Archive for the ‘Effectiveness’ 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’.

When is different too different?

June 11, 2012

Thanks to David Taylor of the Brand Gym for alerting me to this piece of research via his very good blog. As a planner working with creatives you have to constantly deal with the tension between creatives wanting to reinvent the wheel and do something totally different in order to stand out and your instinctive sense that the ad needs to retain some link to how people perceive the brand in order to be easily appreciated.

Well here’s some neuroscience research that demonstrates the need to resolve that tension carefully – to achieve ‘moderate newness’ or ‘moderate incongruity’ (in the words of the neuroscience consultancy Decode Marketing who have written it up in a paper on their website) or ‘fresh consistency’ (in the words of David Taylor).

Researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands observed nerve cells reacting to familiar and new information. When we are expecting something and the stimulus confirms our expectations, the brain switches off and attends to other matters. That’s the efficient response: why spend time considering something when we already know what it’s going to be? The researchers say that’s why most car crashes happen on roads we know well – our brains have switched off because they think they know what they will find.

However when the stimulus is unexpected the brain actively processes the signal and tries to understand it in the light of existing knowledge and expectations. The trouble is that this active processing of disruptive stimulus is hard work, our brains are lazy and won’t keep that up for long (see Daniel Kahneman’s book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’) and advertising is not something most people are interested enough to expend effort on.

Further research indicates that a message that is ‘moderately incongruent’ with expectations works best: that total newness has as little effect as total familiarity.

I’d like to see more detail on the examples they used to come to this conclusion (and it would be great if the other research examined a spectrum of degrees of unexpectedness, from a little bit unexpected to totally disruptive) but nonetheless it’s an interesting conclusion that rings true with my personal experience and the proven success of campaigns which manage to balance consistency with newness (Lynx/Axe worldwide a great example).

The tricky call to make with a long-running campaign is when ‘effective consistency’ becomes ‘over-familiarity’. Sainsbury’s worked Jamie Oliver very hard for a long time but eventually they ran out of ways to create sufficient ‘moderate incongruity’. To my amazement the Walkers crisps campaign with Gary Lineker still seem to be pulling it off, but surely not for that much longer?

And did BT end the ‘couples’ campaign too early, when it was still capable of delivering some ‘moderate incongruity’ each time? The new campaign is so incongruous for the brand (in a way that the Adam & Jane campaign wasn’t, even at the beginning) that I bet it’s really ineffective: it’s just too different. I can see that the brief was ‘drive reappraisal of BT amongst younger people’ but you’ve got to retain some linkage with existing brand perceptions or it’s just too much like hard work for our poor brains. Especially when the ads are as painfully unfunny as those are.

How on earth to ‘do’ integration?

October 6, 2011

The IPA has recently published another book based on analyzing in new ways their extensive database of IPA Effectiveness Awards papers. This one is about different models of communications integration:


They’ve back-coded 256 case studies from the last seven years with respect to the models of integration and channels they use, and then analysed the scale and nature of the business and brand impacts achieved against that.

Their conclusions are numerous and quite interesting. For instance they challenge the assertion that integration is always best and highlight successful examples of non-integrated campaigns where there is more than one channel but they are treated separately. Given the greater time/cost/ resource required to integrate it’s useful to be reminded that sometimes it may not be worth the effort.

They highlight the growth in campaigns orchestrated more loosely around a shared brand idea (e.g. Johnnie Walker ‘Keep walking’, HSBC ‘The world’s local bank’) as opposed to the more traditional model of a common creative idea being applied more-or-less uniformly across media.

And importantly they demonstrate that the former campaigns are no less effective than the advertising idea-led cases – indeed they appear to be slightly more effective – hence the classic ‘matching luggage’ of integration is not required to generate a hard business response.

Within the more traditional advertising idea-led cases it appears that using a brand icon as the ‘glue’ to link campaign elements is particularly powerful (think 118 118, Felix catfood or Kerry Katona for Iceland).

The results indicate that campaigns orchestrated around participation
(e.g. Walkers ‘Do us a flavour’, the Wispa relaunch) are less effective at achieving against harder business measures but can be very good at rewarding existing users. [Having said that there are less of these kind of case studies in the database.]

When it comes to multi-channel advertising campaigns the analysis shows that three advertising channels was the optimal number for effectiveness within these examples – beyond that diminishing returns set in for the harder measures (although it seems the more the merrier for the softer metrics).

While TV is the most effective medium at driving both hard and soft measures, press and outdoor can also be really powerful as a lead medium.

The addition of a sales conversion channel to advertising (e.g. direct marketing or sales promotion) enhances hard business success. Advertising coupled with sponsorship or PR is particularly effective at driving intermediate metrics such as brand affinity.

The book goes on to look at which integration models are most effective for different stages of a brand’s lifecycle and for different product categories. It’s a slightly challenging read but if you’re a planner, media planner or client seeking empirical evidence and best practice advice about how best to handle the whole can of worms that is multi-channel communication, then the £85 (£75 for IPA member agencies) is worth it.

However I would still recommend this book’s predecessor, ‘Marketing in the era of accountability’, as a more fundamentally revelatory purchase.

This book takes 880 of the Effectiveness Awards case studies and assesseswhat is correlated to greater business and brand success. It highlighted a number of things which have more recently been confirmed by other sources …

E.g. the wisdom of aiming to increase penetration rather than loyalty
(cf. Byron Sharp’s book ‘How to grow/What marketers don’t know’)

E.g. the effectiveness of emotional campaigns, especially those focused around building brand ‘fame’ (cf. all the stuff coming out of neuroscience and books like ‘The advertised mind’ by Erik du Plessis)

Go to to buy either of these publications.

Anyway, that’s quite enough of that now. Must stop being such a flipping nerd.