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“Mathematics is the Art of Giving the Same Name to Different Things”

Chicago’s Booth School of Business is discussing some new research about the ways in which we misinterpret data. — the results of which explain why the Henri Poincare quote above has some truth to it.

In sum, we tend to overestimate the likelihood of something happening when the likelihood is framed as a statistical probability, and underestimate the odds of it happening when the likelihood is framed as a percentage-point difference.

The authors of the paper ran this experiment in contexts that included political polling and sports betting.  If you tell people that the Warriors have an 84% chance to beat the Wizards, they are much more likely to think the Warriors will win than if you tell them the Warriors are 10-point favorites. (Even though being a 10-point favorite and having an 84% chance to win are the same)

Similarly, before the 2016 election….people who saw that Hillary Clinton had a 74% chance to defeat Trump were more confident about her chances than people who saw that she was estimated to receive 53% of the vote – even though the 74% number was extrapolated from the poll that put her at 53% of the vote.

(Nate Silver has harped on this constantly at his fivethirtyeight website and he is absolutely right. Although he also echoes the arrogance of many statistical modelers, who seem to insist that as long as you say something has even a 1% chance of happening, you can always crow that you were “correct,” no matter what the actual outcome is.)

 The findings intuitively make sense – in these examples the statistical probability is the larger number so we probably shouldn’t be shocked that the larger number seems more powerful. But if nothing else it is a warning about how one conveys information, especially numerical data.



The Best of 2018

Welcome to 2019.  AdAge took a look back at the year gone by and compiled its list of the Top 10 ads of 2018.

At the top of the list is Nike for its Dream Crazy campaign, featuring Colin Kaepernick. Nike did what the NFL could not do -- or didn’t care to do -- which was to frame Kaepernick’s kneeling as a courageous assertion of principle rather than an anti-police or anti-American tantrum.

 Also on the list, an ad from 7-Eleven Norway billing the country as “The Land of Chlamydia” and urging tourists to purchase condoms at 7-Eleven. And a Tourism Australia spot, which used a Crocodile Dundee theme to promote the wonders of that nation.

Others featured include Libresse’s singing vulvas, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s “Welcome Home” video, and a hilarious takeoff on Super Bowl advertising from Tide.


Think Different

This week is the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, which was the first NASA mission to orbit the moon.  It also produced the photograph above, called “Earthrise,” which revolutionized the way many people think about our planet. Thus, it seems like an appropriate time to discuss the interaction between climate change and behavioral science.

Climate change is difficult to counteract on both a political and personal level.

We have seen, for a variety of reasons, that most governments lack the political will to take the drastic action required to stave off the worst effects of our warming planet.  But even at a personal level, many of us don’t act in ways that are congruent with our beliefs.  I am worried about out changing our climate, but I still drive a lot, waste too much food, and generally squander more resources than I should.  I worry about the planet, but I don’t do much about it.

This article from BehavioralScientist.org discusses ways to spur people like me into action. Negative messaging generally doesn’t work – it just makes people feel hopeless or defensive. However, positive messages that tap into the emotion of pride can make a difference.

 When we see our country as old and mature, when we are prompted to think about our personal legacy, and when we hear less politicized language (e.g. “carbon offset” vs. “carbon tax”) – these things all can promote climate-friendly choices.

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Banned in Britain

An ad that is banned from TV has been rated one of the best this holiday season.

Kantar Millward Brown has assessed 22 UK holiday campaigns using social media listen, qual research, and facial coding to determine which was the most effective.  This ad for the supermarket Iceland Foods was banned from TV in the UK. It was created with the cooperation of Greenpeace, which made it a political ad forbidden by the country’s 2003 Communications Act.  However, it has been viewed 65 million times on social media and scored at the top of KMB’s rating metrics, on factors such as “involvement,” “brand love,” “enjoyment,” “persuasion,” and “different from others.”

Other top-scoring ads included those from Amazon, Marks & Spencer, and Aldi’s holiday ad featuring their beloved spokesveggie, “Kevin the Carrot.”

This year’s John Lewis ad, which UK consumers eagerly await each holiday season, fell a bit flat, according to the research.


Baby got branding

Sometimes companies in the B2B space dismiss the importance of branding under the assumption that customers purchase just on price and quality and nothing else.

Big Ass Fans has a different approach.

This article discusses how Big Ass Fans has built a unique brand and unique company.  Yes, they have great products and they innovate relentlessly; their R&D facilities are second to none. However, they supplement that with an employee-friendly culture and distinctive branding.

This AdAge article specifically explores the company’s brand identity, which has helped it “build the kind of loyalty and word of mouth rarely seen in the normally staid industrial b-to-b marketplace.”  Across all touch points, Big Ass speaks with a consistently quirky brand voice, which really sets it apart.

As Alex Reed, the director of consumer product marketing, says, “Sometimes it is content that shows we're a fun company, that we like to enjoy what we're doing, and that we'll share some of that joy with you.”


Fear or Hope? How about both?

Thanks to Olson Zaltman’s Joe Plummer for sharing this article on a new study from Wunderman Health that discusses how best to promote behavior change among people who are stuck in “health inertia.”  (In other words, people who have bad health habits like smoking but have resisted changing those habits).

It is a common question from many clients – not just those in the healthcare sector – do you more effectively motivate people with fear or with hope?  This study suggests the answer is, “yes.”

The research indicates you need a blend of the two and that they each have a role.  Fear-based messaging can spark immediate action.  More hopeful messaging makes people reflect more deeply on their behavior change, and thus encourages them to stick with it long-term.

You can read the report in its entirety. It is relatively short, but is rich with food for thought.


Founded in 1919. Still cool in 2018.

The global brand consultancy Prophet recently released its list of the Top 10 brands most relevant to Millennials.  The list contains a lot of the usual suspects such as Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Nike.  But there is one brand that jumps out – KitchenAid.

KitchenAid obviously isn’t a tech brand.  In fact, it is nearly 100 years old.  However, it has been quite skillful in how it has appealed to urban Millennials.

  • Product innovation. It’s Artisan Mini mixer is 20 percent smaller and 25 percent lighter than regular KitchenAid mixers. This enables Millennials to experience feelings of nostalgia (using the same kind of mixer that they might have grown up with) via a product that also fits sensibly into their urban apartments, which often don’t have the space for a bulky, old-fashioned mixer.

  • Design. Starting in 2018, KitchenAid launched its Color of the Year. (This year is “Bird of Paradise,” which is kind of like coral.)  The color of the year has created some valuable PR, but even before that KitchenAid was known for its eye-catching, multicolored hues.

  • Social Media. KitchenAid has built its social media engagement by 85%, with a 143% leap in social interactions in one year.  The brand is highly interactive with consumers across its various social platforms, its content on YouTube is well-produced and engaging, and its photos on Instagram are eye-popping.

Kitchen appliances may not seem like a cool or cutting edge category, but KitchenAid has used some common sense principles to stand out among younger consumers.


When you are your own worst enemy

This may sound like a political issue but it is really a marketing issue.

Many of us have read George Lakoff’s research on framing, metaphor and persuasive communication.  Elizabeth Warren apparently has not.

Our president has been taunting Warren for years about her claim of Native American ancestry, and this week she fell right into his trap and publicized the results of a DNA test that showed her to be, apparently, 1/1,064th Native American. 

  • Lakoff cautions that in political debate, one should never accept the opponent’s framing of an issue. Warren has done exactly that and has made a non-issue (a childish taunt) into an issue.

  • 1/1,064th Native American blood sure doesn’t sound like much

  • She has upset many on the left, and the Cherokee Nation, who argue that the results of a DNA test don’t mean you can truly claim to be Native American or to understand the Native American experience.

  • In a moment in history when Democrats should be focusing on our similarities and the things that unite us, Warren is shifting the conversation to things that divide us, like race, religion, and ethnicity – territory where Donald Trump thrives.

Warren follows in the inglorious tradition of rhetorically challenged Democrats like John Kerry, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton. It is a party with an undying belief that if you just give people the facts, they will come to the correct and rational conclusion – that being “right” means you don’t have to worry about being persuasive.

(Even Obama fell into this trap. Although he was a brilliant communicator of his personal story and his vision for the country, he struggled to create a narrative around his administration’s accomplishments.)

The result -- the majority of Americans agree with Democrats’ policies and yet the party is powerless across all branches of the federal government and in most states. If you want to see a Democrat win back in the White House in 2020, Elizabeth Warren’s actions this week should give you pause.

Hacking packaging

Adweek recently discussed four ways Millennials and Gen Z are disrupting brands’ approach to packaging. In summary:

  • Packaging that reflects my values: Smirnoff’s “Love Wins” bottles celebrate LGBTQ pride and have been on the market now for two years. This year, the brand highlighted 34 real LGBTQ couples on its labels.

  • Brands that recognize me as an individual. In the UK, consumers can create personalized Kit Kat packaging and have the candy bars delivered to their door in a customized framable box.

  • I want brands to be playful and fun. Oreo’s Colorfilled initiative allowed consumers to create personalized cookies.

  • I want authenticity. Brands can now watermark packages so people know they are buying the genuine article and apps can bring packages to life, and offer evidence of the brand’s authenticity and uniqueness.

The article links to an Adweek webinar that talks more about how digital innovations have revolutionized packaging.


Can crayons make you cry?

Crayons aren’t all that cool anymore. They used to be a staple of childhood and still are, to an extent. But they have been crowded out a bit by markers and pencils and by other forms of media, such as games and iPads.

At the Association of National Advertisers’ 2018 Brand Activation Conference, Crayola’s Director of Marketing Communications, Josh Kroo, discussed how experiential marketing has helped the brand overcome those challenges.  (The article is behind a paywall at WARC.)

Of course, it hasn’t just been experiential marketing.  Crayola has a seemingly never-ending stream of innovations – including products that leverage augmented reality and a line extension into lipstick, via a partnership with Clinique.

However, they also used storytelling to create an emotionally compelling brand experience. The story was built around how Crayola was planning to retire one of its iconic colors. The discussion about which color would be sent to the curb created all kinds of social media buzz, and the brand elicited 90,000 submissions from consumers who wanted to vote on the name of the new color that would replace it.  Some of the colors were given characters and personalities, as well, which amped up the emotional engagement.

The campaign was supported by high-profile out-of-home placements and significant earned media, including Jimmy Fallon and Good Morning America. Ultimately, the campaign was successful in dramatically reversing declining sales of Crayola’s iconic 24-count box.


Judge me by my questions, not my answers

Harvard Business Review recently published an article called “The Surprising Power of Questions.”  (Thanks to Olson Zaltman's Joe Plummer for sharing).

It focuses on the unconscious effects that asking questions (and HOW you ask questions) can have. Among the highlights:

  • People like you better when you ask questions.  Even something as simple as, “What am I not asking you that I should?”
  • Closed questions can be quite problematic and elicit a very different set of responses than open-ended questions.
  • Open-ended questions can elicit negative feedback successfully. (“If you were to play devil’s advocate, what would you say?”)
  • Successful sales people ask more questions – but not too many questions.  And they sprinkle their questions throughout the conversation.
  • Ask the most sensitive questions first.  Subsequent questions will feel less intrusive.

The article also has a few tips for how to respond to difficult questions.


50,000,000 people can't be wrong

If you don’t follow Richard Shotton on Twitter, you should. Every day he posts thought-provoking ideas about our field.

He recently published an article outlining three mistakes to avoid when applying behavioral science to advertising.

1. Negative social proof. We are social animals. If you try to guilt me into donating to public radio by telling me, “95% of listeners don’t support their local public radio stations,” you’ve probably lost me.  Generally speaking, people like doing things that others are doing.

2. Pratfall Effect. Few brands do this. In short, people are attracted to other people (or brands) that are relatable, and flaws make you relatable.  The Domino’s Pizza campaign in which they confessed that their pizza was terrible and they needed to do better is a recent example of this. The VW Beetle “boasted” of its ugliness, which gave it a voice that broke through the clutter.

3. Following the Herd. It isn’t an act of courage for a brand to do something unconventional.  It’s common sense. All marketers say they want to break category norms, but very few do because there is a misleading feeling of safety in following the herd.

Shotton’s book, The Choice Factory, expands on these and other ideas from behavior science.


The politics of status

We study a lot of brands that have “badge value,” that signal our status to other people. Research just published by the Journal of Marketing and summarized in the Harvard Business Review suggests there are different status-related goals and that people with certain political leanings respond differently to how status is framed.

In short, when it comes to luxury goods Republicans are more likely than Democrats to respond favorably to messaging about status maintenance (as opposed to status advancement).

The authors “attribute this to conservatives’ greater desire to preserve socioeconomic order and maintain existing social hierarchies.”

As they conclude, this has implications for how brands communicate across different channels. For example, if you spend a lot of time on conservative websites, Mercedes-Benz may want to target you with a slightly different emotional appeal than they would use on your equally wealthy friend, who subscribes to Mother Jones and listens online to NPR.


The smell of yesterday

I grew up across the street from a bowling alley. It was rough around the edges but I had a lot of fun there. It also had a very distinct smell, which I cannot describe or identify. Probably some combination of the oil they used on the lanes, floor polish, and various fried foods. I have never smelled anything like it since.

Until…I was speaking to someone a couple of weeks ago who was wearing a perfume that was close enough to that scent that it took me right back to being 12 years old. I asked my wife later, “WTF was she wearing? She smells like a bowling alley.”  Probably not the aura she intended to convey.

OZ's Randy Adis has shared an article that discusses a recent study that explains the science of episodic odor memory. There is a region of the brain that forms neural pathways with the hippocampus and those pathways cement these memories. Indeed, a loss of smell-based memory is an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease, so this phenomenon is real.

The first half of the article gets pretty heavily into the science of the paper. The second half talks a bit about marketing and societal implications. As we go to more of a one-click economy and spend more time behind our screens than hanging out in public places, what does this mean for our olfactory memories and, in turn, what does this mean for how we experience life?

(AP Photo: Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo: Gene J. Puskar)

How police think

Americans’ relationship with the police is complicated – and has become more complicated in the wake of a highly-publicized series of shootings of people of color over the past several years.

This research from Shefali Patil at the University of Texas at Austin explores this topic from the officers’ perspective – specifically, their perceptions of power, their relationship with the communities they serve, and how those two factors affect performance.

Although nearly 90% of Americans rate police officers’ jobs as very risky, the vast majority of officers believe the public really doesn’t understand just how risky and challenging their job is.  Officers react to that lack of understanding in two different ways.

  • The hard-liners who believe in “get tough” law enforcement and strong punishment for crimes.  These officers tend to not give a damn whether people understand them or not.
  • The soft-liners who believe in rehabilitation and community outreach as a way to reduce crime.  When these officers feel misunderstood, they feel frustrated, unappreciated, and almost hurt because they feel they are genuinely trying to build a bridge to those they serve.

Dr. Patil then collected body camera footage from 164 officers conducting traffic stops, arrests, and house calls.  She showed that footage to a group of current and retired supervisors and asked them to rate the officers’ performance.  The “soft-line” officers tended to receive lower ratings, either because they hesitated or acted too quickly and thus violated safety protocols.

Perhaps this says something about the subjectivity of the raters. Or perhaps the frustration that “soft-line” officers feel really does make them less effective.  As one of them said, “It makes not only me, but I see it in a lot of these guys, they don’t want to be proactive. Officers pause, and there’s going to be times where it’s going to be a safety issue.”

One option: give officers less latitude to make decisions.  Paradoxically, Dr. Patil’s research suggests that those officers who feel misunderstood but have limited autonomy actually perform better than those who have a lot of freedom.

Another option – perhaps a better one over the long-term – is to design outreach that helps these “soft-line” officers, in particular, better cope with the lack of understanding they feel from the public.



Sweet Dreams

I bet you never thought to pay $25 for a nap.

Thanks for Jess for sending along news of Casper’s just-opened storefront in New York called The Dreamery. For $25 you can reserve a 45-minute slot for a refreshing nap (on a wonderfully comfortable Casper mattress, of course). They even provide sleep-inducing music (sleepcasts) and complementary PJs.

Fast Company writer Katharine Schwab describes her experience in detail – walking through a blue tunnel with twinkling “stars,” preparing yourself for your nap in a comfortable lounge, and then stepping into your pod, where you are welcomed with a personalized, handwritten note.

This is such an audacious idea when you stop and think about it – asking someone to pay you $25 to take a nap. But that people are actually doing it says something about the premium consumers place on having a unique brand experience.

It also says something about how analog and digital are blending in marketing strategy. E-commerce startups like Casper, Warby Parker, and Glossier clearly see the value of complementing their robust online presence, which is the core of their business, with a brick-and-mortar presence in key locations to help build their brands and create buzz.


The LGBTQ consumer

In a Medium article about purpose-driven brands we described what we called “Opportunist” brands, which jump on social issues in the most superficial way and try to take advantage of them. At best, these efforts are ignored, like wallpaper. At worst, they can backfire and make the brand seem exploitative.

Many brands have struggled to connect with LGBTQ consumers, specifically. Every June during LGTB History Month in the US brands slap rainbow flags on everything, but this recent Fast Company article suggest those efforts, in and of themselves, generally don’t work.  It can’t just be a once-a-year display. LGBTQ engagement should be an ongoing part of how your brand lives.

For example, the article points to Suitsupply, which lost a ton of Instagram followers (presumably mostly straight ones, judging by the comments) after introducing a campaign clearly aimed at gay men.  And there is Disney, which directed a social influencer campaign for A Wrinkle in Time at the LGBTQ community.

The article quotes an expert who recommends ditching the hit-and-run Pride-month-only strategies and, if you are going to go after LGBTQ consumers, make them a part of your brand on an ongoing basis, not just once a year, and promote people from those communities into leadership roles in your organization.

(photo: Charlotte Butcher/Unsplash)



I generally prefer to steer clear of politics here, but this Fast Co Design article about the visual identity of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaign was too good to pass up. It’s a lesson about courageous branding that goes against the grain.

Ocasio-Cortez, if you are unfamiliar, is a 28-year-old who last week defeated a longtime, well-bankrolled incumbent in the Democratic primary in her New York City congressional district. Given the partisan lean of the district, she is nearly guaranteed to win the general election in November and become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. 

As the article points out, her campaign branding breaks a number of conventions for US elections:

  • The upward tilt of both her face and of the typography on her campaign material is unusual and unconsciously suggest hope and optimism. The design was inspired by labor and civil rights movements from the 1960s and ‘70s 
  • The color scheme is built around purple and yellow – not the traditional red/white/blue
  • The inverted exclamation marks and stars unabashedly reflect her multicultural identity
  • The font also has a hand-drawn feel to it, which is appropriate for a candidate campaigning  as the nemesis of the 1%

Of course, in politics great design isn’t everything.  At least one other multicultural Democratic primary candidate in New York had some very compelling branding and a message similar to Ocasio-Cortez’s but he lost, in part, because he ran a bad campaign.  Plus, Ocasio-Cortez’s message resonated with the very progressive mindset of Democratic voters in her culturally diverse urban district. The same approach may not have worked in Iowa or Missouri. She was the right candidate in the right place with the right message at the right time.

It will be interesting to see if other candidates will copy her visual branding (undoubtedly they will) and how much success they will have (more of an open question).  I could easily envision a populist Republican candidate in the Trump mold trying something similar.



An appeal to the heart and a punch to the gut

Two magazine covers this week use visual metaphor to drive home the emotional impact of separating immigrant children from their parents at the US border.

The Time cover above has been “fact-checked” to reveal that the girl in question really wasn’t separated from her parents but, as this Mediapost article suggests, that doesn’t really negate the emotional power of the image. 

Throughout history we have seen metaphors transform the way people think about social issues. In the days before photography and film were widespread, these metaphors often came in the form of fictional stories like Uncle Tom’s Cabin which, though it perpetuated its own distasteful stereotypes, painted a poignant word picture about the horrors of slavery. And The Jungle, whose stomach-churning descriptions of the meatpacking industry changed the way the government regulated food production.

In more recent times, the images of African Americans being hit with firehoses and attacked while sitting at lunch counters and the graphic images of the body of Emmett Till brought home the injustices of inequality in a way that words could not. Iconic images of a young girl screaming in pain after a napalm attack and Nguyen Ngoc Loan’s execution of a suspected Viet Cong officer transformed how many Americans felt about US involvement in Vietnam. These images were metaphors that symbolized a broader set of experiences and concerns.

On the other hand, the few polls released late last week show no effect whatsoever on President Trump’s approval ratings. Perhaps all the outrage about his policy – and the power of these images – are much ado about nothing, in terms of public opinion. Or maybe it takes time for these metaphorical images to sink into our consciousness. 


Music to my ears

Thanks to OZ's Randy Adis for sharing details of the so-called speech-to-song illusion, which is examined in a new paper in the journal PLOS ONE.

Our brains have “word detectors” and “syllable detectors.” When we hear a phrase repeated the “word detectors” shut off, but the “syllable detectors” remain on, which makes the spoken words sound more like a song.

(Play the “sometimes they behave so strangely” audio that is embedded in the article.  It’s unreal. This simple phrase starts to sound like a nursery rhyme.)

Perhaps this is why repetition of certain words and phrases in a speech can make that speech more powerful. Martin Luther King’s repetition of “I Have a Dream” in that famous speech, along with his repetition of other phrases like “let freedom ring,” have certain musical qualities about them, and you get caught up not just in the words but, even more, in the feeling.

Hypnosis kind of works this way – you repeat words and phrases over and over, which allows people to get into their subconscious.