Let’s face it. We like to think of ourselves as being in full control over the decisions we make. In reality, nothing is further from the truth. Having never made a good first impression (I just have one of those faces), the human limbic system has always been the bane of my existence.
On the other hand, take the story of one Theodore Robert Bundy, a charming young man to whom young girls in the park readily offered help. Before his execution, Ted Bundy confessed to 30 murders. It is an extreme example, but on the spectrum of yours truly to Ted Bundy (or worst first impression to best), you know at least a few Instagram influencers whose first impressions and realities are very different.
Even in a world where ‘Thou shall not judge’ is bandied around generously, a first impression is still a thing. But this article is more than my being salty over societal injustice. If the most fundamental of human interactions is addled by our monkey brains, what does it say about how we decide what we buy?
Creativity in how we communicate brand messages, where we place them, and how frequently, is important in helping the consumer decide better at the supermarket aisle or on your website. But creativity shouldn’t start at the point of developing your message. Clients cringe when I say this, but creativity should start with your research. Why, you ask?
In focus groups with young mothers, the participants always claim to be thinking about preparing the most nutritious AND tastiest meals for their kids and husbands. People in the room get emotional; hearing these ladies describe their sacrifices. A picture is painted: ‘mothers spend all their time thinking about their family’s nutrition.’ And we have 3-4 margarine brands putting out the same kind of advertisement running on TV.
The same trend is seen with men in studies about shoe polish, tweens about education, and employees of state-owned companies about patriotism. If you ask the same old questions, you will most probably get the same answers.
- Coconut arrack and scotch conundrum
Following is an anecdote a senior agency colleague of mine told our more ‘conservative’ clients at meetings;
When asked what alcoholic beverages middle-class Sri Lankans preferred, a majority selected ‘scotch’ due to its superior quality. This was research done before alcohol prices soared up to new taxes. After the tax reform, the same middle-class Sri Lankans said they preferred arrack. The reason they gave: “We value what’s manufactured locally.”
If anecdotal evidence is not sufficient to convince you, ask yourself why you like/love your spouse, significant other (or whatever you’re passionate about). Most people, including myself, can’t come up with anything that hasn’t already been said in movies, teledramas, or ads.
In neurological terms, emotions are felt by the limbic system (the monkey brain), the translation into words happen in the newer, frontal cortex. The frontal cortex of our brain helps us make rational decisions. As you can imagine, the two don’t sit well next to each other. So, what happens? Rationalizing happens after the emotion is felt. In other words, the consumers might be lying to you (without their knowledge most of the time).
- The nuances
This is another anecdote, by Jon Steel, the legendary planner behind the ‘Got Milk’ campaign;
In his book ‘Truth, Lies, and Advertising,’ he tells the story of a Mexican restaurant chain that wanted to establish the fact that they served the freshest Mexican food. Jon and his team planned for a series of TV commercials to be shot and aired on the same day. As `0proof, they would show the date stamp on the daily newspaper on the commercial.
Before launching the campaign, the client wanted to copy-test the commercial. 2 focus groups were set up. The shoot would start at 4 a.m. Edited and released by noon. The agency took the finished product to the focus group study and then released the commercial by 2 p.m. But there was one hiccup. The group hated the commercial. The creative team was bamboozled.
In a normal setting, the research team would have concluded the film as ineffective. Long story short, Mr. Steel asked a few more questions that saved the day. Why didn’t people respond well to this commercial? The commercial (one of many commercials of the campaign) spoke about the freshness of the fish used in the food (read the book for the name of the fish). The consumer did not associate fish with Mexican food. They wanted to see Tacos and Enchiladas. They didn’t understand why there was the newspaper in the commercial; they wanted something more obvious.
At this point, I want to remind you, dear reader, that I am not trying to demerit research. Instead, this is a case for research done well (i.e., creatively). Research is a necessity. It doesn’t have to be boring. Here are a few pointers to infuse creativity into the process;
Get creative with the questions you ask (e.g., “What completes the perfect look for a man?” instead of “How important is shoe polish? Which already puts the consumer in the mindset that ‘shoe polish is important’)
Get creative with the context – people answer more truthfully when they are in their typical setting. Digital ethnography is an effective way of observing people.
Get creative with the interpretation – recently, a client of mine spoke to the team about how the loyalty towards his brand of soap has increased thanks to our campaigns. “In a highly price-conscious market, we have been able to foster loyalty. This is evident in the way how our ‘buy four get one free’ products are selling”. His credentials and charisma filled us with awe. The problem? What if people respond better to sales promotions in a ‘highly cost-conscious market?
In an age where media channels are clogged with mediocre messaging, maybe we need to find creativity in places that we didn’t know existed.
The above article is authored by Kavinda Welagedara, Manager – Strategic Planning, Isobar Sri Lanka.