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Exploding the Message Myth (2)

Exploding the Message Myth (2)

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Published by Sam Ashken
A piece by advertising planning luminary Paul Feldwick on what makes effective advertising. If you have any interest in advertising (and in fact other things like human attention, how positive associations are created) then it's very thought-provoking indeed.
A piece by advertising planning luminary Paul Feldwick on what makes effective advertising. If you have any interest in advertising (and in fact other things like human attention, how positive associations are created) then it's very thought-provoking indeed.

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Published by: Sam Ashken on Oct 31, 2008
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06/16/2009

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Exploding The Message Myth
By Paul FeldwickNeuroscience and psychology; what do wedo with this kind of new learning about thebrain?' Because it seems obvious that thereare lots of major implications here for howwe create and how we judge advertising.And the main drift of a lot of these ideasseems pretty clear.Here for example is a headline that waswritten by Raymond Snoddy in Marketing,well over a year ago now:Raymond Snoddy 'Ads must aim for theheart, not the head.' And as headlines go Ithink that sums it up pretty well. In fact Ithink there are a lot of people, particularlyoutside of the ad business might be forgivenfor wondering why we think that'sparticularly newsworthy. You might well thinkthat, actually, it sounds like a no-brainer. Thequestion is, how many organisations,advertisers and agencies, have reallystarted acting on these ideas? And Isuspect, I'm sorry to say, that the answer isnot very many. The implications of RaymondSnoddy's headline are really quite radical forthe ad business. But I think that theprocesses and the concepts that advertisersand their agencies are using probably reallyhaven't changed very much.So why do we seem to be so resistant toacting on these new learnings? The answerI think is we can't really respond to a newtheory until we are prepared to acknowledgeand to criticise our existing theory.The problem is, most people in marketingand advertising (and I worked in an adagency for over thirty years) don't reallybelieve that they have a theory as such.They think that what they do is just commonsense. But just as John Maynard Keyneswrote back in the thirties about economics,'practical men, who have never knowinglybeen subject to any intellectual influence,are invariably the slaves of some defuncteconomist' - In other words, people alwayshave a theory, whether they know it or not,and that theory must have started fromsomewhere, probably somewhere in thepast.If you don't know what your theory is, orwhere your theory came from, then actuallyyou can't criticise it because you can't evendiscuss it - and in that sense you're going toremain a slave to it. That's why all thiswonderful stuff about the brain and theemotions is going to remain just somethingthat we hear about occasionally atconferences until we are prepared to makethe effort to understand what our currenttheory is, where it came from and the waysin which it's built in to our language, ourprocesses and our organisational cultures.And I think that if we're prepared to do that,then we'll find that we need to challengesome of our existing ideas aboutcommunication and about creativity as well.Those are the ideas that I'd like to sketchout for you here, so let's begin.
The pantyhose experiment
One fine morning in the late 1970's two menset up a stall outside Meyers' Thrifty Acres,a discount store in the pleasant universitytown of Ann Arbor, Michegan. But theyweren't market traders; Timothy Wilson andRichard Nisbett were psychologists whowere conducting an experiment.On the table in front of them they had four
 
pairs of pantyhose, labelled from A to D anddisplayed from left to right. As womenpassed by they were asked to examine thefour pairs of pantyhose and say which onesthey preferred, and over the day a clearstatistical pattern emerged. Pair D, was themost preferred and pair A, the least.Now one of the researchers' hypotheseshad been that they would find an ordereffect and this proved correct. The womenwere strongly biased to the pantyhose onthe right-hand side of the display, and theresearchers knew that this must be an ordereffect because all four pairs of pantyhosewere in fact, identical.The more interesting finding to me was this,the respondents were also asked to givereasons for their choices and they all had nodifficulty in doing so. They talkedknowledgeably about the product's quality,the superior texture of their chosen pair;they were sheerer, better finished, etc. And,as the day went on, Wilson and Nisbett evenstarted to challenge the respondents andasked whether they weren't quite sure thatthey weren't being influenced by an ordereffect. The women all looked at them as ifthey thought they were crazy.Well, I came across this a while ago inTimothy Wilson's very fine book about theadaptive unconscious, Strangers toOurselves, in which he draws thisconclusion: 'The causal role of consciousthought has been vastly overrated'. Indeed,it is often a post hoc explanation ofresponses that emanated from the adaptiveunconscious.' And this experiment showswith rather shocking clarity the hugedifference that can exist between the waywe think we choose things and the ways thatwe really choose. We are quite capable offeeling a strong preference for something forreasons which we're totally ignorant of, butwe are good at disguising this to ourselvesbecause we automatically tend to create anapparently rational cover story, which wethen believe in.Now when I read about this experiment, itreminded me of the years in which I used tocarry out research groups about things liketea. I'd do groups with PG Tips users, whowould all talk with great conviction abouthow PG Tips was stronger, more colourful,more flavourful than Tetley and how Tetleywas mere dishwater. And then I'd go to aTetley user group where the Tetley userswould claim exactly the same productadvantages for Tetley, while deriding PGTips - usually as 'southern piss'.Meanwhile, we knew that in blind taste testsmost people were completely unable to tellthe difference. So you know, we're used tothe idea that the rational product claims thatpeople gave us for their brand preferences,are really entirely spurious, they're mereprojections. But the strength of those brandpreferences is real enough. It's real enoughto be worth billions of pounds or dollars tothe brand owners. I mean if one looksquickly at the history of PG Tips, the firstthing that should strike us about this is abouthow very stable its brand share remainedover more than thirty years. It's easy to takethat for granted, but it's actually ratherremarkable. I mean that from 1964 onwards,as governments came and went, hemlinesrose and fell, the world generally changedalmost unrecognisably, PG Tips continuedto be brand leader. And not only that, it didso in the face of other brands that wereadvertising and discounting heavily, ofproduct innovations and the explosion ofretailer own brands in the UK that undercut
 
PG Tips more and more on price. So eventoday you'll find PG Tips is on sale at £1.55for 80 against Sainsburys own brand at£1.15. That's a 35% premium.So, brands like this offer a more reliablepromise of future cash flows through highermargins and resilience to competitive pricesas well as the potential for growth into newproducts. And if you work that out infinancial terms as net present value, thenthat is the financial value of a strong brand.It's very real.So, how is that kind of brand preferencecreated and how is it maintained?The pantyhose experiment and the sort ofthings that people say about tea bothsuggest that this may have much less to dowith the actual product performance than wesometimes like to imagine. That would makesense because in most categories productsare pretty close to parity, or it's sufficientlycomplex that the choice between brandscan hardly ever be made on purely rationalgrounds. We are also much moresuggestible than we think. For example, I'mtold that in blind tests most drinkers rejectStella Artois because it's too bitter, but whenpeople reframe this product experiencewithin the particular network of beliefs andassociations that they have about the brand,it remains one of the biggest selling lagers inthe UK.So if these preferences don't come just fromthe product, what about the role of theadvertising? And let's look again at the caseof PG Tips. In 1955 the brand was numberfour in the British tea market. Then on theopening night of commercial television thosehomes who were watching, that's probablyonly about a million homes I guess, sawthis...'Stately Home'GREENSLEEVES MUSICVOICEOVER: The clock strikes four. Inmillions of English homes that means it'steatime. Teatime with its gleaming silver andtinkling teacups. What a happy time it is.And how fortunate the hostess who knowsthat her favourite tea is also the favourite ofher friends. For no matter how elegant themanners, or charming the company, noguest is every really happy without the rightkind of tea. Good tea. Fresh tea. Tea youcan taste to the last delicious drop.MONKEY: He means Brooke Bond P GTips. BBBBrrooke Boonnnd. Haaa ha ha haho ho ho ho.Within eighteen months of this campaign PGTips had become brand leader and itremained so for over 30 years. There's anIPA Grand Prix paper from the early ninetiesthat shows how it was the effect of theadvertising that enabled this brand tomaintain its price premium and its volumeshare in the face of increasing discountingfrom retailers and other brands. Here's ascript from another ad that you mayremember from 1972.'Mr Shifter'DAD CHIMP: Getting the hang of it, mindthe bannisters son.SON CHIMP: I can't hold it dad.DAD CHIMP: Don't worry son, I've shiftedmore pianos than you've had hot dinners.FEMALE: Coooee. Coooeee. Mr Shifter.

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