Love this piece by Douglas Van Praet, author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing. He is also Executive Vice President at Deutsch L.A. He tackles something everyone is thinking about: Are traditional focus groups useless? Now, the key here is “traditional,” because there are many usefull forms. The key is, you must take into account the inherent bias. “The elephant in the room is that the vast majority of our decisions are made unconsciously,” Van Praet writes. ”What is a no-brainer for any cognitive scientist remains mind-boggling to marketers. The conscious mind is simply not running the show, but we’ve created an entire industry pretending that it does.” And here in lays the rub. We have built up everything we know about traditional research based on an assumption that may be false. So how do we go back? Start from the begining? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. But it’s comforting to know some of us are trying…
Just a quick bit of grand larceny — loved this diatribe by W+K’s Rob Campbell so much, thought I needed to post it here…
The bane of my fucking life.
I hate them. HATE THEM!
But – and it’s a very important but – you have to do them because they not only provide the framework and inspiration for creative teams to start creating their magic, but they become a piece of historical reference on the brand that ensures people won’t post rationalise the execution and miss out all the little bits that made all the difference.
That said, the debate of what should and shouldn’t go in a brief still rages and I find that sad because at the end of the day:
+ You should never be a slave to the briefing format, the briefing format should always be a slave to you.
+ Different people like different levels of information so a ‘one size fits all’ mentality, is totally and utterly ridiculous.
+ A short brief shouldn’t be an excuse for ignoring the real issues that need to be addressed & conveyed.
+ A long brief shouldn’t be an excuse for not being clear, concise and interesting.
+ Regardless of what you are being asked to do, a brief should always be interesting, informative & inspiring.
Read the whole thing here
I just discovered the writings of Paul Feldwick formerly of DDB, who is widely recognized as an authority on how advertising works. A couple of things he writes really hit home. In a piece titled Exploding the Message Myth, Feldwick expounds upon the trouble with parity — it can be hard to buy something bad these days, and even harder to tell the difference between brands. Feldwick writes: “in most categories products are pretty close to parity, or it’s sufficiently complex that the choice between brands can hardly ever be made on purely rational grounds.” Certainly when one looks at CPG brands, this is increasingly evident. Brands may think they have product advantage, but consumers care less and less about 5% more of this and 15% more of that. Perhaps Feldwick sums it up best when he wonders how “30 seconds of entertaining nonsense leads to a situation where people not only choose a brand but will pay 35% more for it.”
Finally, Feldwick leaves us with seven propositions to avoid more advertising agony:
- Define the advertising goal as building saleability.
- Stop talking. Mostly about messages.
- Start talking about associations and about relationships.
- Recognise the power of analogue communication.
- Shift your focus away from the abstract message or idea to the advertisement as a whole.
- Resist the urge to over-analyse and over control.
- And if all that fails, just concentrate on being a ‘charming guest
Tell me this quote doesn’t sound like it could be a Planner talking?
You wake up at Seatac, SFO, LAX. You wake up at O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, BWI. Pacific, mountain, central. Lose an hour, gain an hour. This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?
I’m constantly getting questions about how to break into Strategic Planning, and honestly answering this is more difficult than responding to my 3-year-old son when he asks ‘Where does hair come from?’ The point being, there is no clear rhyme or reason, which is a beautiful thing. But we can sometimes get caught up in this mystery. A recent blog post by Rob Campbell, Asia regional head of planning for Wieden + Kennedy, caught my attention. Rob writes: ‘planners – love to make a big deal out of being curious…Let’s be honest, curiosity is a basic human trait and even if planners execute this more than the majority [which I'd say is open to debate] they’re no where near as curious as people in the finance, technology, R&D or criminal investigation industries, to name a few.” Rob is spot on. All too often we set up Planning as some form of creative Black Magic. Something that can’t be described or discussed –The first rule of Planning is: You do not talk about Planning. The second rule of Planning is: You do not talk about Planning. We Planners have no magic powers (other than being loquacious and absurdly profound at times). In fact, quite the opposite, we are ‘liberators’ as Rob succinctly writes. It is our role to help liberate our client business. Now, rather than being seen as the mysterious agency people who lurk in the background, Planners are the ones who release the hounds! There is something tangible here. But alas, how does this help us in regards to breaking into Planning. Well, we don’t need to frame it up as a special club only for the curious few — but we can introduce it as a club for those who truly want ‘to understand and represent our client audience.’
So, my advice?…Go to your cave and find your power animal.
Sometimes it’s frightening when we examine our own decision making — especially when we realize how random and arbitrary it all is. It can be unsettling to know our judgment can be so heavily influenced by randomness — and it happens every day. Daniel Kahneman covers this in Thinking, Fast and Slow, a bizare tour of the mind where he outlines the faults and biases—of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior. Most notable is our tendancy to be swayed by The Anchoring Effect , the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. Usually this pertains to numbers. For instance, when German judges, before mock-sentencing a shoplifter, were asked to roll a pair of dice rigged to come up either three or nine, those who rolled nine said on average eight months, while those who rolled three said five months…
Anthropology is a tricky business. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate the real world from the imagined. A new book by Susan Wolf tackles a similar quandary — when we start to think about if a meaningful life must be a moral life? It is written in ‘Meaning in Life and Why it Matters’ that there are values we associate with a good narrative and its characters that are distinct from those we associate with good morals. For instance, a fictional character can be intense, steadfast or subtle — like Ishmael in “Moby-Dick,” the quiet intensity of Kip in “The English Patient,” the steadfastness of Dilsey in “The Sound and the Fury” or the subtlety of Marco Polo in “Invisible Cities.” This mirrors real life — whatever is ‘real’. Wolf writes, that when a life embodies one or more of these values and feels engaging to the one who lives it, it is to that extent meaningful. So where does that leave us? Do we judge ourselves as literary characters? Or do we hold ourselves to a lower standard?
“True wit is nature to advantage dress’d, What oft was thought but ne’er so well express’d.” …Or so said Alexander Pope. This is why I sometimes spend days looking in people’s medicine cabinets and refrigerators. We value insight so much in advertising — as we should — but it’s not so much about seeing what’s there, but seeing what’s not quite there yet. As this great piece from Jeremy Bullmore at WPP says, “A good creative brief contains a bold hypothesis. To generate hypotheses you need to speculate: you need to progress from the known to the unknown.” So Why is a Good Insight Like a Refrigerator? Who gives a shit. Just know what’s in the refrigerator and why — and what’s not and will be…
It took me a while to get to this post…What does procrastination tell us about ourselves? Well, for starters, we like to handicap ourselves — adjust the odds a little bit. Lower personal expectations and tip the scales. Why else would we knowingly put off something we know is in our best interest to complete sooner rather than later? James Surowiecki’s (he of The Wisdom of Crowds fame) has a great piece in The New Yorker tackling this same issue. Lack of confidence, he writes, sometimes alternating with unrealistic dreams of heroic success, often leads to procrastination, and many studies suggest that procrastinators are self-handicappers: rather than risk failure, they prefer to create conditions that make success impossible, a reflex that of course creates a vicious cycle. Prior to even falling into this cycle, we create quite a dilemma for ourselves. The social scientist Jon Elster calls it “the planning fallacy.” Surowiecki explains how Elster believes people underestimate the time “it will take them to complete a given task, partly because they fail to take account of how long it has taken them to complete similar projects in the past and partly because they rely on smooth scenarios in which accidents or unforeseen problems never occur.” How is it we forget the worst-case scenarios and remember the best — when we waited until the last moment and everything worked out fine?
I sometimes have the feeling that I am Face-Blind. I spend so much time walking around and observing everything as part of my job as a strategic planner, yet I often ignore what’s right in front of me — people’s face. I find I’m so concerned with their motivations and cultural context that I miss them – and what they look like. Ask me what they do for fun, how they shop, what car they drive, their personal goals, what they hate and personal tics they might have? No problem. I can go on for hours. But ask me what they looked like after I spent four hours with them in their home and I have no idea. Blonde? Maybe? I never even notice eye color. I look right through their faces…Well this piece by Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker is the first I have heard of this condition -prosopagnosia. Now, I don’t have it this bad, but interesting to know that this is an area of study. The recognition of faces depends not only on the ability to parse the visual aspects of the face—its particular features and their over-all configuration—and compare them with others, but also on the ability to summon the memories, experiences, and feelings associated with that face. So next time you see me, forgive me if I don’t remember who you are until we get to chatting…