Flying Seraph
When People Think, Brands Lose

‘What do we want people to think, feel or do?’

That’s a central question in virtually every Marketing, Communications and Advertising brief.

In my experience, ‘think’ is the element most folk in the broader Marketing and Communications game have used most over the years. Because most people – those that brief communications and those that work in the communications Agencies – feel more comfortable with thinking. And the idea that people are thinking beings.

After all, none of us want to admit we are predominantly emotional and make most decisions using our primitive brain – using a ‘feels right’ gauge.

Intuition, if you like.

We far prefer to think of ourselves and the people we sell to as logical, rational types.

This fundamental error has given rise to some of the most awful advertising you’ll see – not to mention some of the most ineffective you’ll waste money running.

Take this Holden (GM) Australia campaign that has thankfully been euthanised recently but which should never have been born:

It opened with massive titles/supers saying: “Think about this”.

Every time it appeared I wanted to put my shoe through the screen. My blood pressure went through the roof.

Because it was such a waste of money. And so flagrantly ignored lessons we have already learned.

You see, precious few cars are ever bought based on thinking. They’re all bought emotionally.

And the thinking bit – well that’s engaged after the fact to provide an explanation to your partner, work mates, drinking pals. Because, after all, you’d never want them to think you’d just follow your heart and buy a car simply because it looks gorgeous. Or because it makes you feel like Elvis, would you?

Yet depth interviews we did for Aston-Martin (among high-end Porsche, Lamborghini, and Ferrari owners) revealed the purchase is entirely emotional. Ferrari owners were especially ‘arty’ talking of their prized possession as if it was a piece of sculpture.

Even at the opposite end of the scale – do you really think boy racers overcapitalise their cars with go-faster plastic, hard suspension and noisy exhausts because that’s a thinking thing to do?

No, my friends. We humans are hard-wired to avoid thinking. It consumes too many calories. And in early man those were needed in case a sabre-tooth tiger should appear unannounced.

In fact, in many cases you actually want an emotional response to be strong enough to cut off rational scrutiny (if there’s a danger of thinking happening at all). Because often – if people think too hard – your brand may be found wanting and loose.

Let’s face facts, even our biggest purchase – the family home – is made with the heart. Using intuition and emotion. My Behavioural Science colleagues can point to many examples where people have tried to be logical/rational. Made lists even. And then re-arranged the rational criteria on the list after the event to make the emotional decision feel more right.

Fess up. I’ve done it. You have too.

(In those cases where you actually do want people thinking, please remember Prof. Kahneman’s lesson – paraphrased – for rational message processing to occur, you must first open the emotional gateway)

Now I’m really happy to receive a ‘do’ brief. And to receive ‘feel’ briefs.

But ‘think’ briefs?

No. Or very rarely.

In the words of Albert Einstein:

‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.’

Please value that gift. Look for it in people. Communicate with and to it.

Please follow me on Twitter: @MarkSareff

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