of page views and the editor of the New York Times magazine says it’s their longest pieces that get the most traffic.

3. Mother have made their first ad for Ikea in which they release 100 cats around the Wembley store and film what happens.

It’s rather nice (in that post-modern ‘long film that doesn’t feel like an ad’ way) and is already going gangbusters on the YouTube/viral circuit.  I assume the brief was something about making Ikea merchandise more emotionally desirable and resonant of cosy homes, not just renting your first flat. The ad does a decent job of that but has its work cut out if it’s going to override memories of the horror of the stores and the disappointing reality of the products. 

 The ‘making of’ video has had 4x as many views as the actual ad and is inspiring parodies such as this very funny one:

New Old Spice

June 29, 2010

I was delighted to see that an ad that has been making me giggle for weeks (I watch it online in dull moments) has won the Cannes Advertising Festival commercial of the year. It’s part of a campaign from Wieden & Kennedy in Oregon that has reinvented what we know of as a naff old P&G brand that grannies bought in the 70s.

I’ve used it in training sessions with young marketers because there’s a lot to talk about. It’s aimed at the women who buy their men’s toiletries as well as the men themselves, and is a neatly nuanced execution of the ‘for real men’ strategy, which can go off in all manner of directions depending on how you brief it. And from a production point of view it’s intriguing because it seems to be shot in a single take but that appears impossible (it is in fact a single shot, according to the ‘making of’ video on YouTube, with the only CGI the bit with the diamonds and the pack rising up out of his hand).

On a related topic, I’ve seen today that Tetley tea are bringing back the Tea Folk advertising. My last project when I worked agency-side was a pitch in 2005 for Tetley tea (which we won) where the brief was ‘move it on from the Tea Folk’ because with their flat caps and Northern ways they weren’t the right image for a 21st century tea brand. The ensuring campaigns have never quite worked out and PG Tips have got Monkey and Al and brand leadership, so Tetley have finally decided it’s time to go back. Hopefully MCBD can do what they’ve done for Hovis in terms of refreshing an old approach.

Nice ads but do they work?

June 21, 2010

I’ve had a very interesting month judging entries for the IPA Effectiveness Awards. The IPA is the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising but the awards now actively encourage entries about communications in a broader sense, and this batch included brands doing all sorts of integrated things both with more traditional and newer media. But one thing was pretty consistent: the use of TV and the fact that major effects didn’t tend to kick in until TV was deployed.

The process has really renewed my faith in the business benefits of commununications: most of the papers did a very robust job of demonstrating not only that the communications budget was paid back by incremental profit generated, sometimes many times over.

One slight disappointment was the lack of specific evidence relating to the effectiveness of digital and online activities, which is a bit puzzling given the relative ease of getting at least basic information. As an example I’ve just come across the relaunched Viral Video Chart, which “ranks viral videos and branded content worldwide based on the amount of times content has been shared on Facebook, Twitter and in the blogosphere”.

It’s worth a look: you can look at the UK vs. global, in the last 24 hours, week, month or year and by platform.  Vaguely interesting that while Nike’s ‘Write the future’ World Cup viral is by far the most popular viral ad in the  the world in the last 7 days (shared 27k times) it only comes in at number 20 of all viral videos shared, because it’s music and comedy videos that really get the numbers – e.g. the video for Shakira’s World Cup song was shared 339k times in the last week. Even a Brazilian toddler dancing the samba was shared a lot more than one of the most talked-about ads of recent times.  

RNLI stands up for young people

May 13, 2010

A direct marketing agency Proximity have done a nice campaign for the RNLI, spending very little money to make the the charity relevant to a new generation.

Based on the brand truth that there are lots of fantastic young people who are RNLI volunteers or employees they decided to challenge (anonymously, via personalised packages they posted or delivered) 12 prominent young vloggers to talk about their views on how young people are seen by society and portrayed by the media.

Their posts engaged their viewers, who in turn contributed, and then the vloggers were invited to the RNLI to find out more, and so on. Again a good disruption to the typical way things are done and a nice film that tells the story.

Execution is everything

May 9, 2010

Two little examples of comms that I saw this week …

1. Burger King ‘disloyalty card’, where if you ‘cheat on beef’ with their premium chicken burger 5 times you get the 6th one free. Quite a few brands are getting into loyalty cards at the moment (e.g. the coffee shops) but people find them quite annoying because they lose them, forget to get them stamped and they clog up your wallet or purse.  But here they’ve executed the thing with a proper funny idea, which makes it a lot more likely this will be successful.

2. An ad for a Toshiba promotion where if you buy a Toshiba TV before the World Cup you get your money refunded if England wins. Which is quite a big exciting idea but is executed in a really boring way.  Looks like the client has done it themselves.  (Media placement on a train doesn’t help either.)

So great execution is vital – what good agencies add really is worth paying for.

Susan Boyle in Norway

March 11, 2010

Just back from another trip to Sarpsborg to work with my new Scandinavian clients at Orkla. I was chatting to the driver who picked me up (of course in Norway even the taxi drivers have perfect English) who put on his Susan Boyle CD for my benefit. He said “I just loved the look on those judges’ faces when she started to sing”. 

Another reminder of the universal appeal of certain human stories – in this case the Cinderella tale of how you shouldn’t judge on appearances, that inside anyone is a star.  Yes Susan Boyle has a great voice but it’s the back story that’s made her a global phenomenon.

And a lovely new ad campaign from Zappos, the online retailer in the US that has a phenomenal reputation for service and charm. They’ve taken genuine recordings of phone calls between customers and staff and brought them to life with Muppet-style puppets. Not only really funny but creates such a good impression of the company.