April 02, 2014

The Power Of Precision Guessing

We know that consumer behavior is often irrational. That's why there are large market share differences among products that are essentially the same.

We also know that consumers tend to be pragmatic and don't like to throw their money around on crap. That's why so many new products fail.

So how do we reconcile these two seeming contradictions? How can consumers be both strangely emotional yet essentially pragmatic?

We can't explain it. That's what makes advertising so interesting.

It's like physics. There are two equally reliable, yet contradictory ways to explain the physical behavior of matter.

General relativity describes the world one way. Quantum physics describes it another. They are completely different, and often contradictory theories. And yet each is equally capable of explaining and predicting the behavior of matter -- general relativity on a large scale and quantum physics on a small scale.

We face a similar (and far less important) enigma in advertising. If you ask an advertising expert "what makes a great campaign" he/she will provide you with a list of adjectives --
beautiful, persuasive, funny, entertaining, convincing... but the truth is, nobody really knows what makes a great ad campaign.

I can show you a hundred campaigns that were all of those things and failed, and you can show me a hundred that were none of them and succeeded.

The thing that drives ad people crazy, and makes advertising such a fascinating endeavor, is that there is no algorithm for great advertising. No one has been able to define the proper proportions of the emotional and the practical, the nonlinear and the utilitarian, the entertaining and the convincing.

And that leads us to the point of this piece. The present obsession with media delivery systems may help our media people locate a certain type of person more easily, but is never going to provide the spark of brilliance on how to motivate this person.

Understanding motivation still comes from the brains of talented people who somehow know what the right combination of ingredients is to motivate a certain type of person in a certain type of category.

They don't know how they know it, and sometimes they don't even know that they know it. But they do.

That's why there are a few people who consistently create wonderful, successful advertising and others who create consistently mediocre advertising.

It's a gift that some creative people have for precision guessing. That's all it is, but it is the amazing gift that separates real advertising talent from the rest of us.

Big thanks to everyone at ITV who invited me to speak at AdvertisingWeek Europe in London yesterday. Also big thanks to everyone who attended. For those interested in viewing the talk, I am told it will be up on the AdvertisingWeek Europe website within a few days. I'll keep you posted.


dave trott said...

As Bernbach, the man who invented good advertising, said "Principles endure, formulas don't"

LBarr said...

"We also know that consumers tend to be pragmatic and don't like to throw their money around on crap."

Can we be sure about that? I see people throwing their money around on crap all the time.

Jason B said...

It's a shame, these days creative people who possess a talent for precision guessing are now marginalised. They're just freelanced for ideas to win pitches. Digital agencies massively devalued our industry and creativity. Then creative people became known as 'resource'. Now agencies no longer invest in proper creative departments. Planners with insight no longer exist. They were replaced by a buzzing, tweeting, ted-talk-obessessing hive of agressive self-promoters. It's a fucking shame.