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Sex and advertising: Retail therapy | The Economist

This little gem published in the Economist is worth reading. In fact, it’s must reading as it highlights the everything-new-is-old and what-comes-around-goes-around theories of the world.

Sex and advertising: Retail therapy | The Economist.

Going back some years, Ernest Dechter invented the world of “soft-side” qualitative research: getting beyond the rational response and learning about non-rational responses. Or, triggering non-rational responses.

Not to boast, but we have been doing this for the past fifteen years: we have understood that behaviour toward brands and products is determined to a large (but not total) extent by unconscious motivations. We, that is Bruce Barnes and I, have focused on typology, specifically typology as defined by Carl Jung and referred to as archetypes. But, as we have said over and over again, identifying archetypes is only part of the process: the real power, form a marketer point of view, comes from understanding how the archetypal energies respond to stimuli from the world around them.

Most recently, Daniel Kahneman (qv) has studied this phenomenon and explains it in practical terms: the brain functions via 2 systems. We respond to everything immediately via our System 1 brain, which is entirely unconscious and we have no direct control (or awareness) of it or its machinations. Our response is moderated by our conscious, thinking brains: System 2. Depending on a number of factors, our system 2 brain can and will override our system 1 response, or it will let it go. Which results in spontaneous, sometimes illogical, sometimes bang-on behaviors.

So, from Freud (Superego, ego) to Dichter (emotions and unconscious whims) to Kahnemann (system 1 and system 2) to Bernstein and Barnes (unconscious typologies) the one theme is constant: we are hardly in control of what we do, BUT, with the right approach, marketers can develop a general understanding of why we do it.

Both Dichter and Kahneman come from the idea that what goes on in our subconscious can be influenced by factors of which we are not and never were consciously aware — that we absorb information that we are not aware of. For instance, we can be exposed to something (let’s say, for instance, the word “sex”) for a very short period of time — so short that we do not consciously notice it — and our sub-conscience will pick up on it and store it away. If it is repeated often enough (Kahneman) or relates to some base motive or need, we will associate it with other stimuli (for instance a brand name), and this will influence how we respond to the brand name.

Yes! Vance Packard may have been right all along. What did Dichter really insert into the ads for Chrysler for which he became famous, or, more obviously, Esso:

 

Are we, modern advertising people, in our eagerness to be smarter and more in control, doing a disservice to our brand clients by denying the power of subliminal advertising.?

O,r are we in fact NOT using subliminal advertising? Does anybody really know what lurks in the folds of Apples famous iPod ad?

I wonder.

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Filed under: Behavioral Economics, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Undercover Boss: Break or Build the Brand? Steve Joyce of Choice Hotels put it all on the line. Did he win or lose?

Perhaps a bit behind the times, but better late than never, I watched a repeat of the Undercover Boss episode featuring Steve Joyce, CEO of Choice Hotels (the fact that Joyce rhymes with Choice, incidentally, might explain in part why Joyce has his job – see Kahneman’s book [qv],  but I digress). It raised the question in my mind, again, as to the impact this kind of thing has on the brand.

This particular episode was a great case in point: it bravely exposed the warts of the brand as well as the limitations of the brand’s management. Joyce highlighted a number of problems in the hotels they selected, and in only one or two incidents did he focus on what they do fantastically. This is in sharp contrast to most of the Undercover Boss episodes which seem more like one hour brand-commercials.

For this Choice needs to be congratulated, and also for the incredibly honest way in which Joyce allowed himself to be portrayed as a fallible, emotional and not completely tuned in CEO. My hat is off to all of them.

But it does raise the question of what this kind of exposure does for the shareholders, franchisees, and associates.

I’m not sure I have a position on it, but open the conversation in the hopes of generating thoughts and insights into the real value of magnified transparency.

The show features Joyce working maintenance in what must be one of the worst maintained hotels in the system. What happened to standards? From the audience point of view, how typical is this? As insiders we know that updating old properties is expensive and also not at the discretion of the franchisor. Calling the hotel GM on the carpet seems a bit ingenuous, and frankly lacks credibility. I think more should have been made of the potential to pull the brand from non-performing properties in order to reassure the audience that this is atypical.

In addition to the hotels where he worked, Joyce stayed in Choice brands along the way. This allowed further exposure of the brand’s weaknesses (elevator breakdown, no-coffee fiasco, etc.). In my opinion, this added nothing to the story and came across (from the professional point of view) as a negative mystery-guest report to franchisees and as a bad reflection on the brand (for viewers). This may have been a real mistake.

On the subject of the coffee fiasco (in a Suburban brand property, Joyce discover that while there is a coffee machine in the rooms, coffee is not provided – guests have to go to the front desk and purchase the coffee), it seems strikingly odd that nobody considered the implications of this when developing the standards for the brand (the management team all looked stunned when Joyce suggested this was a potential negative guest touch-point experience). In a category where competitors are providing breakfasts and other perks, surely the “paying for coffee” standard was tested, discussed, tested again, until everybody was sure this was a good idea?

Are potential guests reassured knowing the one front desk person on duty at night in a Comfort Inn does everything (front desk, laundry, pool, maintenance and much, much more)?

And, the evident lack of complicity among franchisees (read “lack of interest”) in the management training system, cannot do much to inspire potential new employees.

And yet…I cannot help but think that overall the brand came out looking good, largely due to the uber-humanity and sincerity shown by Joyce.

It’s hard to know for sure – there were painfully few comments on YouTube. Google revealed one interview with Steve Joyce (http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2010/09/24/choice-hotel-undercover-boss/) in which he said he hoped the exposure had injected a bit of “humor, humiliation and heart), which it certainly did – mostly humiliation and heart, which are good things for brand building.

In the interview Joyce also said he thought the show had helped – summer business was up and that could perhaps have been attributed to the exposure. I think this is unlikely – there was nothing about the show that suggests a tactical or immediate business lift.

The most telling measurement would be to compare the on-line review site mentions for the choice brands before and after the show – my guess would be that there would be fewer negative reviews after the show and possibly more positive reviews. This because the show would, in my opinion, have resulted in guests arriving at Choice properties wanting to like them, because they want to like Steve Joyce. Add to this a slight moderation in expectations and the net result should be more satisfaction, less complaining; more goodwill, less need to punish the properties for not being perfect.

Filed under: Hospitality and Tourism, , , , , , , , , ,

But, Will More Passengers Fly?

This article from MediaPost brilliantly questions the credibility of the Cathay Pacific “People. They Make an Airline.” campaign. More than that, it raises an important question: is there anything airlines can say in the current atmosphere of squeezing paying passengers into every inch and squeezing every dollar from every paying “guest”. The answer, of course, is an emphatic “NO.” And the solution might be for airlines (legacy airlines, that is — the new, groovy Porter and JetBlue airlines are of course exempt from any criticism) to simply not try — take the money that would be spent on brand advertising and spend it on, for instance, a second mini-pack of mini-pretzels. While not likely to generate viral buzz about the elaborate generosity of the airline, it might just make a few “guests” a little less testy. Which would be good for everybody.

But, it’s clear from looking at the Cathay Pacific website that the campaign has nothing to do with building the airline brand or getting bums on seats. The campaign is an example of the latest and greatest marketing fad: “internal branding,” or, as HR people call it, motivating demotivated people without actually addressing their needs.

Annie, Carmine, Christine, Darminee and the rest of the gang are sure to feel special having their pics and bios on the website (and the expensive photography is a testament to creative boondoggling, as well). But is this really going to make a difference to how they truly behave toward the public and their internal associates? Probably not — in fact, the reverse may be true: as specially selected examples of people making an airline they will surely feel more special than their larger, less photogenic, older, peers.

Which brings me to the next and final point: it is disingenuous and quite frankly offensive that Cathay Pacific have only young, attractive, clear skinned, slender employees (except for senior pilots who are older, distinguished, attractive, clear skinned men). Rather than humanize the airline, this stuff actually makes the airline seem Stepford Wife-like, superficial…you know, all that stuff.

MediaPost Publications Cathay Pacific Campaign Humanizes Its Employees. Will More Passengers Fly? 01/05/2012.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,

Is Branding Nothing More than a Frequency Play?

Whatever happened to frequency, or why do we overcomplicate this thing called brand?

In the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman discusses a theory mooted and proven by psychologist Robert Zajonc that he called the “mere exposure effect”. It’s worth reading all about it (“Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman, Doubleday Canada, page 66), but the gist is quite simple: the more often someone sees a word, the more favourably they rate the word in terms of meaning. In other words, the mere fact that someone sees a word frequently cause them to believe the word “means something good”.

Not only this, but, the person does not have to be aware of having seen the word – the rule holds true for words exposed to people so quickly that they do not consciously notice them.

This all ties into Kahnemann’s demonstration of the two system brain (fast and slow thinking), and the basic default our lazy minds have toward something he calls cognitive ease. Combine this with Kahnemann’s two cognitive illusions, the illusion of truth (the ease with which a thought or conclusion comes to mind biases that conclusion toward the fact being believed as true) and the illusion of remembering (if a word – or name — is consciously or unconsciously familiar to you, you will have the impression that you remember something about it or the person, even if you have never seen anything but the word or simply read the name somewhere).

So here it is: if we see a word repeatedly we will “remember” something about it, that something will be favourable and we will be convinced it is true.

No, really!

This explains what I have often called the “Japanese Theory of Brand Building,” which goes back to the days when Japanese brands (Sanyo, Sony, etc.) were first breaking into the American and European markets. The strategy was always to simply buy high visibility outdoor signs – the bigger and brighter the better – and simply show the name and word-mark or logo. It worked then, and worked subsequently for LG, which has achieved iconic brand status globally without ever having given any meaning to the name itself.

It also explains something much closer to our hearts: in-store brand selection. When faced with an array of unfamiliar products on a supermarket shelf we may well gravitate toward a specific brand name. Lately we have been developing theories about why we gravitate toward a specific brand – often we talk about the brand having made an emotional connection. But could it be quite simply that we have seen the name often, believe we remember having heard something positive about it, think of it more favourably than the other brand-names on the shelf that we have seen less often, and have the confidence that our conclusion is right?

Which brings me back to the question of frequency. One part of brand building is nothing more complicated than exposing people to the brand name, in no specific context, more frequently than the competition expose their brand name.

Filed under: Behavioral Economics, , , , , , ,

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