January 14, 2009

How Advertising Works - Part 3: The First Principle

In parts one and two of this series I observed that most ad people do not have unifying principles for how and why they create advertising. I promised I would give you some, and today we begin with the first principle.

Principle #1: Advertising is most productive when it is focused on changing behaviors, not attitudes.

If you listen to advertising people talk, you'll think the most important thing we do is change consumer attitudes. It is not.

The primary job of advertising is to change consumer behavior -- to get them to buy something, not believe something.

Most ad people will argue that until you can get someone to believe, you can't get her to buy. This is wrong.

The conventional wisdom is that first we must change a consumer’s attitude and this will lead to a change in her behavior. In graphic form, it looks like this:
The problem with this model is that attitudes are extremely hard to change. Here's what some smart people say about trying to change attitudes:

Nobel Prize winning economist John Kenneth Galbraith says:
"Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
PEN/Martha Albrand Award winning author Sam Harris says:
"It does not require any special knowledge of psychology or neuroscience to observe that human beings are generally reluctant to change their minds."
And marketing brainiac Jack Trout says:
"If your assignment is to change people’s minds, don’t accept the assignment."
In fact, it is usually a lot easier to change behaviors than attitudes.
  • It’s easier to convince you to eat a Big Mac than convince you that a Big Mac is a good thing to eat.
  • It’s easier to convince you to go to Las Vegas than convince you that going to Las Vegas is a wise thing to do.
  • It’s easier to convince you to fly Southwest than convince you that flying Southwest is going to be a pleasant experience.
It’s not that attitudes are irrelevant. It’s not that they don’t affect behavior. It’s just that they’re too damn difficult to change, too damn expensive to change, and they take too damn long to change.

Once someone's a Dodgers fan, he's probably going to stay a Dodgers fan. Once he's a Coke versus a Pepsi, Democrat vs. Republican, United vs. American, Mac vs. PC, paper vs. plastic, his mind is not likely to be easily changed.

The probability is that marketing dollars will be more productive if you focus on changing his behavior.

Even though his attitude may be that another brand is superior, his behavior is malleable. He will recognize meaningful product differentiation, innovations, a special offer, new product benefits, a better deal, a service enhancement, or evidence of emotional enrichment.

Give him a compelling reason to change his behavior. His attitude will follow.

The Series So Far
How Advertising Works - Part 1: The Problem
How Advertising Works - Part 2: Overview
How Advertising Works - Part 3: The First Principle
Next week: Part 4 - The Second Principle

We're Number One, Update
BusinessWeek's online Business Exchange now has about 400 articles on the subject of "Advertising In A Recession." The most read article is a post that appeared here at TAC by guest blogger Sharon Krinsky entitled Good Strategy For Bad Times. It incorporates some of the ideas you read here today.

No comments: