Archive for the ‘ consumer behaviour ’ Category

How far should planners go?

I had an interesting conversation recently with another planner where the question was raised: what exactly is in scope for planners, and what should be left to the creatives?

Or to put it another way – is the main job of the planner to simply define the task as clearly as possible, or should they also be involved in developing the solution? There seems to be two schools of thought.

Some creatives believe strategy ends with the single-minded proposition. This could be a product truth, a consumer benefit based on an insight, or a brand promise. Planners can add pointers on tone of voice, do’s and don’ts, but otherwise the communication idea is largely left up to the creative teams to develop. Either the proposition is creatively fruitful and everyone’s happy, or it’s not, in which case it’s back to the drawing board to revisit the brief.

There are other creatives who want more than the proposition. They want detail, multiple insights, alternative hooks which could spark an idea. They want texture, thoughtstarters and potential ways in to the solution. The role of planning for these creatives is as much about inspiration, as simplicity. It often means creative thinking starts before the brief is finished. It also assumes that strategy doesn’t end at the brief, and that both planners and creatives will continue to evolve the thinking together based on what’s actually producing interesting creative work.

Obviously personality comes into this, as does the overarching culture of the agency. It’s also wrapped up in whether creatives think planners add any value. The more a creative team rates a planner, the more they are invited to be a part of the creative process. Their opinions are actively sought out, their ideas are given credence. If the creative team doesn’t rate them, or perhaps doesn’t rate planning in general, then they don’t really want planners pissing in the well of inspiration before they get to drink.

I wonder however, will Darwinian selection put an end to this debate, as the demands of modern campaigns push us to work differently.

In many categories, we’ve moved beyond a point where brands are significantly different enough on a product or consumer benefit level, to win with these types of messages. Most brands are “good enough” and the incremental improvements are irrelevant to ordinary people (does anyone need 6 blades in their razor?). We also know that actually, brand differentiation is less important in determining purchase behavior than brand distinction.

In other words the “what you say” part, traditionally owned by the planner as the single-minded proposition, is often less important than the “how you say it part”. Planners have a lot to offer when it comes to insight into tone, language and nuance because they are closer to the people the communication is aimed at, so there’s no reason they can’t re-focus their efforts here.

But more importantly, as the most interesting creative work starts to move further away from straight “advertising” ideas towards richer “multi-faceted and multi-platform” ideas, planners have even more to bring to the party. They may not have expertise when it comes to print artwork or camera techniques, but they are very good at understanding things like cultural context, behavioural trends, user pathways and media behavior. These types of insights are increasingly at the heart of innovative creative ideas, and at the heart of how, when and where they are executed.

So perhaps in the near future when the question comes up again, “how far should planners go?”, the answer will be “all the way to the end”.


Insight Failure

I cannot stand these awful anti-drugs campaigns. Not because I disagree with what they’re trying to do, but because they are so poorly thought out. They’re attempting to solve complex social problems without any understanding of how people actually work. I don’t know what the UK stats on drug use amount to, but I know from the youth insight project I used to run in Ireland, that the vast majority of under 30s had used at least one illegal drug, at least once in their life. Their experience of drugs is not black and white, but many shades of grey (I’m not talking about the book!). They know people who have been completely destroyed by drugs. They know people who used to be a bit messy but have calmed down. They know people who dabble moderately within a pretty normal lifestyle. And they know people who experimented a few times but decided it wasn’t really for them.

Campaigns like the Facebook timeline one are not credible because they directly contradict people’s real life experiences of what happens when you use drugs. Similarly the “natural high” campaign is setting itself up for failure, just like those abstinence campaigns, because they assume that you are either good or bad. You’re either aligned with those who do, or those who don’t. Asking people to choose a side is both unappealing and unrealistic given how varied an individual’s behaviour and opinions can be in any given situation. And particularly on these social issues, if you force the choice you can expect to continually fight a losing battle.

The reality is, that the non-drug-users/abstainers group will always disproportionately have more of the straightlaced, play by the rules, cautious people, and the drug users/non-abstainers group will always have more of the riskier, dangerous, don’t give a fuck people. The celebrity ambassadors in the “natural high” campaign only enforce this point. Cool will always be against you – don’t ask teenagers to choose sides. And if you really want to really tackle the problem don’t frame it as a black and white issue at all. Give people realistic and practical alternatives in between, and then they are likely to follow a path which isn’t perfect but good enough.

Ultimately the failure of these campaigns comes down to insight. All of these campaigns clearly come from the perspective of non users and show zero insight into the people they are trying to talk to. They don’t feel like they are coming from insiders. They feel like a top down message from moralising outsiders. So they will only appeal to people who already think the same way. And I think this illustrates something really important about insight.

Insight isn’t about a single truth that you can write down on a piece of paper and give to people and think “now they have insight too”. Insight is about understanding the people you’re talking to, to such an extent that you develop an instinct about tone of voice, about nuance, about the little details that will resonate.  There’s a reason we planners sit in on all those focus groups, explore  online forums or sometimes if we’re very lucky immerse ourselves in their real lives.  It’s not to find “insights”, it’s to develop “insight” which can then be applied to help shape the work.

That’s also why the single page brief or worse still, the single line proposition, is often so limited. It doesn’t capture the small seemingly insignificant stuff which can mark the difference between authentic and contrived. This type of insight is only ever understood and passed on to others through face to face conversation, probably multiple conversations. So the briefing session is a good start but not nearly enough. What planners really need in order to apply their insight is much closer collaboration with creative teams, throughout the strategic and creative process, right through to the end.

Intuition and Culture

Just stumbled on this presentation I did last year for the UCD Institute of Food and Health Policy Seminar Series. I ended up being snow stranded in London so couldn’t make it over in time to present in person and the brilliant Eilish Burke managed to step in last minute on my behalf. The topic was: “What will consumers want from their food in 2025?”.

It was a bit of an unusual one for me as I wasn’t presenting to the usual suspects from the marketing community but to an audience of manufacturers, retailers, regulators and public health policy advisers.  The idea of the day was to get a mix of perspectives and methodologies so everyone could learn from the expertise of different sectors.

My role on the day was to represent Adland, as the artful wielders of culture and manipulators of public opinion, and to spill our secrets on predicting consumer desires. Of course we all know that there are no secret weapons, but for anyone who’s interested, the presentation is linked below.

Intuition and Culture


The Confirmation Bias and Online Research

Myself and my colleague, the superb Mark Sng, wrote this piece for Admap. It looks at bias and brands in the online world.

Subscription access (apologies!) but here’s the summary below. You can click on the link at the end to get the full article.

Comments and debate welcome!


A recent report from Google suggested that, by the time people reach the shops, many of them have already made a decision on what they are going to buy because of the prevalence of online research beforehand. They call this the ‘zero moment of truth’.

We would suggest that the purchase decision is partly made, even before this research starts. We begin our brand and product research with a hypothesis of what our preference will be, and this emotional attachment will trump the objective information we encounter. This is because our innate confirmation bias makes us more likely to seek out and believe information that aligns with what we already think.

Smart companies however, leverage this confirmation bias to turn warm fans into active advocates online, to create a ripple effect of positive endorsement, and to place themselves at the start of the purchase funnel with a significantly unfair advantage.

Click for full article


I’m not racist but… I just couldn’t give them Chilean wine as a gift

If you ask people where to find the best chocolate, chances are they’ll answer with “Switzerland” or “Belgium”. How many people will answer Venezuela? The country which produces the finest cacao in the world. Not many, and there’s a reason for this. It’s known as the provenance paradox.

The provenance paradox is a phenomenon, where according to Harvard Business School professor Rohit Deshpande, a product’s country of origin establishes its authenticity. Products from this country are considered better because of this expectation regardless of actual quality. And people set standards on what prices they are willing to pay for produce from particular countries, based on these biases.

Wine is another good example. Chilean winemakers Concha y Toro produce a wine called Don Melchor, objectively amongst the best wines in the world as scored by experts. If this wine came from Bordeaux, it would cost 300-400 dollars a bottle. But retailers can’t command a fraction of this price, because they just can’t convince customers to part with more than 50 dollars for a Chilean wine. Why? Because it’s Chilean wine. And no amount of expert ratings or reviews will convince people that it’s worth more.

This bias is annother illustration of what the behavioural economists have been rightly shouting about in marketing circles– people are not rational. We make instinctive, emotional decisions about which products or brands we will buy into, and then we cherrypick facts to support this viewpoint.

In our industry, advertising has historically been dominated by the idea that successful communications are based on single minded propositions ie. the credible benefit of choosing my brand.  The creative emotional elements are just there to grab attention for this benefit message. Supposedly, it’s the logical argument that does the heavy hitting – the rest is just fluff.

Except it isn’t. Turns out the fluff is the most important stuff actually.

Heath and Feldwick caused a bit of a stir with their seminal paper “Fifty years using the wrong model of advertising” a couple of years ago, when they posited that the Informational Processing (IP) model we were using, just didn’t stack up with evidence on how advertising actually works. The evidence suggests that the visuals, sounds, symbols, music and context, are not just aids to recall or engagement, they are the central persuasive elements of the advertising. They found that there was a linear relationship between emotional content and brand favourability, but no relationship between rational content and brand favourability.

In the case of Don Melchor, “this is one of the highest rated wines in the world” should be a pretty compelling marketing proposition. If customers acted rationally. But we don’t. So they need a create a better emotional story. Then maybe next Christmas, people won’t hestitate to gift a bottle of Chilean wine.

*Video via Paul Dervan


Life finds a way

There’s this scene in Jurassic Park. It’s after the paleontologists have been ferried around the staggering facility, have taken in the electrified fences, the impenetrable security and the fertilisation process which produces female-only offspring.

The scientists are so proud of the controlled environment they’ve created.  Their visitors are in awe of this well ordered paradise. Only Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jeff Goldblum, recognises the danger of this foolish assumption. He shrugs off all their claims and comments wryly “Life … finds a way”.

The rest of the film serves to keenly illustrate just how powerfully true this statement is. Nature proves an unstoppable force against man-made constraints.

I’m always taken aback by how much store people put in our supposed ability to build technology which will suppress our nature. There are people who look at the world we build around us, with our machines, our stem cell research, our attempts at artificial intelligence, and think that it is only a matter of time before these things will overpower and alter us.

Apparently, our technological progress is threatening our ability to think, our ability to interact with each other, our ability to maintain authentic relationships.

As if human nature is a weak and flickering thing, that could be easily eroded by television or video games or the internet.

But nature isn’t weak, it’s strong. There are fundamental natural drives which are so deeply rooted in what it is to be human, that no amount of societal shift will change. Drives towards love, power, sex, status, esteem and family.

At the IPA Tech conference last week, a common theme running through many of the talks was the fact that technology may evolve quickly, but people do not. Simon Waldman said aptly “Technology just satiates our desires exponentially”

And it’s true. When we look at what people choose to do with all our shiny new tools, it’s not at all different to what we’ve chosen to do for thousands of years. Whether or not these tools were built for this purpose, they inevitably migrate to become tools for courtship, storytelling, communities, hierarchies, gossip, self-promotion, conversation and memories.

So the critics, the luddites and the scaremongerers can rest assured. No matter what happens in the future with Facebook, Twitter or the iPhone, real human life will always find a way.


The Mobile is Dead. Long Live the Mobile.

Back in 2008, in our very first wave of ID, we asked Irish 12-29s a simple question:

“If they had to choose, which could they not live without: TV, Mobile Phone or Internet”?

The mobile phone won out overall, particularly for teenagers. However, in our most recent wave of ID, the Internet has moved ahead to claim victory. We also saw over 1/3rd of young people claiming they were using their mobile less to communicate with friends, and using online methods instead. And over a 1/3rd who said they felt more comfortable communicating with friends online than using their mobile.

Luckily, we’ve reached the point where that question is just no longer relevant. The lines between mobile, internet and even TV, are not just blurred, they’re quickly becoming obsolete.

Every year for the last five years, some brave soldier has pronounced it “The Year of the Mobile”. And every year they’ve been wrong. But I’m fairly confident that we’re finally seeing a tipping point, as mobile internet becomes liberated from the confines of the geekiest techies. In this research wave 1/5th of 12-29s said they are using their mobile phones to go online on a daily basis, and 30% are using mobile internet on a weekly basis. Those figures are positively mainstream.

According to Mashable, the history of mobile, can now be divided into pre-iPhone and post-iPhone. They say the impact that the iPhone has had, on both the mobile industry and computing industry in general, cannot be overstated.  Yes mobile internet has been around a while, and LG were the first to release a touchscreen phone…. but Apple were the ones who really cracked it.

And crack it they did. There are reportedly somewhere between a quarter and a half a million iPhone users in Ireland. Not all of that mobile internet usage is being done on iPhones, but they’ve bestowed a new relevance onto the concept of  Smartphones. The movement we’re seeing is a ripple effect, from the iPhone out. 

A new wave of mobile is now upon us.

As a side note, it’ll be interesting to see if (or when!) Android reach their tipping point this year. See below for a hint!



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