Advertising often relies on dirty tricks to promote bad products. It’s not necessary.
It’s no wonder that much of advertising is not just creative with work, but often with truth as well. Alcohol doesn’t make you popular and attractive to the opposite sex (alas), the Big 4 banks don’t “live in our world” based on executive pay and record revenues. “Can” lives in Darling Point and Toorak. It’s true that it’s a fine line between persuasion and manipulation.
Hocking the goods fairly is all well and good, but we in the industry should be more circumspect about our methods and the products and services for which we leverage them.
Two elements of our industry’s work that warrant careful consideration are ongoing meta-communication and the application of behavioral economics to the service of questionable products and services.
Meta communication is the underlying context of the advertisement or content: in industry communication, we will show people engaged in sports betting as war heroes, ‘recycled’ sneaker advertisements will show forests virgins and meditation and opening a soft drink will open a slow motion evening of your dreams (I informed that one years ago).
As creative professionals, we’re not saying shoes will reforest the planet and ease customers’ ecological anxiety, but yes, we are. [update: those Stan Smiths will end up as plastic waste].
Behavioral economics has often been leveraged to sell things for quite some time now. In itself, getting to know our minds and biases better is a good thing. But using human whims and blind spots to sell insurance or make kids worry about how they look isn’t what we in the industry want to do these days, I’m sure. .
With humans consuming the earth’s annual resources earlier each year and anything that could catch fire, flood or wash away has been in the last two years, it may be time to use our powers. of persuasion for good rather than evil.
Let’s start with behavioral economics. There are a series of biases, tendencies and heuristics that affect how the non-rational man actually proceeds. And advertising relies heavily on them. Herd Behavior shows a target audience that everyone does it, Anchor that credit card financing is “priceless”, not worth 20%, and Loss Aversion that you can drop almost anything on someone’s doorstep one and that he will buy it rather than lose it.
About six million Australians volunteer each year – a big herd – but you rarely hear too much about it. There is always a need for more hands, perhaps the best way to recruit is for existing volunteers to stand up and be seen? Positioning electric cars as “free trips” just begs to be done as an anchoring exercise (save $1,400 per year on average). And why didn’t the Australian government subsidize a free physiotherapy session for every Australian adult at risk of lifestyle-related diseases? A little loss aversion at work here would be a huge payoff. These are challenges worth the time and skills of creative professionals.
Using meta-communication to its best isn’t hard either: “No Way Norway” for GM at last year’s Superbowl hit all the right notes for electric vehicles (the Yanks are dumb heroes who want to do good) ; PANGAIA is a sustainable clothing brand from the United States. While they may stray into overly serious bits, their film PANGAIA Family is full of sweet suggestions on what it can be like to shop with your values in mind.
In the industry, we know that creativity is a business success multiplier. With so much planetary math not adding up today, it’s imperative that we all make better decisions about where our talents are applied. And the work that challenges each of us in the industry deserves attention.
Warren Davies is the general manager of All or Nothing.