This is the second part of a 3-part series about the duality of consumer behavior and its importance to the people who create ads. It is also, perhaps, the most pretentious title for a post in the history of blogging.
One of the aspects of advertising that make it fascinating is that we never seem to make much progress in understanding it. The arguments raging today about the nature of good advertising are the same ones that raged 50 years ago.
While we have much deeper analytical tools for making media choices, we still have no reliably accurate method for predicting the success of the material the media is carrying -- the ads.
Just when we think we know what will successfully motivate a consumer, we launch an Apple "Genius" TV campaign or a Pepsi "Refresh" social media campaign, and everything we thought we knew turns out to be wrong.
In the first part of this series we decided that neither the rational nor the emotional model of consumer behavior seems to be adequate in describing the contradictions that advertisers and marketers are constantly confronted with.
We likened this problem to the enigma physicists are faced with in the study of sub-atomic particles. Sometime these things behave like particles and sometimes like waves. These behaviors are contradictory -- yet together they form a remarkably good description of what's going on. This duality is confusing and counter-intuitive, but it has proven to be accurate.
If you were to suggest some kind of similarity between quantum physics and consumer behavior, most people (including me) would roll their eyes and think you were nuts. And yet, the analogy seems to work -- sometimes consumers behave like one thing, and sometimes like another.
Without putting too fine a point on it (and getting way off into psycho-babble voodoo-land) if consumers really do exhibit a dual nature, maybe we can derive some principles about this that resemble the "quantum" principles of physics. Otherwise the whole thing is just another bullshit marketing contrivance.
Though perhaps a little far-fetched, I thought I would see if I could develop some language which would make this theory resemble the quantum theory of physics.
So here we go: Four "quantum" principles of consumer behavior:
1. All purchasing behavior can be described as either emotional or rational.
Consumers are not logic machines, nor are they puppy dogs. The processing that goes into a buying decision is complex and imprecise. It can be described as either logic or emotion. Just as E=mc2 told us there is an equivalency between matter and energy, consumer behavior contains an equivalency (somewhere) between logic and emotion that we don't quite understand.2. When developing advertising or marketing strategies, the closest we can get to predicting consumer behavior is to quantify probabilities and likelihoods.
There are no absolutes about consumer behavior.3. By its nature, consumer research must always contain a substantial degree of uncertainty.
Studying a consumer's "rational" response to advertising will affect her "emotional" response. Studying her "emotional" response will affect her "rational" response. You may be able to understand either response, but you cannot know both simultaneously.4. We can quantify the emotional or rational basis for a purchasing decision, but we can't quantify the relationship between the two.
We can know the factors, but we can never know the formula -- how much logic compared to how much emotion.These are new ideas to me and I need to let them marinate a little before I can be sure I like them (or even understand them.) I don't have an ounce of data to support any of this, but I do find these ideas interesting, and they do seem to describe and explain a lot of the mysteries and puzzles I have encountered in my hundreds of years in the ad business.
The big question is this: if these ideas have any real value and are not just a bunch of ponderous bullshit, they ought to have practical applications to the creation of advertising.
Next time I'll take a stab at it. I'll describe what the implications of all this windy carrying-on might actually mean to the most important people in our business - those who create the ads.