A snowball on the tip of an iceberg

I’ve just started reading a new book and already six pages into it, I’m delighted:

“According to the modern perspective, Freud’s view of the unconscious was far too limited. When he said (following Gustav Fechner, an early experimental psychologist) that consciousness is the tip of the mental iceberg, he was short of the mark by quite a bit – it may be more the size of a snowball on top of that iceberg. The mind operates most efficiently by relegating a good deal of high-level, sophisticated thinking to the unconscious, just as a modern jumbo jetliner is able to fly on automatic pilot with little or no input from the human, ‘conscious’ pilot. The adaptive unconsciousness does an excellent job of sizing up the world, warning people of danger, setting goals, and initiating action in a sophisticated and efficient manner. It is a necessary and extensive part of a highly efficient mind and not just the demanding child of the mental family and the defenses that have developed to keep this child in check.”

The book is “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious” by Timothy D. Wilson. More to come, I’m sure.


Happiness is to learn something new every day

And this is what I learned today, starting at 26:30 into this speech:

So…dopamine isn’t about reward, it’s about the anticipation of reward. And if you block the dopamine rise from occurring you won’t get the work done, which means that dopamine isn’t only about the anticipation of reward, it’s also about goal-directed behavior. Perhaps most interesting of all: if a “maybe” is introduced into the equation, i.e. if you don’t get the reward 100% of the time, your dopamine will increase even more. So there you have it, the reason we are suckers for playing lotteries, slot machines and other games of chance.

Do watch the whole clip and just bask in the genius of Robert Sapolsky. And, not the least, in the fact that someone who is one of the most outstanding professors at the second best university in the world can look this cool.


“Touching eternity”

Image: aftab

What exactly is “an insight”? Something that’s bothered me since I started as a planner is how people throw that word around as if it were synonymous to “a conclusion” or even “a fact”. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen powerpoint slide after powerpoint slide listing 10, 15, 20 “insights”. “Our insight is that 37% of the target group buys milk four times a week” – you know what I’m talking about.

Then, the other day, when I was putting together a presentation on what makes good advertising good I was finally forced to come up with a definition of “insight”. What I ended up writing was that an insight is an informed revelation. It’s not something that is a mere conclusion as a result of purely linear thinking but rather something that is based on fact but then makes a leap of faith. Call it lateral thinking. Call it connecting the dots. Call it an aha-moment. But you know that you have an insight when people around you go “yeah, that’s it! I’ve never actually thought of it that way but now that I do, I realize that’s exactly how it is”. I was pretty happy about it.

But now I’ve been trumped. Then again, the one doing the trumping is Plato, so I’ll try to take it as a man.

What happened was that I was listening to an audiobook today and learned that Plato, talking about insight (he was really talking about intuition but since intuition translates into “to see”, it seems related to insight) in relation to his theory of forms and shadows, said that to have an insight is to get a glimpse of the forms, i.e. of the true being of things. He defined it as “touching eternity”.

Not a bad way to spend your work day.

Dayjob, Random

I’m trying out this new thing. It’s called “productivity”.


Image: dkuropatwa

As of today, I’m trying out a different way of working. Instead of setting out to do a job overreachingly perfectly and letting it take the time it takes, I’m starting at the time-end. The first thing I’ll do is simply to say to myself “I can spend a maximum of x hours on this” and then adjust the quality of the work accordingly. When time is up, the work is done.

Not that you care. I’m only writing this because I want to be able to go back six months from now when this plan of mine has burst into a million little electrons and laugh at my own naivety.

Anyway, it worked for 60 Minutes.


The best way to think about branding that I’ve heard of so far


Image: yozz!

The other day, Steve Rothman over at his blog The Social Media Soapbox introduced me to this presentation by CMO Mark Addicks on how General Mills is embracing the Conversation online. It’s a really good presentation that I highly recommend, most of all because it’s a fine and very rare example of how an “old”, “traditional” company has made sense of and leveraged social media.

But the one thing that I love the most about Mr Addicks’ presentation is something that isn’t relevant to just social media but to all marketing – regardless of brand, category, discipline and what have you – namely this:

“We try to turn our brand into their brand.”

Brilliant. It’s what branding ultimately is all about. Not necessarily in the hands-on, interactive, conversational way but always in the emotional, sense-of-ownership respect. If a person starts thinking about your product or service as “my brand” – well, that’s damn powerful stuff bound to drive business.

Advertising, Observations

Why do you sales people think you’re bloody neuroscientists?


Bloody news flash: you’re not. Yes, I fully respect the fact that you’ve been in a gazillion sales meetings with clients and therefore (hopefully) know something about what makes them tick and how to get them to buy what you want to sell. But no, you don’t have the full picture. Far from it. Far, far from it. You seem to have no bloody idea that people make all their decisions – small, large, B2C, B2B, private, corporate – using emotion, not fact, as a starting point. In essence, we are feeling animals who think rather than thinking animals who feel. Or as Tim Ambler put it: “When nothing else works, we think”. And Daniel Kahneman even won a Nobel Prize showing just that, for heaven’s sake.

And since you got all this backwards you also have no idea what the role of advertising or other forms of market communication actually is in the context of the sales process. You either hold one of two cosmic misconceptions: you think that a) clients are bloody robots and advertising’s role is to program that robot by means of facts, figures and rational benefits, or that b) clients are bloody robots that can’t be influenced by advertising, base all their decisions on price and personal relationships and for whom advertising is therefore pointless. You seem to think that theirs is an existence taking place in a bloody vacuum, cut off from the rest of the world. You just don’t get that advertising is about tilting people your way by creating familiarity, associations and brand relationships.

You do great work in the field, I’m sure, but if you ever want your job made easier by advertising, here’s my advice to you: Read a bloody book.


Can you sell the truth?


Image: ajgelado

“There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

Those are the words of Dan Pink in his wonderful TED talk on human motivation, where he makes the case that although scientists have long known that the carrot-and-stick approach to motivation increasingly works much worse than intrinsic motivators (a sense of purpose, autonomy, etc), most business people either have no idea or simply can’t be bothered. Mr Pink again: “Too many organizations are making their decisions based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined and rooted more in folklore than in science”.

Outdated. Unexamined. Rooted in folklore. Sounds like the advertising business.

In fact, it’s a spot-on description of our industry, where we – clients and agencies alike – still base most of our decisions and work on foundations we take for granted but really have no clue where they come from. Or if  they’re even true. Let me just give you three very quick examples of what I’m talking about (there are many more):

  • It is still commonplace to assume that the audience will only take out one single message from a piece of advertising – hence the focus on a single proposition or “what is the message?” – even though there is no evidence for this whatsoever.
  • We still view advertising recall as a general proxy for effectiveness (some people are even dense enough to equate it with effectiveness) but there is no evidence for recall, or advertising stand-out, being a prerequisite for influencing people’s behavior.
  • Many people still see the AIDA model as valid even though it completely ignores the most important of all factors in human decision making, prior experience.

This raises two questions. One with a simple answer and one with a possibly depressing one.

The first is why. Why are most people in our industry still in a state of darkness? It’s not that there’s no science to learn from. Advertising has been extensively researched from Berkely to Bombay and there is no shortage of experiments, conclusions and facts to be enlightened by. However, there’s an obvious answer here: Most people aren’t really interested in hurting their brains. They’d rather carry on like they’ve always done than challenge their dogma. It’s only human.

The second question is much more disturbing: Is the truth even sellable? As consultants we are supposed to offer advice to our clients based on what would be best for their business and that in turn requires knowledge of, among other things, human behavior, decision making and how people are affected by advertising. In short, of the truth. And there we go again – most people aren’t interested in what’s true but in what’s convenient, remember? So trying to convince them of the truth is always hard work and often makes you unpopular.

So I’m thinking that maybe it would be best to give up seeking the truth and just sell that which encounters the least resistance, i.e. things that fit most clients’ established world view rather than oppose it.

See what I mean by depressing?