So are marketers using behavioural economics principles well? Thomason believes we’re understanding more about it, but a lot are getting worse at it by making things difficult and asking customers to interact with them on a variety of different channels. And the rise of personalised communications, while cool to a point, does have its drawbacks.
“You don’t want to choose a brand that no-one knows about. That’s a big danger for direct. We want to talk to the one guy who wants to buy a brand new 5 series BMW and no-one else, but he wants everyone else to know what this is about … Essentially we want to be talking about the same movie, or the same brand. Of course there are exceptions, but we are a herding animal. And I think most people would say this has the biggest impact on our behaviour.”
Of course, BE isn’t just advertising or communications. That’s just one little piece of the equation. But Malone says most ad agencies are guilty of talking about attitude change or awareness rather than using these principles to create actual behaviour change, something #ogilvychange hopes to address in this market. Thomason admits shifting attitudes doesn’t necessarily shift behaviour, but sometimes it’s a precursor to that, something that NZTA has shown over the years with its Safer Journeys work.
“When you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” says Malone. “Conversely, when others see you as a hammer, they’ll only give you more nails. It’s why marketers often only give agencies problems they’ve already decided can be fixed with an ad.”
"It’s natural for people to think that big problems require a big solution. It’s called the proportionality bias, but that’s not always the case." Jeff Malone
If you’re embracing BE wholeheartedly, Thomason says it has to be used in the call centre, in IT, in merchandise and in all the other areas of a business, “otherwise you’re just talking about something rather than changing the experience”.
He says the modern agency is in a rush to say ‘we’re not just comms’, “but if we’re honest the vast majority is still comms and it will be for some time.” He also says many agencies have a bias towards big ideas that are crafted until they’re perfect, so it’s difficult for them to embrace the trial and error mentality that’s required to make the most of behavioural science.
Ironically, retail advertising, which is often maligned for its quick and dirty nature, has long employed behavioural tactics, whether it be 50 percent off, while stocks last, or as seen on TV. Retailers have also been experimenting with instore techniques for decades. And while some of the tactics have been used so much that they’re borderline cliché, they still work.
So should marketers focus on the emotional or the rational? A paper written by one of his colleagues in South Africa called ‘The Big Easy’ talks about targeting everyone to make it look like everyone’s doing it and then making it easy to do whatever it is you want people to do.
“That’s the fundamentals of all behavioural thinking.”
Thomason believes there is currently a tension between short- and long-term effectiveness and it appears as if the short term is winning that battle because results can be seen almost instantly.
“If you’re trying to get a short-term result, then you probably are more towards the rational end of things, but you still use scarcity and it’s less about creative. But even a retailer needs to be positioned as the go-to option. Think of John Lewis and their Christmas ads. [Effectiveness expert] Peter Field’s magic number is you should be doing 60 percent brand, 40 percent retail. It becomes very difficult to separate them, and I don’t know what the methodology was, but that’s their formula.”
Interestingly, he says studies from the IPA and AdMark say that under six months (ish), creative, award-winning campaigns are actually less effective and over six months they’re more effective.
“That’s a fucking huge issue, because increasingly a lot of the campaigns we’re doing and winning awards for don’t even run for six months. It’s got to be a major generalisation, and there has to be some stuff that gets more attention in the short term because it’s cool and creative, but for real brand building stuff, that’s a correlation.”